The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Paddy von Behr

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

CEN­TRE OF AT­TEN­TION: Mid­dles­brough’s Daniel Ayala gets up to head at goal. In­set: Ayala at Liver­pool

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