Leeds United defender Luke Ayling's text message from Marcelo Bielsa, the manager's aura and the lesson learned from last season

Luke Ayling says he's learned a lesson from last season
Luke Ayling says he's learned a lesson from last season
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A text message from Marcelo Bielsa has added to the ‘aura’ that makes Luke Ayling want to play for his Argentine boss.

The defender went under the knife last week to fix an ankle problem picked up early in pre-season and will miss the opening games of the 2019/20 Championship campaign.

He hasn’t seen a lot of his manager over the summer but is expecting more of the same from Bielsa, in his second season in charge of the Whites.

“To be honest I’ve not seen him much; I got injured quite early on in pre-season, I’ve been in the physio room, not really out on the pitch,” said Ayling.

“I’m pretty sure he won’t change the way he works, he’s been at some of the best clubs in the world, been at a high level and hasn’t changed for them so I don’t see why he’d change now.”

There might not be many surprises in the way Bielsa works with the squad and prepares them for a second tilt at promotion, but the gaffer has managed to catch Ayling off guard.

“I had my op’ last Wednesday and then I got a text from him on Thursday, saying he hoped everything had gone well, which I was surprised about,” he said.

“That was a nice thing.”

The language barrier between the manager and his players was described last year as ‘difficult’ in terms of man management, by Ayling’s fellow full-back Barry Douglas.

Now-departed centre-half Pontus Jansson said the relationship between boss and footballer was ‘not that close’ because Bielsa simply lives for the game itself.

The lack of common language doesn’t appear to stop players from wanting to do their very best for Bielsa, however.

And Ayling speaks with a fondness for the manager, thanks in part to the faith shown in him by Bielsa last season.

But there’s something less tangible at play too.

“He’s played me every game so [the relationship] can’t be that bad,” he said.

“When you’re playing for him, his status and the whole aura he brings around the club, I don’t know, there’s something about him, just a good aura.

“When he strolls into a room everybody stops straight away and looks at him, there’s something about him.

“Last season the boys played their hearts out [for him] and I’m sure it’ll be the same this year.”

The 2018/19 campaign ended in a heartache so impactful, Ayling still hasn’t brought himself to watch back the play-off semi-final defeat.

He says there’s no need to revisit that game or conduct a post-mortem because the players know what went wrong and the painful past is best left alone.

But that rollercoaster of emotions, with its incredible highs and lowest of lows, did teach Ayling a lesson about managing expectation and excitement.

And this time round, the players know what they’re letting themselves in for when they strap in for the 2019/20 experience.

“Maybe not to get too high when it’s really good and not to get too low when it’s low,” he said.

“People get excited when you’re top, especially in Leeds.

“If you go out for dinner and you’re swamped every minute and people are telling you come on, it’s our year, it’s our year.

“Then, after a while, you start thinking ‘yeah maybe it is our year’.

“I think if we are there or thereabouts this year, it’s about playing it game by game and taking it like that.

“It was all new for everyone in that dressing room, I think there’s only [Adam] Forshaw maybe who has been promoted to the Premier League, so for all of us it was a new experience.

“That can’t be a bad thing.

“Obviously we all planned to go up, but we were still in the hunt, still played really good football.

“It’s about coming back this year and making sure that last push is what we all try to make happen.”

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Those who remain at Elland Road after the summer have been joined by two new faces in Helder Costa and Ben White, on loan from Wolves and Brighton respectively – although Costa will become a permanent Leeds United player next summer.

Ayling, who likes what he sees in the new pair, is honest enough to admit he expected a few more additions and is waiting with interest to see if the dressing room changes further before next Thursday at 5pm.

“We’ve added a couple, Ben White and Costa, hopefully they can come in and add straight away,” he said.

“Everyone saw the talent he had at Wolves, hopefully he can show that here.

“Ben White has looked good in training.

“A few more would have been liked but it’s not happened so far. There’s still time for that to happen and then we’ll see what we’re like when the window shuts.”

Regardless of the lack of new signings to date, Leeds are the bookies’ favourites for promotion.

Ayling himself is certain the club’s future contains a Premier League return and he’d love to make the bookmakers right come May 2020.

“I’m at a massive club and we are, at some point, taking the club back up.

“It’s got to happen sooner or later, the boys thought it’d be last year but it wasn’t to be.

“Hopefully we can mark [the centenary] by taking the club back to the Premiership."