'One of the players that has shone the most' - Marcelo Bielsa pays tribute to Luke Ayling but won't give England endorsement
Marcelo Bielsa won't endorse Luke Ayling for England but his description of the qualities possessed by the Leeds United right-back is an insight into how highly he rates him.
When Bielsa was national team coach for both Chile and Argentina, he didn't much appreciate club coaches voicing their opinions on the players he should call up for international duty, so in his time at Elland Road has always refused to make suggestions to Gareth Southgate. He has explained, on numerous occasions, that Southgate is the one analysing all available options and is therefore the qualified voice on the matter.
Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford are the two players Bielsa has had to face the most questions over when it comes to the Three Lions. The former has already made his England debut and celebrated it by giving his shirt to his Leeds head coach, who had congratulated the Thorp Arch graduate with a Newell's Old Boys jersey of his own. The latter is yet to receive a call up for his country, having been courted by the Republic of Ireland in the past, but his 2020/21 Premier League goalscoring exploits have put him in the England conversation and on Southgate's radar.
Ayling, formerly of Yeovil Town and Bristol City, is more of a surprise candidate for England speculation but his performances in the top flight at both right-back and centre-half have been more than good enough for Bielsa.
A player he trusted to be a leader in his Championship-winning squad has retained that trust at the highest domestic level and proved more than capable of handling the step up in quality and competition.
"He is one of the players that has shone the most in our team," said Bielsa.
"He is a player who can play out wide or in the centre, in a back four or back three, with a capacity to attack and a good aerial game and with good managing of the ball in terms of combination and first pass.
"Anyone who watches him regularly can make this analysis and I am only describing the resources that he has. When you talk about a player that potentially be picked for the national team you can interpret the reference as trying to induce the manager and in no way do I want to be in that situation. But the question leads you to saying things you don't want to."
Southgate announces his England squad tomorrow afternoon.