Ben Gibson has overcome too many obstacles in his career to be daunted by Middlesbrough’s struggle for survival .
Defender Gibson has unshakeable belief that his beloved Boro can beat the drop, ahead of a relegation six-pointer at 17th-placed Swansea on Sunday.
The Teessiders’ 24-year-old captain has emerged from a difficult season with great credit, turning in performances which earned him an England call-up this month and admiring glances from top clubs such as Manchester City, and Liverpool.
But he is used to having to work hard to change people’s opinions – because that is what happens when your uncle Steve is the chairman and owner of the club.
“Everyone assumes, as a kid, that you’re only there for one reason, but it’s actually helped me, it’s given me the motivation, the bit between my teeth, the ‘I’ll show you’ attitude,” said Ben Gibson.
“I felt I had been written off from the start when I met people. They have preconceived ideas, I had to go one step further than everyone else to prove myself.
“It’s actually something that worked in my favour. It’s not for the faint-hearted, especially when I was a kid.
“People automatically assumed that I was only there because of my uncle, but I’ve always set out to prove people wrong.
“Every year, I’ve gone into a different team or manager, right through the academy years until now and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing.”
Gibson, the most eloquent and polite footballer you could wish to meet, has Middlesbrough in the family and a passion for the club and the town coursing through his veins.
It means everything to him and explains why he has stood so tall this season, even when things went wrong.
Boro have not won a Premier League game since December 17, Aitor Karanka was sacked before their last home game with Manchester United and it has been left to Steve Agnew to try to lead them to safety.
Lesser players would be downbeat, pessimistic about their chances – and yet Gibson is relishing the challenge rather than being intimidated.
That is what defines captains and leaders.
Gibson said: “We’ve got a huge week – Swansea, Hull, Burnley. Three massive games, they’re all six-pointers, we’re looking forward to it because we see it as a week in which we can fix the predicament we’re in.
“It’s vital that we stay up. Not just to the club, but the whole town. We had seven years out of the Premier League and it’s a town which has had a lot of hard times, with the steel works shutting.
“Football is the beacon, the shining light at the end of the tunnel.
“Everyone comes to the games, it’s where everyone forgets their worries. It’s what the kids dream of, gives them something to aspire to and we’ve worked so hard to get into the Premier League, we have to stay there.
“We are very together as a town and we’ll fight until the end to stay there.
“We had a bond with Aitor. You share memories that will last a lifetime, particularly getting promoted. It is sad, it’s hard, but it’s football and it’s the way it is now – we have to move on really quickly and get behind Steve Agnew.
“It’s about time he had his opportunity as a manager, we’ve all got to support him, buy into his ideas and see if we can turn it round.
“Leicester have had a bounce, Swansea have – sometimes it freshens it up. People get excited, try to impress the manager and, whatever it is, hopefully, it can work for us and see us climb up the league.”
It is easy to understand why the big clubs are circling.
Not only is Gibson an outstanding defender, he is also mature, but still refreshingly wide-eyed with enthusiasm about his career, especially after Gareth Southgate — an ex-Boro centre-half himself — called him up to the full England squad.
Gibson added: “Gareth epitomised what I wanted to be at Middlesbrough.
“He was a leader, probably the most successful captain they’ve ever had.
“I idolised him as a kid, I wanted to be him, wanted to be a centre-back and to captain Middlesbrough. But now I’ve experienced it with England, I want more of it.
“And it’s very flattering to hear clubs are interested, but I’m just focused on the next game for Boro.”