Luke Ayling hails best Leeds United player during his time with main regret and Bielsa admission

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Luke Ayling has hailed the greatest player during his time at Leeds United with a main Whites regret and Marcelo Bielsa admission.

Ayling has effectively ended a superb seven-and-a-half years with Leeds by joining Middlesbrough on loan until the end of the season, after which his Whites contract expires. Ayling joined Leeds all the way back in August 2016 in the same month that Pablo Hernandez arrived at the Whites, initially on loan from Swansea City.

Four years later, Ayling and Hernandez played key roles in firing Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites to promotion and Ayling says he still gets “goosebumps” about setting up the only goal of the game for Hernandez in the enormously important 1-0 win at Swansea City of July 2020.

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The victory put Leeds on the cusp of promotion, Leeds sealing a 1-0 victory in the 89th minute from a typical Bielsa attack in which Ayling stormed up the pitch from right back, playing a one two with Helder Costa before producing a cutback into the box. That cutback was then finished by Hernandez who Ayling puts at the top of the tree of the great Leeds players he played with.

LIFE-CHANGING: Luke Ayling with the Championship trophy following Leeds United's promotion as champions under Marcelo Bielsa. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images.LIFE-CHANGING: Luke Ayling with the Championship trophy following Leeds United's promotion as champions under Marcelo Bielsa. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images.
LIFE-CHANGING: Luke Ayling with the Championship trophy following Leeds United's promotion as champions under Marcelo Bielsa. Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images.

The outgoing right back only wishes that his squad could have celebrated promotion properly with the club’s fans, something that was not possible due to the country’s fight against Covid-19 which had all football played in empty stadiums behind closed doors.

As he reflected on his seven and a half years with Leeds, Ayling relived that glorious moment at Swansea and also paid a glowing tribute to Bielsa who the defender admitted had been life changing.

"Pablo the magic man,” beamed Ayling, speaking with LUTV. "I've been lucky enough to play with some great players here but I think he's right at the top of it.

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"It was a game where it was so hot that day (at Swansea). The pitch was as dry as anything, it was a real tough game and I just got the ball and went on a run and kept going.

"Then I got the ball back from Helder and cut it back and I knew that if I gave the magic man that much time in the box that he will score. I think that moment still gives me goosebumps the most because I feel like that's when we knew that something special was going to happen.

"I think everybody, we came back that night and we were all just absolutely knackered from the game but just so happy that we got the win and what a moment to share that moment with Pablo as well and the boys, it was an amazing day. Just the whole season just knitted together and it was a special, special occasion.

"It’s one that I look back at with a bit of sadness as well, knowing that we got the club promoted and we weren't able to enjoy it to the fullest with the fans. I think that's the one bit that I take away from here in not being able to achieve that with the club and with the fans inside Elland Road, the outside bus tour, whatever else we had planned. I think that's one thing that will always be hard to get over that we never had the chance to do that. But it was still an amazing year to get us promoted and back to the Premier League."

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Hailing promotion-winning boss Bielsa, Ayling declared: "I can't tell you how much him and his coaching staff have done for me and so many other players here. He came in at a time when we had just had a bad back end of the season, finishing 13th I think it was and the boys not really knowing what to expect.

"Then he turned up and he changed everything, he changed our lives, he changed the way we see football, he changed the way we act outside of football, he just changed everything in our lives and I don't think he knows how much he has done for us. He's a special, special man and he's done special, special things for me and this club and I will always be grateful for him."