VIVA AYALA! IT’S A RED ALERT!
DANI AYALA did not quite hit the heights of Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson or Jamie Carragher at Anfield.
But, as he prepares to return to Liverpool with Middlesbrough in Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup third round clash, the Spanish centreback insists he has nothing to prove.
Ayala, 23, joined home-town club Sevilla as a ten-year-old but rejected the chance to turn professional in 2007, instead opting to fly to England to sign a three-year contract with Liverpool, managed then by compatriot Rafael Benitez.
Despite his potential and the chance to take tips from one of the best in the business in Carragher, Ayala was limited to just five Premier League appearances and was sold to Norwich for £750,000 four years after arriving on Merseyside.
And though he looks back on his stint with the five-time European champions fondly, Ayala is hopeful of helping his current employers’ pull off a cup shock.
“It’s always nice to go back to your club. I only realised when I was there just how big it was, it was unbeliev- able,” he said.“But I have a job to do for Middlesbrough.
“You have to be world class to play there and I am not at that level yet, I accept that. But I got to learn a lot. I played with Jamie Carragher, one of the best in England, and there were excellent players like Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson. It will be nice to see them again.
“In football you never know what can happen on the day.We will need a good performance to win, but we are capable.We need to defend well, but I’m sure there will be chances for us and we have to take them.”
It has been five years since Middlesbrough last tasted top-flight action. After Gareth Southgate’s young guns were demoted to the Championship, Boro fans have seen their side stagnate under Gordon Strachan before flirting with the playoffs under Tony Mowbray in 2012.
However, with former Real Madrid star Aitor Karanka in charge, Ayala believes his team are on the verge of something special.
Karanka has three Champions League winner’s medals in his locker and began his coaching career at the Bernabeu under Jose Mourinho.
Ayala believes Karanka has transformed Middlesborough with his ability to unite a multinational dressing room.
“The manager is great. Everything is working a lot better and this year could be the year for us,” said Ayala, one of four Spanish players at the Riverside.
“Some players that came here from Spain, their English is not so good. But I’ve been based here a long time, long enough to know if you have good players that score goals it doesn’t matter what language they speak.
“In some dressing rooms it is the case that you can have the English guys on one side and the Spanish guys on the other, but that is not the case at Middlesbrough. We have a good group, everyone is talking and very friendly.
“We have a squad full of good players. It’s just the start of the season, lots can still happen on the pitch, but we are moving forward.”
CENTRE OF ATTENTION: Middlesbrough’s Daniel Ayala gets up to head at goal. Inset: Ayala at Liverpool