The (Not So) Fox In The Boksic

by Stel Stylianou
10th Oct 2018

I’ve always admired Middlesbrough Chairman Steve Gibson. Here we have a man who’s gone from supporting the club on the terraces of Ayresome Park to the top dog in Boro’s most successful era.

I once met Gibson in one of the most random ways you could imagine. It was at a wrestling show in Camden (the Electric Ballroom, to be precise). I was sat in the front row with a friend and to my right was an empty seat. Given tickets for this event sold out in under 20 minutes, it was a bit baffling as to why no one was sat there. During the interview, one of the promoters and his fiancée came up to me and asked if I could be on the look out for someone who looks like Tom Hanks wandering around in search for a seat, and to tell him that seat is his. A quick shrug of the shoulders and an “OK, Tom Hanks. Got it” was enough to seal the deal.

Moments later, a bloke in his 50’s wearing (what looked like) M&S Autumn casualwear walked up to me and asked if the seat beside me was his. I did a double take and, lo and behold, it was Boro Chairman Steve Gibson. Immediately I said, “Ever been to one of these Steve?” Pathetic, right? Might as well have asked “Do you come here often?” To Steve’s credit, he stayed the full duration of the second half and even spoke to people who recognised him outside in the bloody rain. What a guy.

Gibson has always been full of surprises though. I doubt anyone (who was around back then) can forget the shock signings of Ravanelli, Emerson and Juninho in 1996. It didn’t stop there though. Gibson has always put his hand in his pockets to back managers, whilst preventing his heart from ruling his head (see Peter Risdale at Leeds).

Boro fans have seen the likes of Christian Karembeu, Jimmy-Flloyd Hasselbaink, Gaizka Mendieta, Christan Ziege, Ugo Ehiogu, Jan Aage Fjortoft, Branco, Marco Branca, Bolo Zenden and even current England manager Gareth Southgate wear the red shirt on Gibson’s watch. A superb list of acquisitions. But the most intriguing signing has to be Alen Boksic, who left Rome for Teesside back in 2000 for £2.5m.

Boksic began his career at Hadjuk Split and aged 20 he was called up to Yugoslavia’s 1990 World Cup squad. Another piece of interesting trivia is that Boksic scored the winning goal in the last ever Yugoslavian Cup final.

A move to AS Cannes didn’t go as well as he’d like, but Marseille Head Coach Raymond Goethals saw enough of Boksic to believe the Croat would form a deadly partnership with German striker Rudi Voller. And so they did. Boksic bagged 23 goals in Ligue 1, while Voller found the net 18 times. But the success in ‘92/’93 didn’t end with the Ligue 1 title; a 1-0 Champions League final victory against AC Milan completed a controversial season.

No less than seven months after winning Europe’s elite club trophy, Boksic was sold to Lazio. Marseille were embroiled in a match fixing and financial irregularities case, which culminated in president Bernard Tapie being jailed for 2 years and the club stripped of its Ligue 1 title.

Boksic had 2 spells at Lazio with a short stint at Juve sandwiched in between, although he wasn’t anywhere near as prolific as he was in France. A paltry 17 goals in 64 Serie A games in his first 3 seasons at Lazio were followed by 3 in 22 for Juventus in ‘96/’97, although Boksic did get his hands on a Scudetto medal, the UEFA Supercup and Intercontinental Cup.

His return to Lazio coincided with the appointment of Sampdoria Head Coach Sven-Goran Erikssen, who took club legend Roberto Mancini with him. As it goes, my favourite Boksic moment comes from Lazio’s 3-0 victory over Sampdoria in ‘97. I remember this game for two reasons. First and foremost, a sublime individual effort from Boksic that was so good even Sampdoria’s GOALKEEPER Fabrizio Ferron applauded it!

The ball was played to Boksic 10 yards into the Sampdoria half. He brushed his marker aside like he was an empty packet of Quavers, beat one man, knocked the ball to the left of his original marker – putting him on his arse again – and lobbed the keeper from the edge of the “D”. Ferron was standing on the edge of his 6 yard box and all he could do was watch as the ball looped over him and into the back of the net. As the ball rolled out of the goal, Ferron put both hands in the air and applauded, as if to say “You got me. Nothing I could do about it.” To be fair, had the keeper stayed on his line, Boksic wouldn’t have tried that chip – but he did, and it was a sumptuous goal.

The other reason I remember this game is for the banners and signs paying homage to Mancini, unfurled by travelling Samp fans. These days, you’d see someone tweeting “Sampdoria fans. #Respect”. Blugh!

While Boksic struggled to find the net in Italy, his final season in Rome was a huge success as Lazio won the UEFA Supercup, Serie A and the last ever European Cup Winner’s Cup. Months later, the Croat signed a £63,000 a week deal at Middlesbrough. Two goals on his debut started him on the right foot with the fans and 10 more strikes earned Boksic the fans Player Of The Year award. However, he struggled in the Premier League and a few injuries here and there didn’t help him settle at all.

Reading up on Boksic’s goals to games ratio, I was stunned to see how poor his stats are. Under 40 goals in over 140 league games in Italy. Only scored over 20 goals in one season his whole career. Unreal!

Slaven Bilic once said “If you ask me as a centre-back, when you play against Boksic, he would have slaughtered you. Running, dribbling, going left in the channel. He’d kick you, beat you, whatever. But maybe he wouldn’t score.” Maybe he wouldn’t score? That’s putting it nicely, Slav.

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