Toumani Diagouraga was pleased to find his finishing touch at Leeds United, even if he is still to find a house. Contrasting first impressions have not stopped the midfielder acclimatising to life in the north of England.
At Brentford they were starting to think that after three years without a goal, Diagouraga would never score again.
He left Griffin Park in January and scored for Leeds on his full debut.
The Frenchman could picture the bemused reaction among a Brentford crowd who tried their best to end his drought; telling him, in his words, “to shoot every time, even from 50 yards.”
Other aspects of his transfer to Yorkshire were less gratifying. Two months on, he is continuing to look for permanent accommodation. He caused some amusement at the start of February by telling his Twitter followers that he “can’t view a property (because) the landlord doesn’t want footballers there.” Diagouraga protested in vain that he was the father of two young, demanding children. All-night parties were not in the diary.
“That was a bit bizarre,” he said. “It wasn’t what I expected and it doesn’t help. I’m still looking now but it’s something I’ll get sorted. Hopefully I’m close!
“I feel nice and settled up here, I feel happy, and all I care about is winning matches. The other things take care of themselves. Everyone here seems very friendly.”
It was not that Diagouraga moved to the ends of the earth by leaving London for Leeds but parting company with Brentford was a big step. He had been with the club for five-and-a-half years and was playing regularly at the time when Brentford accepted an offer of £575,000 from United in the last week of the January transfer window. His surroundings were familiar and about to become more comfortable with Brentford in the process of constructing a new stadium but Diagouraga’s instinct told him that a change would be good.
Steve Evans’ joked when he signed Diagouraga that he was not paying for his goals. The 28-year-old had previously scored one in March 2013, at a time when Brentford were a League One club and coached by Uwe Rosler. On his first start for Leeds, he produced the decisive finish in an FA Cup win at Bolton Wanderers, breaking from deep to slip home a low pass from Mirco Antenucci.
“It was strange to happen like that,” Diagouraga said. “At Brentford they wanted me to shoot every time, from 50 yards, from wherever, because I didn’t score many. So for me to score in my first game here was brilliant. It’s a bonus and like I always say, I try to do my best for the team. They probably couldn’t believe it at Brentford. That’s how football works sometimes.
“I suppose it’s not easy to leave a club when you’ve been at a place for a certain amount of years. You get used to it and to being there but I felt like it was time for me to move on and I’m happy here. Leeds was right. I wouldn’t have signed if I didn’t think it was right.”
It is still true that Evans did not sign Diagouraga for his goals and Diagouraga has not scored since. What United’s head coach wanted for Leeds’ half-a-million pounds was a powerful runner, a physical presence and a player to complement the loan signing of Liam Bridcutt from Sunderland. Bridcutt was Evans’ first signing at Elland Road and, to date, his best.
The club’s head coach has tried to establish the right balance in midfield and at Blackburn Rovers last weekend, in a controlled and deserved 2-1 win, he seemed to find it. Diagouraga played in front of Bridcutt, leaving Bridcutt to shield the defence.
“We’re understanding each other,” Diagouraga said of that partnership. “He’s a good player, he’s come from a Premier League club, and we’ve got a good understanding.”
Alongside them at Ewood Park, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt were able to play freely. Leeds under Evans have not played better.
“If you have a look at the last few games you can see that we’re not playing off the cuff,” Diagouraga said. “We’ve got a game plan and we’re executing it well.
“Blackburn is up there (as one of United’s best performances of the season). Cardiff was good and we’ve had a few. But I feel like we can get better and better.”
United’s two games last week, away at Cardiff and Blackburn, saw Evans fall back on a counter-attacking style to good effect. Antenucci’s strikes in those matches were both taken at the end of 50-yard sprints. Souleymane Doukara’s opener at Cardiff was also the product of a swift, incisive break.
“Cardiff and Blackburn have been in good form so it was always going to be backs against the wall at times,” Diagouraga said. “But when we had the ball we countered very well.
“I think the team’s gelling together now. It’s confidence. When you win one game you win two or three. Everyone is confident now. Everyone wants to win games.”
The question after three in a row, and ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Huddersfield Town, is how many more Leeds can win. The club have only the slimmest chance of a making the play-offs, a chance which will depend on a near-perfect record in their final 10 matches. A top-six finish is mathematically possible but even the ever-optimistic Evans is keeping himself in check.
Diagouraga, who never lost a West London derby to Fulham or Queens Park Rangers in his years at Brentford, said his own target was simple. “Win all 10. All I want is to win all 10 games and see where that leaves us. We’ll see what happens.”