Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images

Daniel Ayala has set his heart on a return to Spain this summer despite claims that Leeds United could bring the departing Middlesbrough defender to Elland Road, according to The Sun (21 June, page 59).

Boro boss Jonathan Woodgate was rather bullish when discussing the future of the Spanish centre-back before Saturday’s Riverside clash with Swansea City, claiming that he had more than enough defensive depth to cope without Ayala (Northern Echo).

The nature of that humiliating 3-0 thumping against a Rhian Brewster-inspired Swans, however, will have Middlesbrough fans fretting about life without arguably their finest centre-back.

Especially as relegation now looks like a genuine possibility.

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The former Liverpool youngster will be a free agent on July 1 and, after turning down the chance to sign a short-term extension, appears to have played his final game for the north East outfit.

The Mirror (1 May, page 48) claimed in May that Leeds were expected to snap up a man who director of football Victor Orta knows from his time at Middlesbrough.

29-year-old Ayala is hardly an archetypal Marcelo Bielsa defender.

But his 6ft 3ins frame and formidable leap should, on paper at least, solve the problems Leeds have had with set-pieces ever since the Viking warrior Pontus Jansson was flogged to Brentford.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But, according to The Sun, Ayala has a rather different destination in his sights.

The one-time Sevilla prospect is desperate to take his family back to Spain, 13 years after swapping Andalusia for Anfield. His head may say Leeds, but Ayala is listening to his heart.

Middlesbrough’s Daniel Ayala celebrates their second goal (Reuters)

In other news, Reported Arsenal wonder-kid target allegedly available for just £1.3m