Pontus Jansson might be a gun-toting footballer but people used to laugh at him when he first started mentioning Leeds United and the Premier League in the same sentence. The centre-back is reluctant to prematurely count his chickens but the sound of ridicule is not so audible now.
Leeds have been making the Championship sit up gradually and last Saturday’s victory over Aston Villa was, in Jansson’s eyes, a statement of intent. “They played in the Premier League last time but we showed everybody that we’re a good team,” he said. “Inside the team we believe in ourselves but now I think people outside are also starting to believe in us. That’s not so important but I think people are taking us seriously.
“When I came here, my goal was to take Leeds to the Premier League. I said it on the first day. People laughed at me at the beginning, especially in Sweden, but I feel good. It’s not my goal to go to the Premier League personally. My goal is to take Leeds to the Premier League.”
Jansson’s inherent confidence after signing on loan from Torino in August did not blind him to the fact that in the earliest weeks of the season Leeds were in trouble. His first league appearance ended with United in the Championship’s relegation zone. Tonight, away at Brighton, they kick-off in fourth place and know an historic first win at The Amex will cut the gap to Albion and an automatic promotion spot to four points.
Monk preaches about game-to-game focus but speaking ahead of tonight’s televised fixture, Jansson did not attempt to hide from talk of a top-two finish. “That’s how we have to think,” he said. “I haven’t seen Brighton play so I don’t know what to expect but they’re at the top of the table for a reason. They’re going to play good football but we play good football, too. Every team we’ve played against so far, I think we were better. We have to go there with high confidence.
“We believe in ourselves now. In the beginning when I first camen we had a tough start with one win in five games but when you start to win games it’s much easier to believe.
“The fans believe, too, and it’s much easier to play with the fans with us, not against us. It’s easy to play football now. But we have to keep working.”
Jansson has never had any problem with his relationship with United’s support.
His bloody-minded defending and his interaction with the crowd has generated songs and merchandise devoted to him. United’s club shop recently began selling ‘magic hats’. “I went to the shop to buy one,” Jansson said. “It was sold out.”
Last week he was taken to task on Twitter for wearing gloves in the win over Villa, an aesthetic no-no in English football. The comments about it made him chuckle. “I hate to have frozen fingers, it’s the worst thing I know,” he said. “That’s why I play with gloves on and I’ll keep doing it. I’m sorry for everyone who doesn’t like it!”
His humour underlines a significant difference between this Leeds squad and previous groups at Elland Road. There is a sense of Garry Monk’s players enjoying themselves and enjoying the chase. Jansson settled quickly and has repeatedly asked the club to tie up a deal to sign him permanently from Torino. In Italy, he was used to playing “once a month”. “Now it’s more like 50 games a month,” Jansson said.
He sounds almost bemused by the attention that has focused on him in England. The Swedish media have picked up on it quickly. “It’s better to have the fans with me than against me,” he said. “I’m happy that they like my style of play. This is how I am but when I go out on the pitch I don’t think about it so much.
“When you’re the focus it is difficult to understand but people who talk with me, like my family and people in Sweden, they say: ‘this is sick!’ Everywhere they read things and see (video) clips and they think it can’t be true. I’m really happy that the fans like me.”
Brighton were a whisker away from automatic promotion last season and were ultimately derailed in the play-offs by a spate of injuries and suspensions. Once again this season, under the management of Chris Hughton, they are the Championship’s most difficult side to beat. Nineteen games have yielded two defeats and only one at The Amex. “I know they’re a good team,” Jansson said.
Leeds, however, have climbed to fourth in spite of the absence of key players. With Liam Bridcutt and Eunan O’Kane injured last weekend, Monk’s midfield against Villa comprised two academy products, Kalvin Phillips and Ronaldo Vieira. Phillips took Sky Sports’ man-of-the-match award. “Against Villa, they were really good,” Jansson said. “I’m impressed. They are two young guys but they play football like they’ve played in the Championship for 20 years.”
It is indicative of a squad who are starting to fancy their chances. Jansson is now at the stage where he expects wins to come. “It’s not only me who thinks that,” he said. “It’s much easier when we have the momentum. Brighton is a tough game but we have to believe we’ll turn back home with three points.”