Karanka awed by Middlesbrough`s promotion showdown

Karanka awed by Middlesbrough`s promotion showdown

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka finds it almost impossible to believe he will be taking part in the world`s most lucrative match when his side face Norwich for a place in the Premier League on Monday.

When Karanka replaced Tony Mowbray at the Riverside Stadium in November 2013, Middlesbrough were languishing in the lower reaches of the second tier and facing a relegation battle.

The 41-year-old Spaniard, who worked as Jose Mourinho`s assistant at Real Madrid, was concerned about the size of the task facing him in a country and league he had never experienced before.

But, in his first managerial role, Karanka has proved a quick learner, transforming Middlesbrough`s fortunes so completely that they will return to the top-flight after a six-year absence if they win the play-off final against Norwich at Wembley.

"I think it`s amazing for everybody, especially for me," said Karanka, who won the Champions League three times as a Real Madrid player.

"I came here 18 months ago and I couldn`t imagine at that time we would be playing at Wembley.

"We`re going there because the players have had an amazing season and have done an amazing job every single day.

"For this reason they deserve to be at Wembley."

Promotion to the Premier League is worth an estimated £120 million ($185 million) to Middlesbrough, while Norwich would stand to profit by around £80 million due to the loss of parachute payments in the Championship.

But for Karanka, the financial rewards on offer pale in comparison to the prospect of pitting his wits against the Premier League`s top managers, including Mourinho, who has been giving advice to his old friend and helped his promotion challenge by loaning Chelsea`s talented young striker Patrick Bamford.However, despite beating Norwich twice this season, Middlesbrough finished one place below the Canaries and Karanka knows Alex Neil`s team pose a significant threat to his promotion dream.

"The main thing is not to celebrate, because we haven`t achieved anything at this moment," he said.

"We need to know how beautiful this moment is for everybody.

"But again we have to play the final, because if we lose the game, on Tuesday everyone`s going to be upset."

Karanka`s caution is understandable given Norwich, bidding for a quick return to the top-flight after last year`s relegation, have won 16 of their 24 games since Neil was hired from Scottish club Hamilton to replace the sacked Neil Adams.

The 33-year-old Scot guided Hamilton to the Scottish Premiership with a play-off success against Hibernian last season and he hopes the experience he gleaned from that victory can help Norwich achieve the same feat south of the border.

"I think it`s very similar," Neil said. "How much it means to me, how much it meant to the set of players I had at Hamilton, the set of players I have at Norwich.

"Although the stakes are different, in terms of financially and things like that, ultimately the reward`s the same - getting promoted into the highest division in that country.

"It means a huge amount, as it did last year, and it`s something I`m really looking forward to."