Deal or no deal: The verdict on Middlesbrough’s out of contract stars

It looks set to be a busy summer at the Riverside Stadium.

While uncertainty over Middlesbrough’s fixture schedule continues to build, the Teessiders are preparing for what could be a period of wholesale change for Jonathan Woodgate’s squad.

A staggering seven first team players are out of contract in the coming months, and with no contract extensions agreed it’s a real possibility that these players could move on.

June 30 is the key date in the diary, as from July 1 each of the players will become a free agent – unless a deal can be struck to extend their contracts.

Of course the speculation regarding when – or if – the season will conclude is a key factor, as talk of pushing back that deadline is discussed across the Premier League and EFL.

In addition to that, Middlesbrough’s financial situation is one which will go a long way to dictating who will stay and who will go.

Steve Gibson has set Neil Bausor and Jonathan Woodgate the task of trimming the first team wage bill, and that means that the club will be tightening the purse strings as they discuss potential new deals this summer.

But what does that mean for the seven out of contract players in Middlesbrough’s squad? I’ve had a look at each player’s credentials and delivered my verdict on whether they are likely to sign new contracts to stay at the Riverside Stadium.

George Friend

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The summer marks eight seasons since the popular defender moved to Teesside for a bargain fee of just £100,000.

Since then, Friend has been a first team regular under a handful of different managers, as well as playing a key part in the club’s journey to the Premier League.

Now 32 years of age, the full-back is at something of a crossroads in his career.

Friend made his name as a powerful left-sided player who used his remarkable engine to add width to Middlesbrough’s attack, while also being just as effective in defence.

But having had his season scuppered by injuries, there’s a big question mark over whether he’s capable of reaching that level once again.

Hayden Coulson appears to be the first choice left-sided player now, and while Friend can play at centre-back, he’s certainly not a natural fit in such a key position.

That said, George Friend still has plenty to offer Jonathan Woodgate’s squad, and providing that he would be happy to take a sizeable pay cut, he could still have a future with Middlesbrough.

Verdict: Deal.

Daniel Ayala

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The burly defender is arguably one of the most important players in Jonathan Woodgate’s squad.

Signed in 2014, Ayala has rarely looked back as he established himself as a powerful figure in the heart of Middlesbrough’s defence.

It would appear a no-brainer that Middlesbrough would like him to stay, but things aren’t all-that simple.

Ayala penned a new contract after the club were promoted to the Premier League, which means that he’s currently one of the top earners at the club.

Middlesbrough have made no secret of their desire to trim the wage bill, and that means that the Spaniard would no doubt need to take a financial hit to extend his deal.

The defender loves the club – that’s not up for debate, but given his standing as one of the Championship’s top defenders there’s likely to be a queue of teams interested in signing him on a free transfer.

I’d love Daniel Ayala to stay at the club, but given the amount of time that he’s been at the Riverside Stadium and the financial element, I’d be hugely surprised to see him pen a new deal to stick around.

Verdict: No deal.

Ryan Shotton

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Signed in the aftermath of Middlesbrough’s short-lived return to the Premier League, Ryan Shotton is another player on a decent wage.

The defender has been a consistent player for the Teessiders in his three years with the club, most notably under Tony Pulis where he was a perfect fit for the rough and tumble defensive style of the Welshman.

While he’s been a first team regular under Jonathan Woodgate this term, he’s been far from flawless.

A familiar theme through this piece in the finances on extending these contracts, and given the time in which Shotton signed for the club, he’s going to be on a decent financial package.

I’m sure that Jonathan Woodgate would be open to keeping the 31-year-old at the club, but only if the numbers add up.

Shotton probably has one long-term contract left in his career, and with a paycut probable if he was to stay with Middlesbrough he’s likely to have more lucrative offers from elsewhere this summer.

Personally, I don’t think that Ryan Shotton is worth breaking the bank to keep hold of, and for that reason I won’t be surprised to see him move on.

Verdict: No deal.

Adam Clayton

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Another player who has been a key part of Middlesbrough’s success in recent years, Adam Clayton is a player who is a part of the furniture at the Riverside Stadium.

A vital cog in Aitor Karanka’s side, Clayton’s partnership with Grant Leadbitter was key to getting the club promoted and returning to the Premier League.

Clayton retained his role as a key player under Garry Monk and Tony Pulis, but under Jonathan Woodgate it’s been a different story.

The former Huddersfield Town man has struggled to establish himself as a first team regular in Middlesbrough’s midfield, something that has put his long-term future in doubt.

Like many others, Clayton would most likely need to take a financial hit to stay at the club, but given the fact that he’s far from an automatic starter under Woodgate, there might not be too much desire to stick around anyway.

He’d certainly be a big miss both on and off the pitch, but given the circumstances I’d expect him to move on with the club’s blessing.

Verdict: No deal.

Jonny Howson

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Signed by the club in the summer of 2017, Jonny Howson has established himself as a key player for Middlesbrough.

In fact, he’s almost certainly been the club’s player of the year this season.

A midfielder by trade, Howson has shown his value to the side by playing in central midfield, attacking midfield, right midfield, right back, and most prominently, centre-back this term where he took to his new role like a duck to water.

The description of being ‘a model professional’ is thrown around all-too often in football these days, but if one man fits the bill, it’s Jonny Howson.

The former Leeds United man will, like many others, need to take a pay cut if he’s to stay at the club, but given his importance to the club that’s something that he may be happy to do.

Jonathan Woodgate has hinted that a deal could be close to being struck for Howson – something that would be a massive boost given his status as a real role model in the first team.

Middlesbrough’s new-look side will need leaders and I can’t think of many better than Jonny Howson to lead the way next term.

Verdict: Deal.

Marvin Johnson

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A player who has only recently made a case for sticking around.

Marvin Johnson had struggled to adapt to life on Teesside after moving from Oxford United in 2017, and looked like a player who could be moved on sooner rather than later.

However this term under Jonathan Woodgate has been a different story.

While hardly a spectacular player, Johnson has certainly proved his worth in his natural left wing position, and also providing cover at left-back.

Johnson certainly isn’t a first team regular for Jonathan Woodgate, but there’s no doubting his value as a squad option.

The 29-year-old may not be a priority in terms of contract extensions, but could prove to be a shrewd piece of business if the club can strike a financially viable deal to extend his contract.

A bold choice, but I’d give him a contract.

Verdict: Deal.

Rudy Gestede

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A player who splits opinion among the Middlesbrough fans like no other.

There’s no doubting what Rudy Gestede can bring to the party, with his aerial dominance matched by few others in the Championship.

That said, we haven’t seen what he can do often enough.

Gestede was not a cheap signing when he arrived in January 2017, and since then supporters have been frustrated at how little we’ve seen from him given the massive wages that he’s currently on.

Taking finances out of the equation, Gestede could certainly do a job for Jonathan Woodgate’s side next term if he can put in the sorts of performances that we know he can.

But given his lack of consistency in his two-and-a-half year stay so far, giving him a new deal would be a real gamble.

Rudy Gestede would need to take a massive pay cut to sign a new deal, and given his lack of impact in Middlesbrough’s first team I’d be massively surprised if both parties agreed that him staying at the Riverside was the best option.

I think it’s time for Rudy to move on and for Middlesbrough to use his wages to sign a more consistent performer in attack.


Verdict: No deal.

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