New Canary signing Daniel Ayala this morning revealed just how easy a decision it was to switch Anfield for Carrow Road – the prospect of regular first team football coupled to the thoughts of both Dani Pacheco and Kenny Dalglish sealed the deal.
The 20-year-old, one-time Sevilla prospect signed a four-year deal with Paul Lambert’s outfit this week and thereby becoming the manager’s eighth signing of the summer.
With Zak Whitbread still rated ‘touch and go’ for this Sunday’s opening home game against FA Cup finalists Stoke City with the knee knock he sustained in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Wigan, Ayala could yet make his debut against the Potters.
Fingers crossed, history will repeat itself after the six-foot two-inch Spaniard made his Liverpool debut against Stoke – a 4-0 win for the Reds.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision to join Norwich,” said Ayala, speaking to the Press for the first time at Colney this morning.
“I was at Liverpool but it was difficult – I have to play first team football,” he said. “And that’s why I came to Norwich – to play first team football.”
Loan spells at both Derby County and Hull City last season kept the young man’s footballing education well on track. But with his original Liverpool mentor – Rafael Benitez – having been replaced by Dalglish, so times have changed; opportunities have dried up. Time to head for pastures new – particularly once he had a word with last season’s loan signing, Pacheco.
“Yes – I have spoken to him [Pacheco] a lot before signing here and it spoke really well of this club,” said Ayala, with Whitbread, Ritchie de Laet, Leon Barnett and the still-injured Elliott Ward all in a queue waiting for the manager’s nod.
A fact not lost on the new arrival.
“Anywhere you go, you have to fight for your place,” he said. “So I am happy to have the competition and, hopefully, I can be in the first XI on Sunday.”
The Spaniard kept his match-sharpness up to speed with a run-out in the Reserves in mid-week. Whether he gets the Stoke gig may well depend on how Whitbread fares in a fitness test today. Lambert confirmed that he will be taking no chances with the Texan.
The Carling Cup home clash against MK Dons on Tuesday night also beckons – an ideal opportunity to bed a new-look centre-half pairing together before the formidable trip to Chelsea the weekend after.
Ayala, it appears, is something of your footballing centre-half; more than happy to come out of defence with the ball at his feet.
“I like to play football and I like to play the ball,” he said, when quizzed about his strengths as a player. “After that, I don’t know – you will see when I play.”
Stoke at home will be another bench-mark game for the Canaries; the Potters looked more than half-decent in that 0-0 home clash with Chelsea last weekend; boss Tony Pulis has strengthened again after last year’s FA Cup final appearance.
There are more strings to their bow than just a Rory Delap long throw. And if they can keep Jonathan Woodgate fit, they have one of the finest centre-halves of his generation in the midst.
They are proper Premiership these days; a step up again from the likes of a Wigan Athletic. Or a Blackburn Rovers.
“It is a big challenge to stay in the Premier League, but I think Norwich have the quality to stay in the Premier League this season,” he said.
What was clear was the influence of Benitez’s exit on his career; he didn’t ‘fit’ with the Dalglish way of thinking. Fortunately, however, Dalglish and Lambert have that Glasgow thing going on; time for another Reds prospect to discover the delights of Norfolk.
“Kenny Dalglish knows Paul Lambert and he spoke to me very well about him [Lambert]. But it was difficult at Liverpool,” he readily admitted, as first team chances disappeared under the new regime and two Championship loan spells followed.
During which he caught the eye of Lambert. And as Hull attempted to sign the player again – this time on a full-time basis – so the City chief stepped in ahead of Nigel Pearson, waved the magic wand of Premiership football and bagged his man.
“Maybe I just wasn’t good enough for him [Dalglish] – I don’t know. I just came here to play football. It was sad to leave a big club like Liverpool, but I am really happy to be here. And I am confident in myself – I just need to prove everyone wrong.”