Opinion: Middlesbrough must resist any temptation following the signing of 31-year-old free agent

Opinion: Middlesbrough must resist any temptation following the signing of 31-year-old free agent

Former Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson is a free agent after being released by Norwich City.

Gibson should not return to Riverside this year.

Middlesbrough is rebuilding their roster in preparation for a probable promotion to the Championship next season.

Boro began the season slowly, failing to win any of their first seven league games after losing to Coventry City in the play-off semi-finals the previous season.

Michael Carrick’s team improved greatly after that, but inconsistency remained an issue throughout the season, and despite a strong finish, they missed out on the top six, finishing eighth in the table.

A run of only one defeat in their last 12 games has given Boro fans plenty of hope for next season, and with the proper additions in the transfer market this summer, Carrick’s side could undoubtedly be among the promotion candidates.

Boro already has a good squad, and the return to fitness of Hayden Hackney, Riley McGree, and Marcus Forss will help them even more heading into the next season, but after being stretched by injuries this season, additional depth is required if they are to maintain a promotion bid.

Owner Steve Gibson is likely to back Carrick this summer, but the club has cut expenditure in recent years, and they may aim to make some savvy free agency additions.

Former Boro defender Ben Gibson has become available, and his release by Norwich City may prompt calls from certain fans to bring him back to the Riverside Stadium, but the club must fight any suggestions of a reunion.

Middlesbrough should not consider Ben Gibson return this summer

Gibson joined Boro at the age of 12 and progressed through their academy. He scored four goals and provided five assists in 204 games for the club.

The highlight of Gibson’s time at Boro came in the 2015-16 season, when he helped the club win promotion to the Premier League, and his performances earned him a reputation as one of the best Championship defenders.

Gibson joined Burnley for a cost of £15 million in August 2018. However, he only made six appearances for the club and fell out with then-manager Sean Dyche.

After a poor relationship between Gibson and Dyche, the defender returned to train at Boro in February 2020, while being under contract with Burnley.

Gibson joined Norwich on loan in September 2020 and made the move permanent the following summer for £8 million.

The 30-year-old was a regular in the Canaries’ defence throughout his four years at the club, but he has received criticism for his inconsistent performances this season, particularly in the first half.

Gibson recovered his form after returning from two months on the sidelines with injury in December, and he played a major role in Norwich’s promotion to the play-offs, with former head coach David Wagner applauding his performances.

“In recent weeks, or the last month, he has shown maybe a different style to his game – very aggressive, very front-foot defending, very brave, to not give the opponent a breather,” Wagner stated to the Pink Un.

“Rather than just the ball-playing centre half that everyone is talking about.

“He added something different maybe to his game; this nastiness, this aggression, which you like to have from a centre half especially if you like to be a front-foot defending team, which is what we like to be.”

Gibson, who made 40 appearances in all competitions for the Canaries this season, will leave the club at the conclusion of his contract, as confirmed on Monday.

Boro sought to bring Gibson back to the club in January 2020 during Jonathan Woodgate’s reign, and he is still a popular figure among fans, so some may want to see him return this summer.

However, Boro are well-stocked at centre-back, with Rav van den Berg, Matt Clarke, Dael Fry, and Darragh Lenihan on their books, making it difficult to see why Gibson should be re-signed.

Van den Berg and Clarke forged a fantastic relationship in the last few months of the season, and they might be Carrick’s first-choice duo next season, leaving two experienced defenders in Fry and Lenihan on the bench.

The situation may alter if van den Berg leaves this summer, but Carrick does not fear interest in his key players. The Dutchman may decide to stay at the Riverside Stadium for another year to further his growth.

Given Boro’s depth at centre-back, they should avoid the temptation to re-sign Gibson, who is expected to seek a high salary, and instead use their wage budget to improve other areas of the squad.

There is no doubt that Gibson remains a more than adequate Championship performer, and he will have plenty of suitors this summer, but Boro should not be one of them.

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