Giuseppe Bellusci has described his transfer to Leeds United as “the best choice of my life”, saying his ambition is focused solely on a future in the Premier League rather than a return to Serie A.
The charismatic centre-back made clear his plans for a long career in English football after settling in Leeds and writing headlines with flamboyant goals and aggressive performances.
Bellusci was one of 15 players signed by United in the summer transfer window and one of eight who moved to Elland Road directly from clubs in Italy, following Italian owner Massimo Cellino to Yorkshire.
Leeds took him from Catania on a season-long loan in July but made the move permanent within weeks of striking that deal, paying around £1.6m to sign Bellusci on a four-year contract.
The transfer had run into problems earlier in the summer, with Cellino accusing Bellusci of making excessive wage demands and suspending talks, and the 25-year-old’s career at Leeds started badly with a red card on his debut at Watford.
But a brilliant free-kick against Bournemouth in September, a late equaliser at home to Sheffield Wednesday and a champagne moment in a rousing win over Huddersfield Town dramatically raised Bellusci’s popularity and led him to confess that he has “never felt as comfortable as I do on a English field.”
“They tell me I look like an English player in appearance,” Bellusci said. “Maybe I lacked a little courage but I had to gamble on a first experience in England.
“When in the summer my agent proposed the transfer to Leeds, there was a spark. It’s the best choice of my life.
“On the field I’ve found a game based on dynamism and aggression, my own characteristics. Off the field the language is a barrier but I’m learning: we Italians are planning to attend (lessons) together. If that’s a price to pay then I’ll do it willingly to play in front of 30,000 people, with 3,000 fans who follow you even 350 miles away. It’s wonderful.”
United’s longest trip this season – away to Bournemouth last month – was the night when Bellusci came to prominence and Leeds turned the corner after a troubled first month.
The Italian and the defenders around him were stretched badly for an hour at Dean Court and conceded an early goal to Andrew Surman but an equaliser from Souleymane Doukara was followed up by a sublime free-kick from Bellusci, whipped over the Bournemouth wall and underneath their crossbar from 25 yards. Leeds went on to earn a 3-1 win.
The quality of the finish was rare for a centre-back but Bellusci almost surpassed it against Huddersfield four days later, breaking over 60 yards and lobbing Alex Smithies with a deft chip which smashed off the face of the crossbar. Mirco Antenucci followed up to convert the rebound but another goal came Bellusci’s way before the international break when his low strike – another silky effort – sealed a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday
United’s head coach, Darko Milanic, warmed to Bellusci’s eccentric style, saying: “Giuseppe’s very calm, he has great technique and he takes a lot of risks in his game. I’m very happy for the team that he scored, and for himself.”
Bellusci has two goals in eight appearances for Leeds. In all his time in Italy he was credited with only one. He said he touched the “goal of my life” against Huddersfield, only to be denied by the bar.
“In two months I’ve scored two goals after scoring one in five years in Serie A,” Bellusci told Italian newspaper Tuttosport. “And I touched the goal of my life against Huddersfield but the ball finished on the crossbar. Luckily Antenucci put it in the goal.”
The majority of United’s foreign signings were brought in as part of a long-term plan. Cellino is adverse to emergency loans – Leeds have made none since the window opened at the beginning of September – and is less than keen on season-long deals without further options. Bellusci and Doukara were both signed from Catania on a temporary basis but clauses allowing United to reach permanent agreements were rapidly activated. Doukara’s fee is understood to have been around £800,000.
Zan Benedicic, Adryan, Dario Del Fabro and Brian Montenegro could all join full-time next summer and most of those who committed immediately – Marco Silvestri, Tommaso Bianchi and others – accepted lengthy contracts. Silvestri and Bianchi, like Bellusci himself, are tied down until 2018.
Bellusci said he was settling easily in England and admitted that his initial experience of football in this country had watered down any desire to return to Italy.
Asked to choose between promotion to the Premier League or another chance in Serie A, Bellusci said: “Premier. Someone asked me what has to happen for an Italian club to take me back to Serie A and I replied ‘They shouldn’t have sent me here!’
“I have no (problem) with anyone and I don’t say I’ll stay here all my life. But I’ve never felt as comfortable as I do on an English field.”
Bellusci, who along with his team-mates will attempt to secure Milanic’s first win as Leeds head coach at Rotherham United on Friday night, said he occasionally felt “nostalgic” about life in Italy but his wife is in England with him and is due to give birth in a month.
“We eat Italian because every month we receive the stocks of pasta, olive oil and sauces from Italy,” Bellusci said. “The nostalgia is there but it is limited.
“I don’t follow the (Italian) league much because I have to study opponents in the Championship. There are few games on TV here and it’s difficult to know the other teams but that’s why there are always lots of people at the stadium.
“Football here is all within two hours of the game. The environment is so special.”