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This article is part of Football League World’s ‘What does the future hold?’ series, this content strand is where we evaluate and subjectively debate a player’s future at their current club…
It’s set to be a big summer of change at the Riverside Stadium.
Seven first team players are reaching the end of their Middlesbrough contracts, and with the club looking to cut their wage bill quite significantly, it seems likely that a number of players could move on.
Some will be tempted by the superior financial offers available elsewhere, but for one man the decision over his future could prove to be a real dilemma.
George Friend is as close to an adopted Teessider as you’re likely to find.
The full-back arrived at the Riverside Stadium almost eight years ago when he joined from Doncaster Rovers for a fee reported to be just £100,000.
Since then the defender has established himself as a true fans’ favourite due to his consistent performances, but more importantly, the rapport that he’s built up with all quarters of the fanbase.
Friend is a regular feature of the the Middlesbrough Foundation’s work in the community, but that’s just one reason why he’s such a popular figure around Teesside.
The left-back has been a first team regular for almost all of his career in the North East, however with the game evolving there’s been question marks over whether he can operate as effectively as he has in years gone by.
At 32 years of age the defender is far from over the hill, but given the fact that his role is based on getting up and down the left flank at pace, it’s perhaps a job that’s more suited the tireless energy of an up-and-coming star.
George Friend has struggled massively with injuries so far this term, and while his match action has been limited to just a handful of appearances, it seems that his lay-off has really impacted his ability to operate effectively as a wing-back – the role with which he was so well-renowned.
Hayden Coulson and Marc Bola look set to challenge for that place in the team meaning that a role in central defence is the only area where Friend could slot in to Middlesbrough’s plans.
However with that role being far from a natural position, it’s left the defender with something of a dilemma.
George Friend is a huge part of the Middlesbrough set-up due to what he contributes both on and off the pitch.
Can you name where these 15 Middlesbrough players started their career?
If he was to stay at the Riverside he’d almost certainly have to take a sizeable pay cut, but more importantly he’d probably have to accept the fact that he’s unlikely to be a first team regular.
At 32 years of age Friend has a few years left as a player and it’s a big ask for him to take on a peripheral role after being such a key player in years gone by.
Such is his popularity around the club, Middlesbrough would love nothing more than to keep the defender in the North East, but given his incredible loyalty over his eight years with the Teessiders he deserves the chance to move on if he wants to.
The ball will be firmly in George Friend’s court as he looks to make a decision this summer, but one thing we do know is that everyone associated with Middlesbrough Football Club would love nothing more than to keep the defender at the club.
If he does choose to move on then he’ll certainly be welcomed back any time with open arms by everyone in the Middlesbrough family.