Middlesbrough have received numerous bids from Aston Villa for the services of Morgan Rogers, leaving Middlesbrough with a decision to make.
Morgan Rogers to Aston Villa has been the saga of the January transfer window. The former Manchester City youth prospect impressed Unai Emery when the Villains faced Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. He quickly became their top target, and they lodged a bid on the 18th of January. The initial bid was rejected by Middlesbrough, with the club intent on keeping their starlet. However, every player has their price, and Boro put a £10m+ price tag on Morgan Rogers’ signature. Regardless, Villa have continued to soften Middlesbrough’s resolve, but the North East club has remained firm on their evaluation.
Meanwhile, Rogers continued to get game time for Michael Carrick’s side, culminating in a compelling finish against Premier League financial juggernauts Chelsea. His performance against the London-based side convinced Aston Villa to commit to paying the £10m asking price. If this is the case, then it is likely that the deal will be decided sooner rather than later, as Rogers is keen to complete the move to the Premier League side.
While the transfer may be complete, the question remains whether Middlesbrough has made the correct decision in letting the flanker move. All transfers are a balancing act where the pros and cons can be weighed against each other to decide whether the deal represents good business for the buying and selling club.
A Great Player?
There is no denying Morgan Rogers's impact since arriving on Teesside just 7 months ago. The towering technician was given the No. 10 shirt, and his contributions in the final third have matched the shirt's expectations.
Since arriving at the club in the summer, he has made 15 goals and assists across all competitions. Over half of these contributions have come in the league, where he has contributed a goal or an assist for every 3 games he has participated in. Yet, 12 of his 26 appearances have come as a substitute, which negatively skews these statistics as he had less time to influence proceedings. Instead, if we compare his contribution to minutes played, he has an even more impressive output. Morgan Rogers has played 1,301 minutes for Middlesbrough in the league, and he has provided 2 goals and 6 assists, which translates to 0.55 goals and assists per 90 minutes, or a goal contribution every two games.
If his goal involvements in the league are impressive, then his record in the EFL Cup makes for outstanding reading. Morgan Rogers has played 6 games for Middlesbrough in the EFL Cup, scoring 5 goals and providing 2 assists. That means that Rogers has been involved in more goals than he has played games in the competition. It makes for an even more impressive reading compared to the 451 minutes he played in the tournament. Morgan Rogers' output translates to 1.4 goals and assists per 90 minutes. It is unsurprising, given that his strike rate alone runs at 0.99 per 90, that the dynamic dribbler is the tournament’s top goalscorer going into the final.
Outsiders could be forgiven for reading these statistics and assuming he is a fox in the box. He is a player who allows other players around him to create the opportunities which he then dispatches. However, that isn’t how Rogers plays at all.
Morgan Rogers has played up front in recent weeks due to the absence of a recognised centre forward during the clubs’ winter injury crisis. However, the former Manchester City youngster is more comfortable as one of the three behind the central striker. While the general consensus is that to get the best out of Rogers, it is best to play him in one of the wide attacking roles as it provides more opportunities where he comes to life.
Rogers comes into his own when he has the ball at his feet in the final third, particularly when facing defenders in the half-space. Despite being a comparatively tall attacking midfielder, he is nimble and agile, and he holds onto the ball with a patience that is often needed but sometimes lacking in modern-day attackers. The former City attacking midfielder will coax and taunt defenders, waiting for them to commit to the tackle or make a mistake. Then he flicks the switch into a controlled chaotic attack, finding the space that the defender has opened up and exploiting it by threading a pass to another attacker, charging through with the ball, or shaping up to curl the ball into the back of the net. Every move that Rogers makes in the final third is considered, if not preconceived, and he can execute them. He is so effective in these scenarios that he marks in the 93rd percentile or top 7% of attacking midfielders for his 2.56 chances created. By effectively working the space, he is able to convert these scenarios into genuine opportunities for others. So far this season, Rogers has averaged 0.42 assists per 90 and produced an xA (expected goals) of 0.29, which puts him in the 96th and 93rd percentile, respectively. This is him at his best, but Rogers isn’t a one-trick pony.
(Percentile statistics show how a player is doing compared to other players in their position.)
Several of Rogers’ highlights while in a Middlesbrough shirt show him arriving late in the box and finding space to receive a cutback where his accurate, often lethal, low-driven shot can be produced. Middlesbrough fans have gotten so used to this movement that often, fans will pre-emptively turn their heads expecting the attacker’s arrival in the box. Equally, unlike the diminutive figures that populate the attacking midfielder positions for Middlesbrough (Isiah Jones, Riley McGree, Sam Greenwood, Sammy Silvera, Marcus Forss and new arrival Finn Azaz), Rogers offers an aerial presence that is often lacking in Carrick’s possession-focused side. At 6ft 2, Rogers is big enough to offer an attacking threat from corners and freekicks, while his surprisingly strong build means that he can hold his own when challenging in the air. Rogers' aerial abilities have resulted in the attacking midfielder winning more than his fair share of headers. The flanker is in the 81st percentile for the number of aerial duals won by an attacking midfielder. Rogers’ aerial ability has been something that Carrick and Middlesbrough have grown to rely on, with Rogers, Crooks, and each week's pick of centre-backs offering the only real aerial attacking potential.
