What did Rafa Benitez say about reported Leeds United target Daniel Ayala?

Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez celebrates  after winning the Sky Bet Championship Title after the match between Newcastle United and Barnsley at St James' Park on May 7, 2017 in...

Daniel Ayala could reportedly leave Middlesbrough for Championship rivals Leeds in January.

Daniel Ayala of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Huddersfield Town and Middlesbrough at John Smith's Stadium on October 23, 2019 in Huddersfield, England.

Daniel Ayala has carved out a fine career for himself in the North Eastern town of Middlesbrough.

In seven years at the Riverside, the giant centre-back has made over 200 appearances, scored more than 20 league goals and even sealed promotion to the Premier League. But for all his achievements in the red of Boro, it was the red of Liverpool where Ayala first made his name in English football.

He was just a teenager when he rejected a contract with Sevilla to sign for the Merseyside giants in 2007. And, at the time, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez thought he had pulled off one hell of a coup.

 

"He is good in the air, he is focused all the time and he has the potential to be a great defender,” Benitez told the Echo almost a decade ago.

In fact, Benitez admired Ayala so much that he tried to sign him again, some six years on, when he was in charge of Newcastle United. The 6ft 3ins stopper was at his best in 2016 and, according to The Mail, his price tag soared to £15 million once Middlesbrough had secured their long-awaited, and rather short-lived, return to the Premier League.

Didier Drogba of Chelsea is closed down by Daniel Ayala of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on May 2, 2010 in Liverpool, England.

Three-and-a-half years later, any hopes Boro might have had of bringing in an eight-figure sum for one of their longest serving players are long gone. Ayala’s contract expires at the end of the season and, in an attempt to avoid losing him on a free, the Northern Echo reports that Jonathan Woodgate’s side could sell their Spanish stalwart to Championship rivals Leeds United.

Leeds’ Director of Football Victor Orta knows how good Ayala is, having worked with him at Middlesbrough, and a reunion could be on the cards with The Whites set to make a formal approach in the coming weeks.

Marcelo Bielsa will be hoping that Ayala is capable of repeating the success of 2016, when he provided the platform for Middlesbrough’s promotion push and sent his price tag rocketing.

Ayala might not have become a Liverpool 'great', like Benitez predicted, but there's still time for him to become a modern-day legend at Leeds.

Daniel Ayala of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough on Saturday 19th October 2019.

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