Daniel Farke pays a huge compliment to 'best' Luke Ayling after making one of the 'most difficult decisions' of his time at Leeds United
With Archie Gray currently being favoured at right-back and Djed Spence now back fit, Ayling was not among the 18 players chosen ahead of Wednesday's 3-1 victory over Swansea City.
United chief Farke may have never professed to be a sentimentalist in his time at Elland Road, but he admits that leaving out the 32-year-old on game day was tough.
The exemplary professionalism shown by Ayling in his reaction to the news made the former Bristol City player go up even further in his estimation.
Farke, whose third-placed side face Middlesbrough on Saturday, said: "To leave him out for the first time, knowing what it means to him to be involved on a game day, it was probably one of my most difficult decisions I've ever made in this job. His value for the squad won't change at all.
"I pretty rarely talk about something like this, but in terms of football, 'team-mate' and 'group' character, Luke Ayling is second to none and probably the best player I've ever worked with in these terms.
"I am really careful with such a compliment. He brings the spirit and identity into this dressing room. He is so crucial for us.
"If he plays many minutes; if he's just on the bench with a few minutes (of action), or not in the squad, he brings the heart and soul into my side. He makes sure we don't drop the standards in training.
"He makes sure everyone is really on it, disciplined and focused, working hard each and every day.
"Even before the game, he was in the dressing room giving everyone a boost, firing them up.
"What a character; to be disappointed but then to bring this spirit. He even gave me a hug and was on it, although he probably wanted to kill me after this decision.”
The gap between Leeds and leaders Leicester is now eight points after the Foxes were held to a 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday.