Middlesbrough are looking for a ‘Leicester City bounce’ after sacking Aitor Karanka and putting assistant Steve Agnew in charge – although they have also already considered making an offer to Guus Hiddink.
Leicester dismissed Claudio Ranieri last month with assistant Craig Shakespeare stepping up and winning his first two Premier League matches in charge to pull them out of the relegation places and secure the job for himself until the end of the season.
Boro are now hoping for a similar reaction under Agnew who will take charge of Sunday’s league encounter at home to Manchester United after which the club has the international break to assess what to do before they play again away to Swansea City on Sunday April 2. If there is an improved performance, even in defeat, then Agnew may be given more time to stake his claim.
Interestingly, Boro vetoed Aston Villa’s attempts to hire Agnew earlier this season to become Steve Bruce’s assistant and are understood to have told the 51-year-old former midfielder, whose clubs include Leciester, that he had no chance of eventually becoming their manager if he left. Agnew is highly-rated by Boro owner Steve Gibson who has been contacted by a number of agents and managers now there is a vacancy.
Hiddink remains firmly in the frame, however, and ironically Leicester also spoke to the Dutchman after they sacked Ranieri. Former Boro player – and assistant manager – Nigel Pearson would also be interested. It is understood that Hiddink, despite being 70, believes he has one more big job left to do and is interested in trying to save Boro from relegation.
Boro have a strong relationship with Chelsea, which was fostered through their former chief executive Peter Kenyon, and are aware of how effective Hiddink can be as a fire-fighter who can work with staff he inherits – as he proved, again, last season at Stamford Bridge following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho.
Karanka’s future has been in doubt for some time at Boro with Gibson having recently canvassed opinion around the club as to whether the Spaniard could keep them in the top flight.
Karanka has had a strained relationship with some of the players, most notably Stewart Downing, and that has recently extended to the boardroom with the 43 year-old venting his frustration at what he believed were failings in the transfer market.
Although his departure, after three years and four months in charge, is amicable, that tension was clear. Boro missed out on Jese, Robert Snodgrass and Bojan in the January window, instead signing Adlene Guedioura and spending £12 million on Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede.
Karanka also hit out at Boro’s fans and this week marked a year since he walked out ahead of their Championship fixture away to Charlton Athletic, having again fallen out with some senior players, although he did of course return to lead them to an impressive promotion back to the top flight.
Having started the season well, Boro are now winless in their last 10 league games and are currently three points from safety. They are also the league's lowest scorers with just 19 goals and were easily knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester City last weekend.
In a statement Karanka said: "This club will always hold a special place for me. I'd like to thank Middlesbrough for a wonderful opportunity and the players, staff and all the people at the club who I have worked with."
The former Real Madrid assistant manager took over at the Riverside in November 2013 and became the club’s first ever non-British manager. Hiddink could become the second.