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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 05:33 GMT 06:33 UK
Woodgate living the Teesside dream

By Jonathan Stevenson

Middlesbrough defender Jonathan Woodgate
Woodgate made 36 appearances in his first season with Boro

Every time Jonathan Woodgate pulls on a Middlesbrough shirt, he is fulfilling a childhood dream.

The cultured 27-year-old central defender is a dyed-in-the-wool Boro fan and stood on the terraces as a boy, cheering on his idols.

Now, impressionable young fans at the Riverside Stadium have a new hero to worship, one of their own.

"It has been a truly great feeling to wear the Middlesbrough shirt," Woodgate told BBC Sport.

"I used to watch them all the time when I was young and it was always my main ambition to play for Boro.

"So far it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, playing for my hometown club."

Presumably, just playing football on a regular basis has been a big part of Woodgate's enjoyment since arriving back on Teesside last August.

It was a shame it ended the way it did, but Real Madrid was a great experience

Jonathan Woodgate

His successful first season back in the Premiership came on the back of two-and-a-half hugely frustrating years in Spain with Real Madrid.

Signed by the Spanish giants for 13.4m from Newcastle in August 2004, Woodgate's La Liga career was almost over before it had even begun.

He arrived at the Bernabeu with a chronic thigh problem and it was over a year before he could make his debut, scoring an own goal and being sent off against Athletic Bilbao.

More injury problems and surgery on his back curtailed his first-team chances even further and by the time he agreed to move to Boro on loan, he had only made nine appearances for Real.

"Real Madrid was a great experience for me," says Woodgate of his spell in Spain.

"It was a shame it ended the way it did, with not playing much and injuries - that wasn't too good for me.

606: DEBATE

"But with experience, you do become a better player and I would have to say I benefited from playing in Spain as that experience counts for a lot now."

Many English clubs were rumoured to be interested in ending Woodgate's Spanish nightmare, but eventually he chose the town of his birth.

Such was the ease with which he adapted back to life in the Premiership that in April, Boro announced that they had signed him on a permanent deal from Real for 7m.

"It wasn't hard coming back from Spain, I knew how to play in England and what was required all along," said Woodgate.

"When I first got here I wanted to see what it was like, see if I enjoyed myself and see what it would be like to be back home again.

"I just had a great time. Everyone was good to me, I get on well with the manager and the coaching staff and with the rest of the players, too.

"It did feel right being here from the very start, but I didn't make up my mind about my future immediately.

"I decided in January that I wanted to stay at Middlesbrough. I told the manager [Gareth Southgate] straight away and obviously he was pretty pleased with the decision."

Middlesbrough's Jonathan Woodgate (left) with manager Gareth Southgate
Two of Middlesbrough's finest centre-backs, past and present

Pretty pleased? "The opportunity to bring in a player of this quality doesn't happen very often," was exactly how pleased Southgate was upon telling the world of his coup.

So is the feeling mutual after Southgate's first season in charge of the club?

"I'm extremely impressed with Gareth, I think he's done a very good job," said Southgate's replacement at centre-back.

"It's has been a transitional period since he took over from Steve McClaren, it takes time to get your ideas across and spend money on your own players.

"It's not easy to try and find your feet as a manager in the Premiership, especially when you are a player one year and manager next, all at the same club, it's been hard for him.

"But the set-up is second-to-none really, if you look at the backroom staff as well, they are all first-class too so that's another reason why I had to sign."

Boro finished 12th last season, so what does Woodgate feel should be a realistic aim when the players go back for pre-season in July?

"You have got to try and push for that top seven and try for the Uefa Cup places," explained Woodgate.

"It was only the season before last that Boro got to the Uefa Cup final, so we cannot be far away from getting into Europe again.

"We just need a few more players and we'll be a good side. We want to push for honours, try to win a trophy too. We'll be trying our hardest to achieve that."



SEE ALSO
Woodgate eases fears over injury
11 May 07 |  Middlesbrough
Boro confirm 7m Woodgate signing
26 Apr 07 |  Middlesbrough
Boateng confident over Woodgate
20 Mar 07 |  Middlesbrough
Woodgate adds to Beckham debate
19 Oct 06 |  Middlesbrough
Woodgate close to England recall
02 Oct 06 |  Internationals
Boro fans urged to woo Woodgate
22 Sep 06 |  Football
Boro agree Woodgate fee with Real
18 Sep 06 |  Middlesbrough
Woodgate & 6m Huth sign for Boro
30 Aug 06 |  Middlesbrough


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