Leeds United's Luke Ayling on Marcelo Bielsa celebrations, Liverpool and Sadio Mané, an empty Anfield and the fans' return

Luke Ayling finds it upsetting to imagine what his Premier League debut for Leeds United at Liverpool would have been like with Reds and Whites filling Anfield with noise.
NICE FEELING - Luke Ayling held his own against Sadio Mané in Leeds United's first Premier League game against Liverpool at Anfield. Pic: GettyNICE FEELING - Luke Ayling held his own against Sadio Mané in Leeds United's first Premier League game against Liverpool at Anfield. Pic: Getty
NICE FEELING - Luke Ayling held his own against Sadio Mané in Leeds United's first Premier League game against Liverpool at Anfield. Pic: Getty

But the thought of welcoming Leeds fans back to top flight games is a motivational tool for the right-back, as he tries to keep the club in the division.

Ayling has spoken about his first taste of Premier League action, along with his career path to Elland Road and his first impressions of Marcelo Bielsa, in a thoroughly entertaining episode of the MUNDIAL-produced Spotify Original GIANT podcast.The 29-year-old addresses his departure from Arsenal, the move to League One Yeovil and a promotion party he will cherish forever as they confounded expectations to earn a place in the Championship.

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Kyle Bartley's role in his move to Leeds from Bristol City, where he was surplus to requirements, and interest from Celtic are also discussed.

Leeds fans will find his thoughts on Bielsa's introduction to the Thorp Arch dressing room and Ayling's recollections of his very first murderball experience fascinating, including the revelation that the head coach deprives his players of the football during the week in order to make them hungrier for it in games.

"He starves us of the ball in the week, so we don't do any keep balls like every other team, keep balls, five-a-side, it's fun but our fun comes on a Saturday, playing football, keeping the ball and being on the front foot and attacking," said Ayling.

"That's where our fun comes from, not from a five-a-side on a Friday or a keep ball. Our fun comes on a Saturday when we're actually playing a game."

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Ayling recalls the novel experience of walking out for a Leeds game with no pressure, at Derby County with the Championship title won, and the pure joy felt by everyone with a Leeds association, when Bielsa joined in the promotion celebrations.

"The first time we see him, we've been there for a couple of hours, had a few beers, we see him coming across the pitch," said Ayling.

"For two years he's kept us at arm's length, not really shown that side of him and then he's walking across the pitch and we're singing 'Marcelo Bielsa' and he's down there pumping his fists. You could see how happy he was, he's hugged us and gone round to everyone and honestly it was the best feeling, him cuddling you, talking in your ear saying thank you, thank you we did it. To hear him say thank you to us, we're so thankful for him coming and giving us this chance but we've given him a league title he hasn't had. He was really thankful for that. It was a brilliant moment."

And the conversation inevitably turns to the first game of Leeds' first season back in the big time.

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Ayling admits there were some nerves jangling when the fixtures were announced.

"When it first got announced it was Liverpool first I was like 'oh my gosh, against Mane, maybe Salah coming across and Mane going the other way, oh my gosh it's going to be a nightmare,'" he said

"Then you start the game, get into it and just do your thing. To hold my own against him was a nice feeling, it fed me with a lot of confidence."

It was a bittersweet experience however and not only because Leeds lost an enthralling encounter with the English champions 4-3. Anfield was empty. Games are still behind closed doors and there is yet no end in sight of the pandemic-enforced exile suffered by supporters.

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Ayling prefers not to dwell on what could have been and instead allows the desire to experience Premier League games in front of Leeds' raucous fans to drive him on.

"The atmosphere would have been unbelievable, the Kop going, our fans in the goal behind, that place would have been rocking," he said.

"You can't really think about it too much, it'll get you upset thinking about how it could have been. But that's our motivation, we stay in this league so next year when fans are back we get them feelings."