Commissioned by Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United players are weighed every day. For Luke Ayling, whose target is 78 kg, it requires a small sacrifice.
“No more late night Frosties,” he admits. “I used to get munchy around nine, make a bowl, ‘get it down you’ and didn’t think about it until the next morning.
“The manager wants us to light up the field and be in our best form. We enter, are 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 before breakfast every day
It’s been worth it. Ayling failed to make it to Arsenal as a youngster, but after more than 250 appearances for Yeovil and Bristol City, he can now say he is an established Premier League player at 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 fullback. He also scored a worldie at Manchester United, albeit in a 5-1 defeat.
Sunday’s game against Liverpool will bring back memories of last season’s 4-3, which set the tone for an exciting campaign.
In addition, Leeds are eager to secure their first win of the season after a draw against Everton and Burnley.
Ayling’s journey underscores how fortunes can change. Jack Wilshere was the big star when he won the FA Youth Cup with Arsenal in 2009, but although he currently has no club, Ayling is preparing to take on Sadio Mane on a packed Elland Road.
“Jack was destined to be one of the best players we’ve ever produced,” he says. “I remember going to see him in The Emirates when he was only 16. We boys sat there watching our buddy doing the things he was doing. He was incredible, but injuries and time-out cost him.
“I was released when I was 18 and knew I had to fight to make a career. Whether that was in League One, Championship or whatever.
“The most important thing for me was to go out and play men’s football. I was comfortable with Arsenal’s reserves, but it didn’t do much for my career.
“So I decided to make the move to Yeovil and I definitely feel like I made the right decision.”
Last season was an adventure from when 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 looked every week to see what they would say,” the defender says.
“It’s always nice to hear your name and be talked about on those kinds of shows. I did well last year. I must try to get that form through.’
Ayling won the FA Youth Cup with Arsenal in 2009, but was released by the Gunners at the age of 18
He can still have some fun. Last week, a video went viral of Ayling issuing a two-fingered salute and some expletives while supporting boxer and Leeds fan Josh Warrington.
The fight was controversially ended as a draw due to an accidental cut in Warrington’s opponent. “It was just my luck that the camera turned to me saying ‘two great rounds, well done,'” Ayling says with a grin.
You can feel that he also likes to keep teammates down to earth. Kalvin Phillips has become a national treasure with his appearances for England at Euro 2020, but Ayling says he was more interested in watching another Leeds player, Patrick Bamford, during the international break.
“Kalvin has now played 15 games so I’m tired of talking about him for England now. I have stopped tweeting it and posting to Instagrams. For Pat, his debut on his birthday was great for everyone at the club.
“He’s worked so hard for the past three years, got a stick from all sides in recent years, but last season he was unreal and came back with a real fire in his belly.”
Ayling scored against Manchester United in Leeds’ 5-1 humility at Old Trafford in August
Mark Viduka scored the last time Leeds presented Liverpool to Elland Road fans, in 2004. After missing live action last season, the volume will be off the scale on Sunday.
“Our equalizer against Everton showed that the twelfth man is really there,” Ayling emphasizes.
“The game might have gotten out of hand last season and we would have been beaten, but the crowd stuck with us and pushed us on. I’m sure it will be quite loud on Sunday.’
The 30-year-old is confident that Bielsa’s tactical approach will pay off this season
Despite a slow start, Ayling insists Leeds will not panic or lose faith in Bielsaball.
“We go into every game the same way. We never think it will be easy, but we don’t try to take a point either.
“It’s no secret that some teams have found that second year more difficult, but we are confident in our way of playing.
‘We try to press high and play in the opponent’s half. The two games against Liverpool last season were really good. We managed to get a draw at Elland Road and had chances to win. But we know it might be a different Liverpool with a few players back.”