This article forms part of our Profit Players feature series, which is where Football Transfer Tavern takes a look at how well a player has fared since being signed or sold, using statistical figures and statements from pundits to prove how good of a deal the club managed to achieve.
From being rejected by Arsenal to suffering a potential career-ending injury, it is fair to say that, unlike some of his contemporaries, Luke Ayling has never had it easy.
After arriving at the Emirates Stadium at the age of 8 and leaving the club once he turned 18, Ayling has never given up on his dream of playing in the Premier League.
The defender joined League One side Yeovil Town on a free transfer and he made his debut in a 2-1 win against Leyton Orient. The Englishman made 39 appearances in total in his first full season at the Huish Park, registering an assist during the 1-1 draw with Walsall FC.
Ayling went on to play over 150 games for the Glovers, scoring 3 goals and creating 12 assists in all competitions, but also suffering from a number of disciplinary issues, amassing 34 yellow cards and 3 red cards overall (Transfermarkt).
Regardless, he starred in the 2-1 victory over Brentford in the 2013 playoff final at Wembley, playing the full 90 minutes for Gary Johnson’s team.
Sadly, Ayling couldn’t stop Yeovil Town from being relegated from the Championship the following season, and left Somerset for rivals Bristol City in the summer of 2014.
He started as a centre-back in his first appearance for the Robins in the 2-1 win away to Sheffield United on the opening day of the season. Ayling lifted the coveted Football League trophy during the 2014/15 season, as Bristol thumped the Saddlers 2-0 in the final.
Featuring in 46 games, he then helped Steve Cotterill’s men win the League One title, gaining promotion to the English second division in the process.
His shifts along the back line kept Bristol City above the drop zone, and he joined Garry Monk’s Leeds United for £783k in August 2016.
Luck was on his side for the first time, as first choice right-back Gaetano Berardi picked up an injury at the start of the campaign, providing Ayling with the perfect chance to stake his claim in the starting lineup.
The Arsenal academy graduate embraced the opportunity with open arms, supplanting the Swiss veteran as a regular with Monk’s side, going on to play in 43 games in the Championship throughout the Bedford-born manager’s time in charge of the Peacocks.
Although he quickly had to adapt to life at Elland Road, he rapidly established himself as a regular starter in the first team, off the back of a string of impressive performances in front of the Don Revie Stand.
Having survived the turmoil behind the scenes, which saw a change of leadership at the very top, Ayling has witnessed a total revolution, spearheaded by maverick boss Marcelo Bielsa and owner Andrea Radrizzani.
At present, the 28-year-old has featured in 28 appearances for Bielsa’s Whites this season, putting in a shift in the spine of the team, scoring 4 goals, creating 3 assists, making 2 tackles per game, averaging 1.8 interceptions, and completing 1.8 clearances on average (via WhoScored).
His contributions up and down the pitch have aided United’s charge up the table, where the Argentine’s side hold a near-unassailable lead over the playoff places, with a comfortable seven-point-gap ahead of Fulham.
Ayling’s versatility has made him the perfect man for the job, as he has played in a variety of positions over the course of the campaign so far, achieving a high statistical rating of 7.31 according to WhoScored.
Indeed, the Londoner’s hard graft has certainly paid off, as his market valuation has steadily increased ever since he arrived in Yorkshire. Starting at just £675k in September 2016, his price tag has sharply risen to £2.16m at the time of writing (Transfermarkt).
While youngsters like Ben White and Kalvin Phillips have received plenty of plaudits, it is well worth remembering the impact the unsung hero has made, and his signing has been a real blessing in disguise up until now.
Leeds United fans, do you think Luke Ayling has turned out to be a blessing in disguise? Let us know in the comments below!
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