Leeds United: Botaka is happy despite the upheaval

Jordan Botaka
Jordan Botaka
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The step into the unknown which Jordan Botaka took at Leeds United has quickly become a leap in the dark.

The head coach who signed him two months ago has gone. The owner who financed his transfer could be heading the same way. Time stands still for no-one here.

New to Leeds and new to England, Botaka has a good excuse to feel a long way from home and a little lost. The winger’s life has been unimaginable in parts but in the context of his career as a professional footballer, this period at Elland Road is an experience like no other.

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The club are out of form and out of sorts, albeit while showing the same sort of implosive tendencies that have held them back for years. In a matter of weeks, Botaka has seen Uwe Rosler sacked and Steve Evans appointed as United’s new head coach. He has seen Massimo Cellino banned by the Football League and backed into a corner from which the Italian looks likely to sell the club. All of this while Leeds have fallen to 19th in the Championship.

Ever the optimist, the Congolese international says his move from Excelsior in September has not disappointed him. There have been disappointments, naturally, but the transfer does not cause him any sense of regret.

“Of course I’m happy,” he said. “Losing is not good. It’s not good for the way you feel. Losing isn’t making me happy. But the fact that I can say I’m a professional footballer makes me happy. The fact that I come here every day and train makes me happy.

“My mind is positive. I don’t look ahead in a negative way. We just have to start winning games and I’m confident about that. I know it’ll happen.

“For me, I’ve never had something like this before – a change of coach and other things going on in a short time. But we’re a team and we try to stick together in every circumstance. I still feel good, I still feel strong.

“Things have gone the way they’ve gone. We have to deal with it.”

Last week’s defeat to Blackburn Rovers suggested that Leeds should be worried about their league position and changes are planned against Cardiff City at Elland Road tonight.

Botaka is no more than nine weeks into his first season in the Championship and is not familiar with the division.

Asked whether he was concerned about relegation, he said: “I’m new in the Championship so I don’t really know how it works.

“What I do know is that in all the games we’ve played, there wasn’t a team who I thought were better than us. It was just the luck they had on their side. When we start winning games we will surprise people.

“The thing is, we’re not winning and that makes us all sad. But we know we have to stay positive together. Most of the games we played we were better than the opponents. We just didn’t have the luck to score. We need to stay calm and keep on giving 100 per cent. Then I think things will start changing.”

Botaka was increasingly at the forefront of Rosler’s mind before he was sacked and Evans has taken a shine to him too. The Scot wanted to start the winger in United’s recent 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers but was forced to send him home ill on the morning of the game. Botaka’s recovery was only enough to merit an outing as a substitute against Blackburn.

His game shows all the traits that his reputation promised –unpredictability, flair, a touch of pace and, at the same time, a touch of inconsistency. With one goal scored from open play since a 2-1 win at MK Dons in September, Evans needs creativity from every possible source.

“It was very disappointing (at Bolton) because I really wanted to make a difference,” Botaka said. “But it wasn’t in my power to make sure I wasn’t ill.

“The gaffer knows what he’s doing. I was ill and after that I’d come back and only trained twice (before Blackburn). For me, it was fair enough. Of course I always want to play but if he decides not to put me in the starting XI, especially after that week, I understand.

“I’m comfortable with the Championship and I feel like I can do what I do best. I feel free on the pitch and that’s the most important thing for me. The players seem to trust me and the staff. That’s what I need.

“The coach is different to Uwe but I think he’s a good coach who wants to create something with this team. He knows how to motivate us and how to make us aggressive – in a positive way.

“We need a win now. Everyone who loves this club needs and deserves a win. It’s a shame that we haven’t won at home for seven months. With a crowd like we have, in my head it’s impossible. I can’t even imagine how it’s happened.”

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