Aitor Karanka would have been the fourth José Mourinho-affiliated manager in the Premier League. Instead, the man thought to be the favorite to get the Crystal Palace job will go north, the 40-year-old appointed Middlesbrough manager this morning.
The Basque boss, assistant to Mourinho at Real Madrid, would have joined Steve Clarke (West Brom), Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool), and André Villas-Boas (Tottenham) as former Special One staffers managing in the Premier League, yet on the advice of his former boss, Karanka turned his back on the top-level gig to work in England’s second division.
“Mourinho recommended me to come here,” the former Real Madrid defender said at today’s introductory press conference, one which spent inevitably addressed Karanka’s connections with the Chelsea boss.
“He’s the person who’s supported me for months,” Karanka said. “He recommended me to come here because he believes in this project, like me.”
“It is my time. I have been, for three years, with José Mourinho and I think he supported me every day. I learned with him and his staff and I’m ready now.”
That readiness will be tested immediately, with Karanka set to debut with this 16th place side at Leeds United on the 23rd. Fifteen games into the season, Boro sit eighth points back of sixth (the last Championship promotion playoff stop). Replacing former West Brom manager Tony Mowbray, Karanka will be expected to mount a stiffer challenge for a Premier League return.
“We set down a clear template of what we were looking for,” club owner Steve Gibson said at Karanka’s introduction, “and Aitor was the outstanding candidate.”
There’s some talent on the shelves. The team features Jonathan Woodgate and Australian international Rhys Williams in defense. Dean Whitehead and Grant Leadbitter are options in midfield. Africans Albert Adomah and Kei Kamara are capable of getting goals. Perhaps it’s not the best stocked team in the division, but teams with less have found ways to get promoted.
But what of Crystal Palace? Karanka’s no longer an option, nor is Martin O’Neill. Tony Pulis is rumored to have been too expensive.
Welsh boss Chris Coleman? Alex McLeish? It’s unclear where the Eagles go after Karanka turned them down.