Leeds United hero's Elland Road exit confirmed as two-year deal signed at Championship rivals

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Luke Ayling’s contract at Leeds United expires this summer.

Middlesbrough have confirmed the permanent signing of Luke Ayling after a successful loan spell with the club.

Ayling has signed a two-year contract with Boro and will join them on a free transfer, with his deal at Leeds United expiring this summer. There was reported interest from a number of other second-tier sides but after establishing himself as a regular starter at the Riverside Stadium, the 32-year-old has opted to make the move permanent.

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Boro confirmed the arrival of Ayling on Monday, with the defender’s move to be made official upon the expiration of his contract at Leeds. He will remain with the Championship side until he is 34.

“We’re delighted that Luke is staying with us,” Boro manager Michael Carrick said. “After coming in on loan in January, he settled in very quickly and made a big impact, bringing his character and personality to the group.

“He knows what it takes to be a success in this league. The club has got under his skin and the supporters have really taken to him as well, so it’s great to have him on board permanently.”

Ayling spent eight years at Elland Road after signing from Bristol City in 2016. Leeds paid a reported £750,000 for the former Arsenal academy prospect, who went on to play more than 250 games for United across the Championship and Premier League.

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Ayling was a crucial part of the promotion-winning side if 2019/20 under Marcelo Bielsa and went on to play regularly for three seasons in the top flight. Such was his form in the first year of Premier League football under Bielsa that a first ever England call-up was touted and Gareth Southgate did keep an eye on him, only to opt against such a decision.

Ayling is one of several senior Leeds players out of contract this summer with the club yet to confirm who will leave. Stuart Dallas has already confirmed his retirement but the futures of Liam Cooper, Jamie Shackleton and Sam Byram remain unclear.

After leaving Leeds on loan in January, the club paid tribute to the defender. A statement read: “Not only on the pitch, Ayling was also exemplary off the field too, taking part in visits in the heart of the community and named a PFA Champion, whilst stepping up to do media duties, despite having a stammer, even in the toughest of situations. This was highlighted none more so than after defeat at Nottingham Forest in February 2020, where promotion hopes looked to be in the balance.

“From that point onwards, Ayling played like a man possessed to get the club over the line. After helping Leeds secure a vital point at Brentford, he followed it up with the winner against Bristol City at Elland Road. A crazy chicken dance came after he netted the opener against Hull City, along with the “we’re up here and you’re down there” clip after the 4-0 win.

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“His finest goal in Leeds colours came in the next match against Huddersfield Town. A thunderous volley cannoned in off the crossbar, nearly bringing the roof off Elland Road, which led to the legendary commentary line “he’s even got the ponytail out!”. Leeds had won five on the spin, but this match would also hold extra significance, as it proved to be the final game in front of supporters for over 12 months, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

It continued: “He leaves with the very best wishes of everyone at the club. Luke has been a tremendous servant and representative of Leeds United, he has written his name into the history books and is respected by all connected with the club. He will always be welcome at Elland Road and we wish him and his family all the very best for the future.”