Kieran Scott's three years at Middlesbrough - lessons learned, progress made and future hope

Middlesbrough head of football Kieran Scott
-Credit: (Image: Middlesbrough FC)


It's three years this summer since Kieran Scott first took on the role of head of football at Middlesbrough.

Though work began from day one in the summer of 2021 to revamp and revitalise the way Boro worked as far as their football operations are concerned - which crucially included but was not limited to recruitment - he famously claimed at the unveiling of Michael Carrick in October 2022 that he felt he could really start his work now.

That he arrived while traditionalist Neil Warnock was in charge and then had to negotiate a tricky period in which Chris Wilder was at the helm, the sentiment of those words at the new head coach's unveiling was centred around finding a head coach who was willing to work within the new strategy that Scott was trying to implement.

READ MORE: Middlesbrough's PSR situation explained amid £57m losses in the past three years

Recognising after years of poor recruitment and huge loss-making that the direction had to change, it was Scott's work at Norwich City as head of recruitment under director of football Stuart Webber that attracted Boro to Scott. Boro wanted Scott to execute what he had done at Norwich, and three years on, his work has really begun bearing fruit.

Recruitment feels more aligned than it has for a very long time on Teesside. No longer is there a feeling of club signings mixed in with those to appease the current boss, the two are now just one and the same.

"I've worked with some good people over the years who have taught me that, Stuart Webber being one," Scott reflects when discussing his approach and ideals. "Stuart always had that vision and I lived that with him.

"I have to see football clubs as a business because, unless you're Chelsea, it has to be run like a business. It's hard because I want to win and the balance is difficult, but if we don't have players on the pitch who are a certain age who could be worth a certain amount of money, I don't see how we'll progress going forward.

"I've always felt that way. If you have a coach who has his own agenda, you're not going to get anywhere as a football club. Now you can see everyone [other clubs] has gone this way because it is the way forward."

It might not always be the easiest sell for supporters. Unapologetically, after losses of over £80 million since Covid hit Boro and many others hard from a financial perspective, the strategy does rely on player trading - which ultimately means selling players as well as bringing them in - albeit with timing being key.

"That is a real indicator of a club that hasn't got parachute payments," Scott says, his disdain for the current climate Boro operate in clear. "It really does put you into a position where you have to consider it at all times.

"There's not much you can do when Premier League clubs come calling if you haven't got that parachute payment there to protect you. It's unfortunate, I don't like it, but I don't make the rules and it does push you into a corner."

While there are many calls across football for parachute payments to be abolished and replaced with a new redistribution model between the Premier League and EFL, for now, it is what Boro must contend with. The three sides relegated last season will be estimated to receive around £50m, immediately putting them at an advantage over Boro and other Championship rivals. It's why, in a bid to remain competitive on the pitch when not off it, they had to shake up their recruitment model three years ago.

Selling Morgan Rogers after just six months wasn't exactly the kind of timing Boro ideally have in mind for Scott's strategy, but in selling the forward they signed for just over £1 million for over ten times that amount in just half a season, it was ultimately just too good for the club to turn down. In turn, with other high-profile sales in recent years too, it leaves Boro well-placed this summer as they add more quality while, perhaps just as important, are able to take a strong 'not-for-sale' stance on key players such as Hayden Hackney and Rav van den Berg.

Like last summer, although more focused this time around given there's been less to do, Boro's archetype has been on trying to find hidden gems and untapped potential. While the signing of Luke Ayling on a free shows they aren't too rigid in that preference, Delano Burgzorg and Aidan Morris represents exactly the kind of business they try to do - with Scott full of belief in Carrick to nurture potential into ready-made talent.

Now over 20 months into their working relationship, Scott is feeling ever more confident in the ability of the recruitment team - headed by Chris Jones - to find the right men for the Boro head coach.

Scott said: "The role has definitely changed over the last 12 months. My relationship with Michael has got a lot stronger. I didn't know him before we came so we had to learn how each other works. We've had time to do that. That is continuing to develop. And that allows me to get deeper in the job."

Scott ultimately overseas far more than just recruitment at Boro. Given its significance to their chances of success, it naturally takes up a huge part of his role, but there are many other elements too. Ensuring the academy continues to have that link to the first-team, for example, is seen as key, as are other elements of youth development such as loans and finding the ideal environments to aid growth.

After a season impacted by the amount of injuries Boro suffered too, Scott recently took control of Boro's medical department and worked with the experts in that field at the club to conduct a huge review into the problem. They're confident, with new arrivals such as the return of strength and conditioning coach John Thrower from Tottenham, that will be fixed for next season.

Ultimately, despite all of their collective and differing experiences in football, it remains an ever-changing and evolving game and that means Scott, Carrick and co are always learning. One thing that doesn't change, however, is their shared ambition to get Boro back to the Premier League.

"It was a challenging start, we all know that," Scott said when asked of the lessons learned last term. "I have to give credit to Michael, the coaching staff and players for finding some rhythm and getting going. Injuries caused a massive setback, every time we made a step forward injuries put us back and Michael could rarely select his strongest starting XI.

"We finished the season well. I had a stat sent to me from a few days ago - from March 1 to the end of the season we picked up the most points in the league. It shows we were on the right track at the end of the season but it was just a bit too late. Some of the young players got in at the end of the season too. Alex Gilbert had a good end to the season, Law McCabe came in.

"I think you learn more when things don't go right. I think we did learn a lot. I learnt we all stuck together. When it wasn't going right at the start of the season, there were demands to be better, but no agendas. I've been at clubs where that has happened. We stuck to what we believe in. I kept learning we're all together and we all want to achieve the same thing and we're fighting for the same thing."