Former Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren has opened up on the club’s famous UEFA Cup run back in 2006, recalling some of the greatest moments and biggest challenges that the run presented.
Times might be tough at the Riverside right now but the EFL’s recent postponement has meant that the downtime that each club has on their hands away from football can be used to reflect on some of the better times.
Since the turn of the millennium, Boro have had their fair share of good memories, with Steve McClaren at the helm for one of the club’s most historic campaigns to date, during a very successful period in the club’s history. This European run obviously came after their League Cup triumph in 2004 and they were now hoping to go all the way on the continent, to which they did in dramatic circumstances, making it all the way to the final to be beaten by a strong Sevilla side.
Speaking to Hartlepool Mail, McClaren reflected on their 2005/06 campaign with a lot of fondness but was keen to stress that it wasn’t always a bed of roses as they fought to come back in two different stages of the competition. He stated: “That season was a difficult one.
“I think we finished 14th in the league but we knew this would probably be the last year in Europe – we weren’t going to qualify again.
“The first leg of the Basel game was 2-0 away. I remember sat in the stand over there and thinking this is the end, they are a damn good team and we’ll do well to pull back from this. We were fortunate just to lose 2-0 I think.
“In the home game we conceded early and then the heroics began and they were heroics.”
Massimo Maccarone’s last-minute winner settled matters on the night and the next round against Steaua Bucharest offered very similar scenes for the Teessiders.
“Again, we just thought we had no chance because they were that good a team.
“We lost 1-0 away and were never in the game. We went 2-0 down in the second leg and lost (Gareth) Southgate early in the game. Once he hobbled off, you just think what a great run, just at least make a fight of this. We did more than that.
“You look back now and really realise just how big those moments were,” adds McClaren.
“To get the opportunity to experience that with Middlesbrough, although it was different, it’s stuff you can only dream about playing the likes of Lazio, Roma and Basel.
“It was huge, it was special and I knew it would be. I think looking back, especially now, it was probably not as appreciated as much or really taken in at the time from the supporters.
“I think now we look back and go wow! I speak to a lot of supporters and they say wow those days were some of the best days we’ll ever have.”
McClaren faced challenges in his time at the Riverside, such as havig to manage to the welath of attacking talent at his disposal in Yakubu, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Viduka and Massimo Maccarone, to name but four.
“Teams couldn’t handle the firepower that we had,” the former Boro chief added.
“I think in the second year of Europe we really thought we’d gotten a hold of Europe. They didn’t like playing against Viduka and Hasselbaink, or Viduka and Yakubu, or Hasselbaink and Yakubu.
“Centre-backs didn’t like that, they weren’t used to that and it was a formula which certainly worked because they could handle the firepower up front that we had.
“If we hadn’t got into Europe, Steve wouldn’t have bought those players, that was the key to years four and five that I had at Middlesbrough with those goals that we had.
“Handling those players was probably the toughest assignment in football that I possibly had. To leave one of them out was a nightmare and sometimes I could only play one.
“It helped that we also went to the FA Cup semi-final in that season so I think in total we played around 65 games so we needed a squad.
“That’s the only thing that enabled me to control that situation.
“They all wanted to play in the big games, that wasn’t possible. That was the difficulty when the big games came along knowing who to play.”
Can you name Boro’s first goalscorer from the last 16 seasons?
It’s a lot easier to reflect on those European nights after a lengthy period because you can truly understand the magnitude of their achievements.
McClaren did a brilliant job to get them to that final and the comebacks against Basel and Bucharest will go down in the club’s history forever.
Times aren’t so easy now but fans will be finding comfort in reminiscing about the club’s successes.
Steve Gibson has seen the full spectrum of ups and downs at Boro and he will be hoping that they can overcome their current adversities to see more positive times return to the club.