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Middlesbrough vs. Norwich: Will Spanish glamour or Scottish grit win out in the £130million match?

22 May | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Middlesbrough vs. Norwich: Will Spanish glamour or Scottish grit win out in the £130million match?

It's former Real Madrid man Aitor Karanka vs ex-Hamilton Academical boss Alex Neil in the biggest money game in football

In a neutrally decorated office somewhere inside Middlesbrough’s Rockliffe Park training ground complex, Aitor Karanka will already be hard at work planning his strategy for winning the play-off semi-final on Monday.

As he’s moving around those little magnetic circles around his whiteboard, Karanka can always pick up the phone and ring his managerial mentor, Jose Mourinho for advice.

But who will his opponent, Norwich boss Alex Neil be calling for help before the match?

“I’ll probably just give my mum a phone call,” deadpans the Scot.

Neil’s journey to this game has been somewhat different to Karanka’s.

His career began at Airdrieonians, before taking in spells at Barnsley, Mansfield Town and finally Hamilton Academical, where he first got his break into management as caretaker boss, before being handed the job full time aged just 31.

Promotion to the top flight followed in his first full season, followed by a first win over Celtic in 76 years for the Accies, before Norwich came calling.

Meanwhile Karanka played for Real Madrid for five years, winning La Liga and the European Cup three times, before spending three years as assistant to Mourinho at the Bernabeu.

Ultimately of course, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got Mrs Neil or the Special One in your corner – it’s the players that will have to go out and perform.

And for most of the season, it was Boro’s that were delivering, as they hovered in and around the top two until the very end of the season, when they were beaten into fourth by Norwich – who were galvanised by the arrival of Neil in January.

“The first thing is the money, but these players deserve to play in the Premier League,” Karanka insisted after the 5-1 aggregate semi-final win over Brentford.

He may or may not be right about his second point, he certainly is right about his first: this match is all about the money.

The Championship play-off final is the one single match with more cash at stake than any other game in world football.

FA Cup final? You get a piffling £1.8million for winning that. Champions League? Less than £10million. Even the World Cup final will only net you a paltry £22million.

Last year’s play-off winners Queens Park Rangers were guaranteed more than £130million from the moment they defeated Derby County in the final. And it will be even more this time around. And don’t forget, that’s worst case scenario – that is assuming the winning club is immediately relegated.

So the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Neil was full of praise for his players after their 4-2 aggregate semi-final win over local rivals Ipswich Town. They showed plenty of “bottle” he said afterwards.

With more than a £130million at stake, they’re going to need plenty of that on Monday afternoon.