A member of the Middlesbrough squad which reached the UEFA Cup final back in 2006, Ray Parlour was a key part of arguably the most successful period in the club’s history. But now he’s tipping a bright future for the class of 2016.
Ladbrokes News sat down with the former Boro ace to discuss everything from Alvaro Negredo’s form to the club’s Premier League survival hopes, and his memories of playing in that amazing European run.
Grab yourself a cuppa and read on…
Ladbrokes News: Your former club Middlesbrough are currently 4 points above the relegation zone in 14th place. Are you confident they’ll beat the drop? And if so, is a top-half finish achievable?
Ray Parlour: Obviously survival is the most important aim. Once you’re established in the Premier League, then you start looking towards progressing up the table.
Boro did so well last year to finally get back there, and I was delighted for [Chairman] Steve Gibson – but now the focus is on stability, and the success of clubs like Stoke City.
When Stoke came up in 2008, you were wondering how long they’d manage to survive, but now you’re expecting them to be battling for a top-half finish.
That’s where Boro need to aim, and signing players like Alvaro Negredo – who’s now starting to score a few goals – combined with their solid defence, stands them in good stead. Of the three sides that came up last season, they’re definitely the best equipped to survive.
Home form is hugely important when you’re promoted, and they’re just coming off the back of that really good home win against Swansea City. They’ve also had some great draws – taking a point at the Emirates and the Etihad. I was at that game against Arsenal, and Boro should have won that game.
If they can keep that performance level up then they’ll definitely be in the Premier League next season. Personally, I have a lot of confidence in this Boro side – I think they’ll be fine.
LN: They’ve been strong defensively but are among the Prem’s lowest scorers with 16 goals. Do they need to buy forwards in January, or are you backing the likes of Negredo and Fischer to come good?
RP: Negredo had a bit of a dodgy spell, but now he’s back on the scoresheet with four in four.
The goalscorers I played alongside would always say that when you go through those barren spells, you’ve just got to keep training hard, and even if you can just scramble home a goal in a game, it gets you up and running again.
He’s going for goal more again now, whereas he’d pass the ball onto someone else during that time when he was struggling with confidence.
I think Negredo will come good consistently for Middlesbrough, but I’m sure Steve Gibson and [manager Aitor] Karanka will be on the lookout for players who can strengthen their squad in January. The problem is, the players available in January aren’t usually those of the highest quality.
LN: Aitor Karanka has brought the club back to the top-flight but his tactics haven’t always been the most exciting, and he’s ruffled a few feathers along the way. Do you think he’s the right man to take the club forward from here, or not?
RP: I think he’s the right man, yes. Obviously there was that spell last season when things were fractious and he didn’t attend the game away at Charlton Athletic, but that all seems to be in the past now.
For me, his make-or-break game was the one against Hull City in March, when Boro scored in injury-time to win 1-0.
Karanka has been backed by Steve Gibson, who is one of the best chairmen in English football, which gives the manager the best chance to show what he can do.
They’re doing okay this season, but they need to build some momentum and to ensure the Riverside a fortress. If they can do that, then he’ll definitely prove the club were right to stick with him.
LN: One man who’s made the move you did, from Arsenal to Middlesbrough (albeit on loan) is Callum Chambers. Do you think he’d be better served staying with Boro long-term for regular football, or trying to break into the Arsenal side?
RP: I’m pleased to see players like Callum and Jack Wilshere going out on loan, because you want to be getting game time. You don’t progress by sitting on the bench.
Callum is a young lad, he will improve and he’s shown some promise at Arsenal. He’s playing alongside Ben Gibson at the back – a guy who’s been tipped to maybe become an England international in the future. And they’re developing a really good partnership.
However, I believe he has a big future under Arsene Wenger, so I’m hoping he’ll come back a much more well-rounded player and ready to slot into the Arsenal side.
LN: You spoke in your autobiography about how passionate the fans are on Teesside. As someone who’s played for the club and lived in the area – how important is it for Middlesbrough to have a Premier League club?
RP: It’s huge. I was involved in that incredible journey as Boro reached the final of the old UEFA Cup against Sevilla back in 2005. The fans were a huge part of that – always very passionate, and the away support we got was especially impressive.
You always have ups and downs supporting any club, and there have been plenty for Middlesbrough fans over the years – but they’ve always stuck with the club, and they need to be a 12th man this season to will the club on.
LN: And finally, on a Boro note, what are your favourite memories of the time you spent at the club – on and off the pitch?
RP: For me, the first season as a whole was a great experience. I played a lot, and we had a lot of players with real quality – the likes of Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Viduka, George Boateng and Gaizka Mendieta, to name a few.
I enjoyed playing a slightly different role, moving from right midfield to playing in the centre regularly. And the change off the pitch was a good experience too – living up in the North-East. It’s a club I still have a lot of affection for.
Next up for Middlesbrough is a trip to Old Trafford, with Aitor Karanka’s 10/1 men to overcome Manchester United on their own patch for the second time in succession.
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