While Peter Reid's regime at Sunderland lurches towards a terminal crisis and Newcastle United struggle to come to terms with the demands of the Champions' League, Middlesbrough seem surrounded by an aura of calm; forgotten amid the grand dramas playing out elsewhere in the north-east.
For Ugo Ehiogu that calmness comes not just from being part of a club which has quietly pushed itself into the top six, spurred on by an exotic array of signings who have gelled better than even Boro's manager, Steve McClaren, could have hoped. Morning and night, the 29-year-old whose partnership with another articulate Londoner, Gareth Southgate, has formed the defensive rock on which McClaren has reshaped a team salvaged by Terry Venables, practises yoga.
"Being left out of the World Cup squad hit me extremely hard," he reflected. "It got to the stage where I couldn't even watch the matches. So I decided to have a new regime that I hope will make me stronger. It is a yoga programme to try to add that five per cent more and I believe it will bear fruit."
Ehiogu was genuinely disappointed not to be in Sven Goran Eriksson's squad, which ultimately proved less than the sum of its parts in Japan. That Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate and Sol Campbell are contemporaries has proved an extreme misfortune. "It chews you up so much," he replied when asked how he reacted to his omission. "It would be nice to see my name in the squad because I believe I'm good enough and confident enough. I have shown that with results and performances for Middlesbrough."
The explosion into the Premiership of Massimo Maccarone and the bedding in of McClaren's other summer signings – Géremi from Real Madrid and George Boateng, the latest to join the Aston Villa old boys association – has been the chief reason for Middlesbrough's upswing. As Blackburn Rovers discovered when Corrado Grabbi managed one Premiership goal last season, players brought in from Serie B can be expensive gambles.
However, but for the financial crisis throttling Italian football, the young, brilliant and arrogant Maccarone would probably be displaying his talents by the banks of the Po or the Tiber rather than the Tees and his performance in the demolition of Sunderland was as thrilling an exhibition of football as the Riverside could have witnessed in its brief, seven-year existence.
"If we have everyone fit and our best team out, I would be disappointed if we were not in the top six. This is the best set of lads we have had since I came to the club without a shadow of a doubt," Ehiogu said. When Robson's team of international stars and First Division journeymen was relegated in 1997, someone accurately observed that: "You cannot have team spirit in a dressing-room which speaks seven different languages".
Ehiogu would beg to differ. "There is a togetherness here and we are a group. Despite the different languages, there is no clique here which has happened at some clubs. Massimo has got off to a good start which helps but he does mix well; he's a bright lad and nothing much gets past him. He's got Carlos Marinelli, Géremi and Alen Boksic to translate for him and it makes it far funnier in the dressing-room. We all went go-karting the other day and it was fun but maybe it wouldn't have happened in the past."
Today's contest with Tottenham, another club from the Premiership's second tier which has made a sure-footed beginning under a relatively new manager who believes in technique, will provide a truer examination of Middlesbrough's long-term credentials than the recent beatings of Sunderland and Birmingham. "We are parallel to Spurs," Ehiogu said. "They have not surprised me but they have bigger tests to come – starting with us."
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