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Richie Smallwood allowed to leave Boro because he was an 'amazing kid' says boss Aitor Karanka

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka has revealed he put Richie Smallwood’s needs ahead of his team’s when allowing the midfielder to leave last summer.

Smallwood – a Riverside favourite owing to his homegrown status – left his boyhood club in August 2014 to join Rotherham on a permanent basis following a successful loan spell in 2013-14.

The midfielder initially had hopes of forging a first-team role for himself at Boro after helping the Millers to promotion, but the arrival of Adam Clayton saw him drop further down the pecking order.

And he was allowed to rejoin Rotherham after Karanka felt he could not deny him first-team football, even if it did leave his squad short.

"He's the kind of player I always have with me," Karanka told the Gazette. "He was a player who was here when I arrived and always plays his best – 150 per cent. I have a really good relationship with him.

"He's the kind of player I've learnt with. When he came last (summer) to my office and asked to leave I couldn't tell him no, because he was an amazing kid.

"But at that time we lost a player and didn't have a replacement. For that reason, I learnt sometimes I have to forget personal relationships.

"At that time, and now, Richie is a player who deserves it."

Smallwood is almost certain to be in the Millers team that heads to the Riverside tonight, but another former Boro player Emmanuel Ledesma is having a tougher time of it.

One of a number of summer signings made by Steve Evans, the Argentinean has fallen out of favour and has played just eight minutes under Neil Redfearn.

Ledesma was critical of his treatment at Boro towards the end of his time in the north east, but there are no hard feelings from Karanka.

“He was unlucky. Someone told me he did an interview in the summer and he was really pleased because Steve Evans was his dad and he understood him,” he said.

“But finally he didn’t play with Steve and he’s not playing now. When he was with us he was a good player, scored some important goals in that first season, and I wish him all the best.”

Middlesbrough’s return to form in the Championship continued with a 3-0 win over Charlton on Saturday and in the Millers they welcome another side who are struggling at the wrong end of the table.

Reports in the north east suggested the Addicks were among the poorest of sides to visit there during Boro’s stay in the Championship and Karanka is expecting more from Rotherham.

“I expect a more difficult game. They had a bad defeat on Saturday against Derby, and always the players want a reaction.

“It’ll be a difficult game because they are in a difficult position and they have to win games. They have to try to get some points so I am expecting a difficult game.

“We’re doing well but we have to know how difficult it is to win every single game and Rotherham is a team that will be very tough for us.
 “If (Rotherham) do something (in attack) then it’ll be more than Charlton did on Saturday."

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