Kalvin Phillips, Liam Cooper and Luke Ayling discussed a wide range of topics as Sky Sports joins Leeds United at home.
Jonathan Oakes and David Prutton spoke to the Leeds trio about Marcelo Bielsa, their favourite moments of the season, being fans of the club and much, much more!
On the management of Marcelo Bielsa…
Bielsa has been in charge of Leeds since the start of last season. The trio discussed the impact he has had on their careers, his training sessions and what his English is really like.
Kalvin Phillips: “I think [his English is] definitely better than what he makes out! We don’t really speak too much but he can say quite a few sentences from what we have heard.
“It mostly comes through a translator. He will show us some videos before the training sessions, and sometimes he’ll try some English, get halfway through then sod it off before getting a translator over.
“He is relentless, especially with his weight targets and how he goes about training every day. I never thought he would improve me as much as he has. He is on my case about my weight all the time!”
Liam Cooper: “The distance is there and we accept that. It’s been like that since day one and it hasn’t changed. He hands a lot over to the lads to keep the spirits high in the dressing room, and for us that’s brilliant. He never steps in for anything non-football related. We have a great group that is full of energy and it’s fairly young, barring Pablo Hernandez!
“Fitness-wise for me it’s been unbelievable. When I signed I was weighing in around 92kg, now I’m more like 81kg. You never think your body can do what it does, and since he’s come in he has changed the whole way the club works. It is chalk and cheese.”
Luke Ayling: “I feel fitter than ever and can run up and down for the full 90 minutes. It shows in how much I get into the attacking third. It is down to everything we do in training every day. It’s all short, sharp blasts and working at high intensity.
“Even now we’re still weighing in every morning, and we have to take pictures and send them to the fitness coach. It’s a complete change of lifestyle. I was fit before he came in and I thought I could do a lot, but I’ve taken it to the next level now, and I feel I can do a lot more and play for a few more years than I could before.”
On the highlights of the season… both against Birmingham!
The two most memorable games of the season so far for the trio, both happened to be against Birmingham. The first of which was a 1-0 win at Elland Road at October in a game that marked the club’s 100th anniversary. It was fitting that Phillips, an academy graduate and Leeds supporter, scored the winner.
Phillips: “The atmosphere before that game was something I’d never experienced in my life. The crowd and everything made it such a special day. Then for me to go out and score the winning goal is something I’ll never forget. It will go down in the history books.”
The second clash with Birmingham came in late December at St Andrew’s. It ended with a last-minute own goal to secure an incredible 5-4 win for Leeds…
Cooper: “I was raging in that game! I don’t think we’ve ever conceded such bad goals, and scored such brilliant ones. Luke can take a bit of credit there! But we’ll never give up and we’ll go to the 96th minute. That was one of those days.
“We had a team talk at the end and I said to the lads to make sure this never happens again. It was a great way to win but we don’t want many of them. I’d like to stick to just winning 1-0. I’d take nine more of them.”
Ayling: “It was actually a decent game for me! It was mental. We started really well and then it all went a bid mad in the second half. Then any time a team went forward they scored. It was crazy. I scored a nice goal and set up a couple. It wasn’t bad.”
On supporting the club…
Cooper and Phillips were both Leeds fans growing up. Ayling, meanwhile, has been at the club since 2016 and has adopted honorary northern status.
Cooper: “My family are from Hull and they were all Hull City fans, and my dad was a West Ham fan. I had three choices but I picked Leeds.
“I didn’t get to play too much against Leeds as an academy kid, but we would go up to Thorp Arch and the facilities were unbelievable. Then to walk in as a player in 2014, then become captain of the club you support – you have to pinch yourself really.
“[Being captain] is a job I take a lot of pride in and one I hope I can do well. I want to set a good example to the younger boys at the club, and hopefully Kalvin can step in one day and captain Leeds as well.”
Phillips: “It was the sort of thing you don’t think much of when you’re younger, but now I’m playing for the club you realise how badly it needs to get back into the top flight. We’re a one-club city and it would be massive.
“I remember the likes of Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Alan Smith, and you just want to try and replicate that. My family are massive Leeds fans, and if it’s not going right they will tell me!”
Ayling: “I love spending time up here. My little girl was born here and I’m a northerner now! I still have family down south but I very rarely go down, they always come up.
“I just enjoy being here. It’s a nicer, slower way of living. I live in a village where everyone says morning and looks out for you. You don’t get that down south!”
On the red card against QPR…
Phillips has enjoyed a brilliant season so far, and even been touted for an England call-up. His lowlight of the season, however came in a 1-0 defeat at QPR. Late on in a frustrating game for the midfielder, he was sent off for a wild lunging challenge on Geoff Cameron. Leeds lost two of their next three games that he missed through suspension.
Phillips: “I missed playing in those three games after and I was gutted sat in the stands. We didn’t have good results either when I was banned.
“I wanted to be on the pitch and help the lads, but I just tried to keep my spirits and fitness high and to be ready for when I came back. When I did get back I did quite well and we got some good results.”
Cooper: “I couldn’t look at him when he got sent off!
“But I think, even if we were 1-0 up, Kalvin would still make that tackle. If you take that part out of his game you take out a lot of him. He plays on the edge sometimes, and that’s like some of the best players in the world. It can be a very good attribute to have.”
Ayling: “We just ignored him! I went in after and said ‘Kal, you’ve been silly’. The game was pretty much done, we were going through a tough spell and Kalvin is such a big player for us. For him to be missing for three games was such a big loss. It really hurt us.
“To be fair to him, though, he never made excuses. He said sorry and that he had been stupid. It shows his character that he knew he had done wrong.”
And Ayling on his wonder goals…
Ayling, as a right-back, may not be renowned for his goalscoring. But he has hit some screamers this season, and none better than an incredible volley against Huddersfield in March. His beauty in that famous win at Birmingham in December will also be a contender for Goal of the Season.
Ayling: “I think I’m up for two of the top three goals of the season! That isn’t bad for a right-back.
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