HOWEVER credible the standard of Albania’s Superliga, Partizani Tirana’s brush with the title last season was heavily dependent on Caleb Ekuban’s goals.
Leeds United’s new signing outscored every player at the club and every player in the division with the exception of Kukesi’s Pero Pejic. Tirana finished three points adrift of champions Kukesi, kept in the hunt throughout the season by Ekuban’s finishing.
The striker, who spent five years as a senior player at Chievo without playing once for the Italian club, said Tirana’s willingness to depend on him was a new experience which helped his performance. “I improved a lot because I was in a totally different context,” he said. “They gave me trust and they let me know that I was important for them. Those kind of thoughts helped me to get better.
“I felt happy to be playing, happy in the club, and pleased to be at a place which gave me the support. It was good for me.”
Chievo, where Ekuban turned professional, sent Ekuban out on loan four times – on three occasions to the Italian lower leagues – without showing any intention of blooding him themselves. Ekuban felt his lack of games was down to Chievo’s familiarity with relegation battles and their strategy for remaining in Serie A.
“I tried to find that trust at Chievo but Chievo are a team who are always trying to save themselves from relegation,” Ekuban said. “They have a mentality where they use experienced players to keep themselves in the league. There is nothing else to say, apart from to say that I’m really happy to be at Leeds and I hope to have that trust here.”
Leeds demonstrated their faith in him last week by agreeing to activate a buy-out clause in a deal at Chievo which had entered its last year. Ekuban’s undisclosed fee is understood to have been in the region of £500,000 and United committed heavily to him by handing him a four-year contract on Tuesday.
Ekuban insisted he had given no thought to remaining at Chievo and fighting on. “No, absolutely no,” he said. “Trust me, I was dreaming to play in the Championship and also the Premier League since I was a little kid. When I had the possibility to get to England, I said ‘that’s it.’
“My first impression (of Leeds) is something that really touches you. It’s a great team, a great club.
“Everything they are doing looks like something focused on becoming a bigger team. It’s really impressive.
Let’s just say that I’m not afraid. I know that the Championship is a strong league but I’m strong too. If I get the rhythm I don’t think I’ll suffer physically.Leeds United’s Caleb Ekuban
“It’ll be quite different for me here. The Championship is a tough league, tougher than Albania. I know that. I think that even Serie A players in Italy can find it quite difficult in the Championship but I’ll know better about it when I start playing. I think I can do well.
“Let’s just say that I’m not afraid. I know that the Championship is a strong league but I’m strong too. If I get the rhythm I don’t think I’ll suffer physically.”
Ekuban described himself as a “second striker” rather than an out-and-out centre-forward, something which might complement Chris Wood. “I’m a kind of player that likes moving,” he said. “I like to attack the space.” Head coach Thomas Christiansen said after Wednesday’s friendly at North Ferriby that he was working to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with other systems in his mind.
Ekuban, meanwhile, left no doubt about his national identity. Italian-born to parents of Ghanaian descent, the forward said: “When it comes to nationality, my grandfather told me that if I go and play for the Italian national team I cannot come back to the house! So you know what the answer is.”