Luke Ayling opens up on his rise from Arsenal reject to Leeds hero

‘No late night Frosties any more!’: Luke Ayling reflects on his rise from Arsenal reject to Leeds hero, cutting his beloved sweet cereal from his diet on Marcelo Bielsa’s orders… and how he could help spring a shock on Liverpool

  • Defender won FA Youth Cup with Arsenal in 2009 but was released at 18 
  • Ayling didn’t miss a minute of Premier League action for Leeds last season
  • 30-year-old says Marcelo Bielsa’s training regime has been to his fitness
  • Leeds host Liverpool on Sunday looking for their first win of the season
  • Ayling hopes Elland Road’s ’12th man’ can prove the difference 

Leeds United players are weighed every day on the orders of Marcelo Bielsa. For Luke Ayling, whose target is 78kgs, it requires one small sacrifice.

‘No late night Frosties any more,’ he admits. ‘Back in the day, I’d get munchy about nine o’clock, make a bowl, “get it down you” and not think about it until the morning.

‘The manager wants us light to get around the pitch and be in our best shape. We come in, get weighed and have breakfast. And try to come back the next day and make the weight again. That’s what he wants.’

Luke Ayling said Marcelo Bielsa’s strict training regime has paid off for Leeds players

The Argentine manager has his players weighed every day before breakfast

It’s been worth it. Ayling failed to make the grade as a youngster at Arsenal but after more than 250 games for Yeovil and Bristol City can now say he’s an established Premier League player at the age of 30.

He was ever-present last season when Leeds finished ninth and has played three different positions in the three games so far this season; right-back, right-sided central defender and wing-back. He also scored a worldie at Manchester United, albeit in a 5-1 defeat.

Sunday’s game against Liverpool will revive memories of last season’s 4-3 that set the tone for a thrilling campaign. 

Additionally, Leeds will be anxious to record their first win of the season following draws against Everton and Burnley.

Ayling’s journey underlines how fortunes can change. Jack Wilshere was the big star when he won the FA Youth Cup with Arsenal in 2009 but whereas he is currently without a club, Ayling is preparing to face Sadio Mane at a packed Elland Road.

‘Jack was destined to be one of best players we ever produced,’ he recounts. ‘I remember going to watch him at The Emirates when he was only 16. Us lads were sitting there watching our mate doing the stuff he was doing. He was unbelievable but injuries and time out cost him.

‘I got released at 18 and knew I had to fight to make a career for myself. Whether that was in League One, Championship or whatever.

‘The biggest thing for me was getting out and playing men’s football. I was comfortable in Arsenal reserves but it wasn’t doing much for my career.

‘So I decided to take the step to Yeovil and I certainly feel I made the right decision.’

Last season was an adventure from the time he bumped into Jermaine Jenas on holiday in Ibiza and cheekily asked him to give him a good review on television.

‘I was so excited to be on Match of the Day for the first few games, I watched it every week to see what they would say,’ says the defender.

‘It’s always nice to hear your name and being spoken about on those kind of shows. I did alright last year. I’ve got to try and carry that form on.’

Ayling won the FA Youth Cup with Arsenal in 2009 but was released by the Gunners at 18

He can still have some fun as well. Last week a video went viral of Ayling issuing a two-fingered salute and some expletives whilst supporting boxer and Leeds fan Josh Warrington.

The fight was controversially ended as a draw because of an accidental cut to Warrington’s opponent. ‘It was just my luck the camera pans to me as I’m saying ‘two great rounds, well done’,’ claims Ayling with a grin.

You sense he also enjoys keeping team-mates feet on the ground. Kalvin Phillips has become a national treasure with his performances for England at Euro 2020 but Ayling says he had more interest watching another Leeds player, Patrick Bamford, during the international break.

‘Kalvin has played 15 games now so I’m bored of talking about him for England now. I’ve stopped tweeting it and posting Instagrams. For Pat to make his debut on his birthday was great for everyone at the club.

‘He’s worked so hard over these three years, taken some stick from all angles in previous years but last season he was unreal and has come back with a real fire in his tummy.’

Ayling scored against Manchester United in Leeds’ 5-1 humbling at Old Trafford in August

Mark Viduka scored the last time Leeds hosted Liverpool in front of Elland Road fans, in 2004. Having missed out on live action last term, the volume will be off the scale on Sunday.

‘Our equaliser against Everton showed the 12th man really is there,’ insists Ayling.

‘The game might have fizzled out last season and we’d have got beat, but the crowd stayed with us and pushed us on. I am sure it’s going to be pretty loud on Sunday.’

The 30-year-old is confident Bielsa’s tactical approach will pay dividends this season

Despite a slowish start, Ayling insists Leeds won’t be panicking or losing faith in Bielsaball.

‘We go into every game the same way. We never think it’ll be easy, but neither do we try to nick a point.

‘It’s no secret some teams have found that second year harder but we’re confident in how we play.

‘We try to high press and play in the opposition half. The two games against Liverpool last season were really good. We managed a draw at Elland Road and had chances to win. But we know it might be a different Liverpool with some players back.’

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