I still remember when I heard that Middlesbrough had signed Adam Clayton. It was summer 2014 and Clayton wasn’t a name that I was particularly aware of so I took to Youtube to watch a highlights reel of the midfield signing. He looked impressive, though so can many players when you put together a compilation of their best moments. Still seeing what he could do, made him an exciting proposition; particularly since the highlights showed a box-to-box player who was pretty capable going forward.
Middlesbrough got a different version of the Mancunian as he was converted into a ball winning screening midfielder, who wasn’t afraid to put his body in where it hurt. He consistently broke down counter attacks and timed some pretty impressive sliding tackles. His work as part of the deeper pair in a 4-2-3-1 was one of the key reasons why Middlesbrough’s defensive unit before promotion was so strong. In fact, our defensive acumen quickly heralded negative comments from a few national journalists who believed that the team was becoming a miniature version of a José Mourinho team. Although this massively underplayed Middlesbrough’s offensive capabilities; it did highlight the defensive units capability, a key part of which was Adam Clayton.
Unfortunately, Clayton playing in this role meant that he wasn’t able to get forward as frequently. He later went on to comment on how he wished that his role would have given him more creative freedom going forward.
It does make one wonder what he would have been like for the club had he been deployed in a more offensive role; and whether he would have been regarded in such high esteem in such a case.
Still calling him a solely combative midfielder would be unfair to his performances at the club as he also helped Middlesbrough maintain and rotate possession with Leadbitter that helped Middlesbrough keep pressure on oppositions compact back lines.
He may have struggled during Middlesbrough’s singular season in the premier league but he wasn’t alone as the team were a level below the majority of the teams they competed against during that season and the heavily defensive methodology that the team were deployed in was actually counter productive for Clayton, whose best defensive performances were in games where Middlesbrough were more offensive and he would be deployed to prevent counterattacks.
When Garry Monk came into the club, there was a lot of discussion on how Clayton was going to play, as Monk seemed to deploy him in a ball carrying central centre back role. A position that according to the Gazette seemed to suit him. Still, he ended up playing as the deepest of a midfield three for most of his time under the former Swansea manager.
Steadily over the last few seasons Clayton has turned into a player that has been rotated in and out of the team which limited his ability to settle into the team and due to which he hasn’t quite hit his previous heights. Still he always put in a very good solid performance and from my personal perspective will be sorely missed at the club.
Off the pitch, Adam Clayton has spoken out about his struggles with his mental health and anyone who has yet to read his interview should certainly give it a read. I am not going to summarise or try and simplify his experience as it seems unfair to reduce such an important issue. However he deserves praise for speaking out on the matter. It will certainly help to show that anyone can suffer from mental health even if you are in, what a lot of consider to be, a ‘privileged position’.
Wherever Clayton’s career takes him next I am sure he perform and perhaps there will be more offensive displays as he is given the opportunity to go forward during games, something that he has longingly missed.