FIRST, he was coming. Then, he wasn’t. After that, there was a period where he’d come, only to have to go back again because the whole thing had collapsed. Then it hadn’t collapsed after all, it was just that other things had to fall into place before the deal could be concluded. Then there was talk that he wanted to go somewhere else. Then, it became clear that he didn’t.
If the Adam Clayton saga has proved anything over the last couple of weeks, it is that the modern-day football transfer is a far from simple affair.
From the four hours he spent sitting at Rockliffe Hall waiting for a medical that never happened, to the afternoon spent sitting in his car outside Middlesbrough’s Rockliffe training ground waiting for papers that failed to arrive from Huddersfield, it is fair to say that Clayton has not experienced a smooth passage from West Yorkshire to Teesside.
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But as he reflects on his first two days of training with his new team-mates in the Middlesbrough squad, the 25-year-old can already be confident that the hassle was worthwhile.
“It was quite a complicated deal,” said Clayton, with a fair degree of understatement. “I came up here last Monday at about half-past-ten at night to speak with the manager, and we more or less agreed a deal in principle within two hours.
“The next day I was up here at 9am for a medical, but waited four hours and had to go home after the (Jacob) Butterfield deal wasn’t done. I then had to wait until Friday night at about seven o’clock to get the go-ahead to go and do the medical.
“It was too late for the Saturday game (against Birmingham) by then though, so there was no real rush on anyone’s part to get it through. The weekend was about making sure everything was right and done properly for the next four years of my career.
“I don’t know what was happening on Monday, it was just struggles with getting papers through, and then on Tuesday I was in the car again with my mate for a good four hours waiting to sign. The papers weren’t there though, so we did it the next morning. There’s been a lot of complicated procedure, but it was always going to be done, and now it has been I’m delighted.”
With a four-year deal agreed, Clayton can finally get back to doing what he does best, namely bossing a Championship midfield and attempting to help propel Middlesbrough back to the Premier League.
Aitor Karanka’s willingness to lose Butterfield in order to sign Clayton underlines just how highly he regards the Manchester-born midfielder, who started his career as a trainee in Manchester City’s academy before moving to Leeds United in 2010.
It is widely felt that Boro’s head coach sees Clayton as a long-term replacement for Dean Whitehead, and for all that the deal to recruit him from Huddersfield became more complicated when Brighton threw their hat into the ring last weekend, Karanka was always determined to close out a transfer that was one of his key priorities from the earliest weeks of the transfer window.
Boro have secured one of the most highly-regarded midfielders in the Championship, while Clayton has swapped a Huddersfield team who were thrashed by Bournemouth in their opening Championship fixture for a Boro side who have hit the ground running with victories over Birmingham City and Oldham Athletic. Little wonder that everyone appears happy with their lot.
“If I was going to leave (Huddersfield), I wasn’t going to go anywhere that didn’t have a chance of getting into the Premier League,” said Clayton. “My ambition is to get into that Premier League as quickly as possible, so it was about who could take me there the quickest.
“When I came here and saw the set up, and listened to what the manager has planned, it was easy. There’s a momentum to the club because of how they finished last season, winning eight out of ten games, and a nice feel around the place.
“It feels like something could happen. You can’t guarantee anything in the Championship because it’s quite a crazy league, but as far as atmospheres go, it’s as good as I’ve been around to try to do something.”
Last season, Clayton was involved in both of Huddersfield’s games against Middlesbrough – a 1-1 draw at the Riverside and a 2-2 draw in West Yorkshire – and having observed events on Teesside from afar, he is no doubt that he has joined a club with realistic aspirations of promotion.
“Boro have always been a big team,” he said. “I remember being in the (Man) United crowd one day when they played Boro in the Premier League, and that’s the sort of circles you associate the club with.
“You think of them as a Premier League team. There’s quite a few teams in this league who can say, ‘We’re a Premier League team’, but you’re not a Premier League team until you’re in the Premier League.
“We have Premier League facilities and Premier League fans, but we have to get there now, and there’s no reason why Middlesbrough can’t do that.”
Had Clayton signed when his move was first mooted, he would almost certainly have made his Boro debut last weekend. As it is, his first game takes him to Elland Road and a reunion with the club that helped forge his career.
His reception is unlikely to be a warm one, given that Clayton was on the wrong end of some choice chanting when he was part of a Huddersfield side that was thrashed 5-1 by Leeds in February.
With Whitehead and Grant Leadbitter having started the season strongly, he is likely to be named among the substitutes this afternoon, although he might keep his warming up to a minimum if the flak is flying.
“I might have to tell the manager that I don’t really want to be a sub because I don’t want to be running down the touchline in front of all the Leeds fans,” joked Clayton. “I don’t really want to be close to the Leeds supporters, so if the manager’s not going to be putting me on, I might ask him if I can stay sitting down!
“It was quite bad last year, but the result didn’t help and I’m sure it’s going to be better this year. I think we were 5-1 down when we got a corner, and the whole of the Kop were on my case. There was a nice little song they had made up, but it was good banter and I love all of that.
“I’ve always said to my dad that if I can get a 35,000-seater stadium singing my name against me, I must have done something right in the past.”