Matthew Bates knows what it takes to perform at the highest level for Middlesbrough – and he has backed Ben Gibson to shine on the club’s return to the top flight.
The 23-year-old is set to be at the heart of Aitor Karanka’s Boro defence when their Premier League campaign begins with the visit of Stoke City on August 13.
Gibson’s progression over the past two seasons has been impressive, playing a key role in the best defence in the Championship.
And Hartlepool United defender Bates has heaped praise on the left-sided centre-back, with national reports suggesting he could be fast-tracked into the England set-up.
“I think Boro can do well this season,” Bates said.
“They need to make a few signings still and I am sure they will do, especially with the money up there now.
“In any league it is all about the start but especially in the Premier League. If Boro can get a good start then they will do well.
“It has all changed at Boro since my days, but I still keep in touch with Ben Gibson occasionally, I always wind him up and say I nurtured him to where he is now!
“You could see when he was a kid coming through, he was probably a first team scholar when I was in the first team, and he was a leader then.
“You could just see it in him. I’m not surprised by how well he has done.
“I haven’t seen that many games as we play at the same time but by all accounts he is a leader on the pitch and there is even talk of him possibly being in the England fold at some stage.
“He is a lad that will work hard and I am sure he will have a great season,” added Bates, who was part of one of the most successful Boro teams enjoying long runs in the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup.
The Boro links remain strong at Pools and Bates is ‘enjoying’ the pre-season sessions under Craig Hignett and first team coach Curtis Fleming.
Bates said: “The gaffer and Flem have a more modern idea of getting the balls out early and I call it disguised running or disguised hard work because it is a little bit more fun with the balls!
“We will get through it, there will be some niggles here and there but that is part and parcel of pre-season.
“I am 29 now and have enough pre-seasons under my belt. I know how it goes. You just have to get your head down and grind through it.
“It isn’t a race to be the fittest straight away. It is about being ready for the start of the season.
“We will all find our level and fitness levels will pick up.
“The manager has his own ideas how he wants the team to play, to press, and be a high-intensity team.
“His pre-season will be based around getting the lads ready for that.”