We Needed You

Technically, Daniel Ayala hasn’t done anything wrong by deciding not to play for Middlesbrough Football Club beyond the dates of his current deal. He will have fulfilled his contracted commitments to the club by the end of this month and is under no obligation to accept a new contract.

Unfortunately these are not usual times and in all likelihood he will be remembered in the same vein as people like Peter Beagrie and Gaston Ramirez for throwing the towel in at a time when they were needed the most.

To break it down for anyone who has been living under a rock this week, Daniel Ayala has decided not to sign the waiver that would allow him to play in the seven fixtures scheduled to take place after his contract expires at the end of this month. This is because he has no intention to re-sign for the club this summer, due to being offered reduced wages and feels the need to safeguard himself from any injuries that could hamper his search for a new club and a big pay day.

In a normal world, Daniel Ayala deciding to leave because he can maintain or even improve his income elsewhere is okay. It might hurt for a while and bring out the snake emojis but it’s understandable. It happens in football hundreds of times a season.

Footballers aren’t robots. They’re human beings trying to make the best out of life for themselves and their families. They’re well within their right to seek out employment that offers them the best salaries, incentives or care. So, if we weren’t currently living through a global pandemic and the football season had ended in May, Ayala deciding to leave would have been upsetting but not incomprehensible.

Except, we are living through a global pandemic, a minor consequence of which was the postponing and eventual restart of many football leagues. At a time when people around the world are doing their best to cope with the day-to-day alterations to normal life to help society recover from the impact of COVID-19; Daniel Ayala decided to look out for his own personal interests. At a time when so many are acting selflessly, Daniel Ayala decided to act selfishly.

That’s what hurts. Experts, journalists and even ex-players will go on and on about football fans expecting “blind loyalty” to their club. They’ll patronise and harp on that we’d all do the same and not to be fooled by mercenaries and players kissing the badge because they’ll all leave eventually. You’re preaching to the choir, lads.

There is nobody better placed in the sport to tell you that players come and go than the supporters. Nobody expects a player to sign for their club, stay for ten years and have the club badge tattooed on their chest. We expect a player to sign, give their all while they’re wearing the shirt and show some respect to the club that’s paying them an outrageous living.

It’s easy to lose sight of that in the tribalism of supporters culture and fans fly off the handle over a mistake or a departure, but that’s really all we want. The odd goal helps too. Daniel Ayala nearly managed to achieve that bare minimum but walking away, with games to play and a relegation fight on our hands, when his colleagues who’re in the same boat will be playing is unforgivable.

The bloke is bailing on us in the midst of a relegation battle and not just as a peripheral figure in the squad, as one of our best players and main leaders. He’s abandoned us when we’ve always had his back.

If this was Rudy Gestede*, resident boo boy who has frequently clashed with the Boro support, you could sort of get it. If Adam Clayton, remembering how he became the pantomime villain for a few weeks after a misguided comment in the media had decided to jack it in, maybe it wouldn’t sting so much.

They’re both going to have to take reduced wages to stay on Teesside beyond this season given the clubs financial restructuring or seek pastures new. Yet, they’re both willing to put up a fight even if that offers a risk to their next move. They’re putting the team first.

If the Reds had nothing to play for and were simply seeing out the season, Ayala’s decision wouldn’t of caused such an outcry but we’re not. We’re two points outside of the relegation zone with nine games to play.

The prospect and reality of relegation is truly terrifying. This isn’t the “oh well it was nice while it lasted” mentality of being relegated from the Premier League. League One doesn’t just mean different away trips and different players. League One may mean an entirely different outlook for Middlesbrough Football Club for years to come. It might be a laugh for a season with new places to go, but the fortunes of clubs like Bradford City, Bolton, Ipswich should serve as a stark warning to us all.

It isn’t just the players, the coaches, the chairman or the fans who suffer because of relegation. It’s the admin team and the concourse staff who have to be let go as budgets are cut. It’s the landlords of pubs in the town centre who can’t rely on matchday incomes as much when crowds dwindle. Those are the people that truly suffer after relegation and they’re the people who Daniel Ayala has potentially let down the most.

In spite of this, Ayala’s achievements as a Boro player shouldn’t be tarnished by club sanctioned character assassinations in the local press. There are much more despicable things that are covered up by football clubs than someone moving house out of area. Don’t turn this into an episode of Hollyoaks. It’s pathetic.

Daniel Ayala has been a fantastic player over the course of his tenure on Teesside. His input into the record breaking defence of the promotion winning season can never be overestimated. Dimi, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Friend. Immovable. Untouchable. It will live forever in MFC folklore. Ironically, it might be Ben Gibson that eventually replaces him. Doubts will be permanently cast upon the seriousness of his injuries that seem to conveniently give him February off nearly every year, maybe Karanka was right but when he played he was a colossus.

That shouldn’t be forgotten yet neither should we forget that Daniel Ayala walked away.

Best wishes to all the boys in red that are committed to fighting for survival. Make sure we can’t blame Ayala for being relegated. Make sure he’s the catalyst for bringing us all closer together. Let’s stay together. Let’s stay up.


* Editor’s note – We take full responsibility for Rudy Gestede deciding to leave MFC. You’re welcome.

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