Luke Ayling heads to Boro with the best wishes of all at the club
Thursday, 11th Jan 2024 20:30 by Tim Whelan
Leeds announced yesterday that ‘Bill’ Ayling will be heading to Middlesbrough on loan for the rest of the season. And as his contract is up in the summer that effectively brings the Leeds phase of his career to an end.
The official site has a video of the tributes to Bill from his fellow players, and it runs to a full 8 minutes, after the news broke that the 32-year-old club stalwart would be moving on after seven-and-a-half years at the club and 268 appearances. And chairman Paraag Marathe was also full of praise for a much-loved player.
“I’d like to thank Luke for everything he has done for Leeds United. He is an impeccable professional and constantly gave his all for the badge, he wore with pride. His commitment to the club is rivalled only by his commitment to the Leeds community and our supporters, whose love he has earned during his time here. Luke is always welcome back at Elland Road and I wish him the best of luck on his next step.”
The right-back joined us from Bristol City in the summer of 2016 for a fee of £500k, a figure that was to prove to be an absolute bargain over the next few years. He became a key member of the Gary Monk side which went close to a play-off place in his first season, but his career was to reach heights he might not have dreamt of once Marcello Bielsa arrived and he became one of the players who dramatically improved as they adapted to the Argentinian maestro’s system and fitness demands.
A standout amongst many memorable moments was his superb goal against Huddersfield in the March of the promotion season, in what turned out to be the last game before lockdown. And he adapted to life in the Premier League, not looking out of place in that elite competition against some of the top players in the world. He might even have got a look-in for England had the national side not been blessed with so many options in his position.
Even when Leeds began to struggle over the next two seasons he still entertained us, not least with his celebrations after scoring in away wins at Wolves two years running, with the comical flop followed by literally letting his hair down. And when numerous players took the opportunity to leave the club after relegation, he was one of the few senior players who chose to stay, earning himself the status of one the stalwarts of the club, alongside Liam Cooper.
But sadly his legs appear to be going and a decline in his defensive capabilities have seen him drop well down in the pecking order. When the manager would rather select a midfielder to play out of position in your slot then you know your days must be numbered. His cameo appearance during the final minutes of the Peterborough FA Cup tie will prove to be his last in a Leeds shirt.
The club are hoping that he will be able to make it back to Elland Road for the Preston game so we can give him a proper goodbye. (That is a Sunday televised game, so his new club won’t be playing that day). League rules mean he won’t able to play against us at Boro on April 20th, but hopefully he will be able to join Sam Greenwood in helping them take points off our promotion rivals before then.
Sadly he would be cup-tied if Middlesbrough should reach the League Cup final, having played for us against Shrewsbury, which is a great shame, as he deserves to be part of a big Wembley occasion towards the end of his career. There aren’t many players who deserve the description ‘modern day legend’, but Bill is certainly one of them, and I’d like to join the many people associated with Leeds United who are wishing him well for the remainder of his career.
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