Leading up to Sunday’s Premier League opener at home to Stoke City, Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka said he never had any intention to leave last season, contrary to reports.
From leading the Championship in January to securing only three victories in 10 matches, Karanka was absent during Middlesbrough’s 2-0 loss away to Charlton Athletic, sparking rumours of a rift with the dressing room.
But Karanka denied those reports as Boro prepare for their return to England’s top flight.
“I never wanted to leave. I spoke with the chairman Steve Gibson. There was talk about my relationship with the players,” Karanka told the Daily Mail.
“But I came back and we went the last 10 games unbeaten and went up. That’s some manager who has no relationship with his players but can do that!
“That tells me the squad is united behind me. The players said thank-you to me in public and in private. Now we are in the Premier League.”
Karanka was hired as Middlesbrough manager in November 2013, with the club on the brink of relegation from the Championship.
After losing out to Norwich City in the play-off final in 2015, the former Champions League winner admitted the reality of another season in England’s second tier was daunting, but credits Gibson for maintaining faith.
“Fear is a strong word but I had this sense of uncertainty and insecurity of the unknown. We won one in five to begin and the language was an issue,” he explained.
“After five games without a win in Spain, the chairman’s packing your suitcase and waving you off. Steve was the opposite. He’s an amazing man.”
With Boro securing the signatures of Victor Valdes, Alvaro Negredo (loan) and Viktor Fischer upon their return to the Premier League for this season, aspirations are high locally, but Karanka was quick to temper that.
“Our aim is to stay up and then build after that. I’m not going to start talking about the Europa League but people on the street are saying we can win the league like Leicester! That is almost impossible but we want to make an impact,” he added.
“If we are like a Spanish team with the ball and an English team without the ball, that would be good. There is no shame in hard work.
“We want to be organised, dedicated and defend well. We also want to have quality on the ball, players who can make things happen. That will make the fans proud of us – and that’s what matters.”