Michael Carrick’s side also plays with a high press, and Morgan Rogers is a willing and enthusiastic contributor to this pressing system. Middlesbrough’s attacking players rank high for defensive actions in their respective positions, and Morgan Rogers is no different. The former City player sits in the top 15% of attackers and wingers for defensive actions.
Morgan Rogers is a great player in the final third. His ability to create goalscoring opportunities, finish his own chances, and put pressure on opposing defenders has been a real bonus for Middlesbrough in the first half of the season. However, Rogers has become a divisive figure among Middlesbrough fans, and as we will discuss, there is a kernel of truth to the claims that he is rubbish and should be sold for anything we can get for him. However, it is important to emphasise that, as everything so far has highlighted, he is a great player. The concerns or questions that we will discuss are not a slight against him as a player but recognise the current limits of the player from what Carrick needs and expects from the player.
Every player has their strengths and limitations. The key is finding players whose strengths match the vision of the club and the style of football that the team wants to play. While finding ways to mitigate or limit the weaker sides of the players' game to get the best out of them. This is where an argument can be made to move Rogers on for the right price.
Unfortunately, despite his excellent work at Middlesbrough, Morgan Rogers has always felt like a square peg in a round hole. Morgan Rogers doesn’t suit Middlesbrough’s style of play. This may sound ridiculous given his attacking record for the club, but it is in other areas of the pitch where his limitations have been exposed.
Rogers is suited to a more direct style of play, where the team focuses on quick transitions to get the ball into the final third as quickly as possible, into the area where Rogers is most effective. On the other hand, Middlesbrough is typically more patient in its build-up, preferring to maintain possession and play through the thirds. In Middlesbrough’s system, the attacking midfielders are expected to get involved in the build-up from the midfield third onwards. In essence, Michael Carrick’s system works best with players comfortable on the ball in deeper areas of the pitch.
The number of assists Rogers' has struck up this season means that you would be forgiven for believing he was an incredibly proficient passer. On the face of it, the former Manchester City prospect appears to conform to this expectation - averaging 72.2% pass success rate. However, this places him just above the bottom 10% of players in his position (11.5%). Contradictorily, instead of struggling to thread passes in the final third, Rogers is falling short in the build-up. This becomes a concern for Michael Carrick as his side focuses on possession and passing football. Middlesbrough has racked up the fourth most passes in the league this season. Yet, Rogers’ difficulties with passing represent a potential weak link in the system. To date, Rogers' attacking upside has been a worthy trade for his issues in build-up. However, with Aston Villa offering to flush Middlesbrough's coffers, Carrick may be persuaded to gamble on finding a player with the same upsides that doesn't undermine his tactical vision as much.
Rogers has a keen preference for dribbling over passing, with an impressive average of 1.87 successful dribbles per 90, but that means that instead of picking up the ball and finding the next pass, Rogers is constantly looking for space to drive forward with the ball. His preference for dribbling has been key in a lot of Middlesbrough’s success in the final third so far this season. He also focuses on dribbling with the ball in the defensive and middle thirds of the pitch, offering something different in the build-up, particularly when Middlesbrough struggle to break down a solid low block. His dribbling is another tool in the side’s armoury. However, there is friction between how Rogers looks to move forward and Carrick’s philosophy for the rest of the team.
For Michael Carrick’s possession-oriented side to work, Middlesbrough must keep hold of the ball for long periods. This allows the side to dictate the play, control the tempo and find a way to break through Championship defences. While simultaneously protecting their own goal as, in the words of Vic Buckingham, "if you have got the ball, keep it. The other side can’t score". Yet, this is entirely contradictory to Morgan Rogers’ style of play. The former Manchester City midfielder had issues with holding onto the ball while at Blackpool, and that trend has continued since joining Middlesbrough.
