by Bob Cass
Jonathan Woodgate is determined, when his football career is regenerated, that a successful future in coaching and management will rise phoenix-like from the ashes of a playing career blessed with talent but cursed by a chronic injury record.
If the 35 year-old Middlesbrough central defender squeezes consolation from placing a Championship winners medal alongside the eight England caps which adorn his trophy cabinet, it will make his decision to extend his contract until the end of the season all the more worthwhile.
Woodgate has Aitor Karanka to thank for encouraging him to stay on, reversing a clear intention to hang up his boots when Boro failed to win promotion in last season’s Championship play-offs.
Although the Riverside manager has gathered an impressive bunch of younger players around him, his decision to offer the Teesside-born but much-travelled six-footer a further 12-months reflected his need for someone who can provide example, character and leadership, as well as experience on the field when needed, and underlined his shrewd management technique.
It also provided a timely psychological fillip to a player whose fight against adversity has marked him out as one of the most resilient ever to pull on a football shirt… another asset that had not gone unnoticed by his Spanish boss, whose affinity to Woodgate’s situation has been underlined by a year-long stall because of health problems in his own career as a central defender with Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao.
To say Woodgate is overdue for a break is a massive understatement. His current medical bulletin – “I’m available for selection” – is a welcome change for someone whose body has endured more cuts than the local steel industry, the closure of which threatens to decimate the team’s following.
He is ready, willing and able to answer any call Karanka may want to make on him.
“The manager has been fantastic for me from day one here,” says Woodgate. “It’s the same for all of the players. He has changed the club’s philosophy in terms of wanting to win every game; even every training session.
“If we lose a game we really know about it. Everybody is disappointed when it happens, but with this bloke it really is like world war three.
“That’s something I will learn from him, which is how it should be. He is certainly the man to take the club forward.”
If the timescale of events is allowing Woodgate the rare treat of being able to have a clear picture of his future, few would begrudge him that.
“I’ll probably be done after this season, but I will wait to see what happens,” he said. “For now I will be there when the manager needs me. When he wants me to play I’ll play.
“We’ve got some terrific centre-halves at the club who are doing really well. I will just try and support them. In training I will try and offer advice but the team is playing some great stuff at the moment.
“When you’ve had the injuries I’ve had you learn to take each day as it comes. You get on with it and deal with it. You can’t mope about; you’ve just got to come back fitter and stronger than you were before.
“After I’ve finished playing my ambition is to go into coaching and then management, but there is still an awful long way to go.”
Armed with a maximum portfolio of qualifications, Woodgate’s first priority will be to get his foot on the coaching ladder – and there have already been hints that could come at his present club with a manager who, like him, can call on the experience of playing at the highest level of European football.
Such an opportunity would rule out him continuing as a player.
He added: “I must have worked with around 20-odd managers at club and international level – people like Bobby Robson, Terry Venables, Steve McClaren, Harry Redknapp, just to mention a few. I’ve been lucky enough to have a football education like that.
“I’m just about to finish my UEFA B licence, then I’ve got my A to do. The intention is to follow that with the Pro licence, which is going to take some time, but at the moment that’s my pathway. That will take three to four years.
“You can still get a coaching job without your Pro licence, but my aim is to get all my coaching qualifications.”
Under the watchful eye of Middlesbrough’s accomplished Academy manager David Parnaby – whose record of producing top class talent is unsurpassed – Woodgate has already dipped his toe into the coaching water.
“I have taken the Under-16s for odd sessions just to get my minutes in for B Licence qualification,” he revealed.
“David has asked me to follow one of the teams and just help out when I can. So I’ve been doing that and getting a feel for it.
“It’s great seeing a kid develop and if I can help in that development, it would be fantastic.”
But Woodgate’s long-term personal ambitions take second place to the main aim for Boro, which is a return to the Premier League.
“To be part of a set-up which gets my hometown back where it should be would be fantastic,” Woodgate declared.
“And there couldn’t be a better man to get us there than the boss.”