Aitor Karanka is convinced that David Moyes’s coaching qualities literally got lost in translation during an unhappy spell at Real Sociedad but the Spaniard is not about to underestimate Sunderland’s new manager.
Karanka takes Middlesbrough to the Stadium of Light on Sunday for his first north-east derby adamant that a Wearside team depleted alarmingly by injuries are “improving every week under David”.
If those words could perhaps be construed as a hint that Karanka might not be a huge fan of the football played by Moyes’s predecessor, Sam Allardyce, it also reflects a certain protectiveness towards a man he was desperate to see succeed in San Sebastián.
As a native of the Basque country, it is a club in which Karanka takes a particular interest and he fully understands why the former Everton and Manchester United manager was sacked in November last year after only a year in charge. By the end of that tenure Moyes, who despite taking language lessons struggled to master Spanish, was still speaking to his players through an interpreter.
“I was disappointed for David because I think he’s an amazing manager and I wanted him to be successful in Spain,” said Karanka, sporting a new-look moustache and abundant “designer” stubble. “Meeting David is always a pleasure and I admire him a lot but, when you don’t know the language or the league it’s difficult.
“I was sad for him because it’s a frustration when you can’t explain what you know. That you can’t tell people things is a shame. It was a shame David couldn’t show his real level in Spain, I understand how hard it was for him.”
With Karanka having fought – and won – his own lengthy battle to conquer an unfamiliar language such sentiments are heartfelt. Although now impressively fluent in English, Boro’s manager had to work hard to overcome the language barrier during his early months on Teesside.
Despite arriving equipped with some rudimentary vocabulary drawn from a stint in Colorado at the end of his playing career, the one-time Real Madrid centre-half and assistant manager was soon reduced to using body language to communicate with players.
These days Karanka and his wife and two children are capable of switching seamlessly from one language to another mid-sentence – “although my son and daughter laugh at my English,” he reports – but he initially arrived alone and had daily two-hour tuition.
“I took a lot of lessons,” the 42-year-old recalled. “It was difficult because it wasn’t just the two-hour lesson, it was the two-hour lesson after working a 10‑hour day at the training ground but, it was important, I needed to do it. The main thing was to be able to transmit my ideas and my character. Being able to communicate properly made a big difference. But I hope more English managers will go and work in La Liga.
“My feeling is that you have to learn by travelling abroad. It would be good for English and Spanish coaches to learn from each other. Over here I’m learning so much every single day from English managers, from Italian managers.”
José Mourinho’s one-time Real sidekick does not need to be told there are no easy games in the Premier League but privately he appreciates that Boro could benefit from the current turmoil at Sunderland, where Younès Kaboul is busy defecting to Watford and his erstwhile central defensive partner Lamine Koné has rejected a new contract, says he wants to leave for Everton and will not play on Sunday after complaining of a mysterious back problem.
The stage seems set for Álvaro Negredo, Karanka’s key summer attacking signing from Valencia, to strut his stuff. Ironically, during his Everton days, Moyes attempted to sign Negredo, only for the striker to opt for Manchester City instead.
“I hope Álvaro can do for us what Jermain Defoe did for Sunderland last season and score lots of goals,” said Karanka, who has made 10 signings already while Moyes, desperately playing catch-up after succeeding Allardyce, still needs to strengthen in every department.
He would surely love Negredo as Defoe’s much sought-after new partner – even if the forward proved underwhelming at Valencia last season. “Álvaro has everything, it’s just that he has to work on his confidence,” Karanka said. “He showed his quality and that he could cope with the pressure at Manchester City but he needed a coach, a club who trusted him. I can offer him that trust. I have my confidence in him.”
Middlesbrough’s 23-year-old defender Ben Gibson has signed a new five-year contract with the Premier League newcomers.
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