The towering midfielder is often complacent in possession; the other side of the coin to his terrifyingly effective blasé approach to taunting defenders before switching into gear. Rogers is an easy target for opposition players looking to regain possession. Meanwhile, the former Manchester City player's preference for dribbling gives the opponents more time to try and steal the ball, increasing the risk he affords. When Rogers receives a pass in deeper positions, he appears even more complacent. The space and time afforded to him in these areas only extend the time that the opposition has to pressure him into a mistake. Rogers could counteract this with his strong frame. Yet, he is reluctant to use brute force and physical resistance to protect the ball. Instead, he prioritises his technical ability, which, with his complacency, can be a dangerous mix. Ultimately, this is an area of weakness for Rogers. This means that he is often the victim of turnovers of possession in low-risk situations (in deeper positions where there should be time and space on the ball). These deep turnovers provide the opposition with a great opportunity to counterattack.
Middlesbrough’s defensive record has been a real cause for concern this season. They have conceded an average of 1.5 goals per game, the 8th worst record in the league and the second-worst record in the playoff-chasing pack (just behind Norwich). While he is far from the most significant issue defensively, Morgan Rogers’ difficulties holding onto the ball have had a small impact on Middlesbrough’s poor defensive record. So, his move away from the club could improve the side's defensive record for the second half of the season. Rogers has also developed a habit of committing fouls. Naturally, any dead ball situation has to be seen as a potential danger, and Middlesbrough’s lack of aerial presence means it is a real opportunity for the side's opponents.
While Rogers has impressed going forward, the friction between his preferred style of play and Middlesbrough’s, his weaknesses in distribution, and concerns over his negative impact defensively mean that the club could move Rogers on and reinvest in a player that better suits Middlesbrough’s system.
Money is the greatest commodity in the EFL. Income is the greatest commodity in the EFL, to be precise. After many owners overspent in search of the riches of the league above, only to overreach their finances and put their club at risk of extinction, the EFL put financial measures in place to protect clubs. These measures are universally known and often hated as FFP rules (or Profitability and Sustainability Rules [PSR]). These rules also stop uber-rich owners from using these clubs as play toys to spend their millions creating a super squad in the Championship. So, clubs have to look towards expanding the club’s income to stretch their purse strings beyond the limits imposed by FFP.
Transfer business is one of the best ways to bring much-needed additional income into the club. Middlesbrough recognised how vital this income stream could be and sought to exploit it. This is one of the reasons why Middlesbrough pivoted to focus on bringing young talents to the club and adopting a state-of-the-art style of play under the guiding hand of Kieran Scott.
Scott received a lot of criticism from fans after a turbulent first few years of transition, but Middlesbrough are now heading in the right direction. The club plays attractive football and has many young, sellable assets. Morgan Rogers is one such asset.
The rumoured transfer offer valued up to £15m would give the club a considerable profit on the nominal disclosed transfer fee that Middlesbrough paid Manchester City in the summer. The wages paid to Rogers so far this season will seem like a drop in the ocean in comparison to the offer that the club has received for the player. Middlesbrough could reinvest this to strengthen the squad. If Scott and the transfer team at Middlesbrough are quick enough, this reinvestment could come this window to help the club push for the playoffs in the back end of the season.
If Middlesbrough lost Rogers and had to reinvest the transfer money, then it would frustrate fans. However, that money isn’t going anywhere. With FFP working on a rolling 3-year period, they can invest that money in the summer to go again with another push for promotion in the following season. Either way, the additional money accrued from the sale of Rogers could be vital as Middlesbrough battle against sides loaded with parachute payments.
Morgan Rogers has been incredibly efficient in the final third for Middlesbrough, and the side will suffer in his absence in attack. However, the club has already taken steps to mitigate the loss of Rogers. January arrivals Luke Thomas and Finn Azaz are forward-thinking additions to the squad, and their effectiveness in the final third should help to fill some of the gap left by the ex-Manchester City prospect. The club's rumoured interest in finding another striker could offset the side's lack of height going forward.
Middlesbrough has a clear transfer policy that extends beyond the whims and wants of their current manager. However, Morgan Rogers hasn’t quite settled into this vision. Despite his football education occurring at the heavily possession-based Manchester City, Rogers seems better suited to a more direct style of play. The concerns raised about Morgan Rogers’ ability to hold onto the ball undermine Carrick’s focus on possession-based football, and it has had a negative impact on the side's defensive record this season. This needs to be considered when weighing up a potential move away from the Riverside stadium.
Numerous reliable sources have reported that Aston Villa have offered Middlesbrough a deal that could rise to £15m if all the bonus clauses are activated. While the value of transfers continues to grow exponentially, this presents a great value deal for Middlesbrough as they turn over millions in profit for a player who has spent half a season at the club.
There is a clear upside to keeping Rogers. He has offered a lot going forward in the first half of the season. However, his issues holding onto the ball, the friction between his style of play and the preferred philosophy of Michael Carrick, and the weighty bag of cash Aston Villa has offered Middlesbrough for his services make this a no-brainer. Middlesbrough should move the player on so they can reinvest and shake up the current squad.