Leeds United: Loan ace Max Gradel is a star with a flurry

Blessed with what Leeds United's manager described as "va-va-voom", Max Gradel has brought to Elland Road the one quality that Simon Grayson felt his squad was lacking.

Grayson's complaints have been few this season and weaknesses in his team are rare to the point of non-existent, but the recruitment of a player with raw pace and a winger's mentality struck him as a sensible move when Gradel became available two weeks ago.

United do not want for creativity, as the finest goal difference in England proves, but as Grayson admitted after Gradel tore into Yeovil Town on Saturday, the African livewire has added another string to their bow.

The only doubt about his temporary deal with Leeds is whether the club will be able to extend it.

Evidence of Gradel's speed and inventive nous came flooding through when his 10-minute appearance as a substitute cracked Norwich City last month. The trick was repeated on Saturday when Grayson introduced him with half-an-hour remaining and saw a 1-0 lead over Yeovil turn into a 4-0 rout.

The inspiration behind that scoreline was not Gradel's alone – the arrival of Neil Kilkenny in the centre of midfield on 59 minutes also increased United's dominance – but the crowd at Elland Road were in no doubt about the identity of the chief architect, urging Grayson to "sign him up" after Gradel scored his first goal for the club after only 10 minutes on the field.

Grayson said: "When we signed him we were looking for everything that you've seen in him so far.

"He's a quick, pacy winger who takes people on and he's not frightened of getting crosses or shots in. With Max, you've got a real, enthusiastic player who has given us the extra dimension that we probably didn't have.

"There isn't a really quick winger in our squad but he can play that role for us, and it's important for me to have different types of players.

"He's got that zip about him and it's all about getting the right balance in the squad. He's very much part of it."

The question now is for how much longer.

Gradel signed on a month's loan before Leeds' 2-1 victory over Norwich on October 19 and his short-term deal has another two weeks to run before Grayson is required to speak with his parent club, Leicester City, about the possibility of an extension.

The Championship side had no reason to obstruct Gradel's move last month after using him in only one competitive fixture, a Carling Cup match against Macclesfield Town far back in August. Even then, he only took to the field for the final 26 minutes.

United's approach was an opportunity for Foxes boss, Nigel Pearson, to spare Gradel from the inactivity he was experiencing at the Walkers Stadium, and City have not missed him. A 2-1 victory over QPR on Friday night moved last season's League One champions to within a point of the top of the Championship.

Pearson, however, made it clear after Gradel's exit that the 21-year-old's career with Leicester might still have much to offer.

Discussing the loan move, Pearson said: "It's great for Max, and for us.

"Our squad has a lot more depth than it's had for a while so Max's opportunities have been a bit limited. He'll get the chance to be around the first team (at Leeds) and it means that if after a month he is needed, he comes back with a bit of experience."

Grayson suggested after the victory over Yeovil that he would make every effort to ensure that Gradel's loan does not end midway through this month and Leicester's prominent position in their division may persuade Pearson that the winger would be best served by a longer stint in West Yorkshire.

Gradel has contributed so far to wins over Norwich, Yeovil and Bristol Rovers and appeared in a 2-1 defeat at Millwall, United's only league loss this season.

Despite that result at the New Den, the club's form during his short spell has carried them seven points clear in League One, a lead that has left United odds-on with every bookmaker to win both the title and promotion.

United defender Patrick Kisnorbo claimed credit for recommending Gradel to Grayson and his coaching staff, but the youngster was also known to assistant coach Ian Miller who worked for the Foxes.

Grayson said: "Ian worked with him at Leicester and we watched him a few times. He's played against teams I've managed before as well so I knew plenty about him and the qualities he would give us.

"There's something about him – a bit of va-va-voom, if that's what you want to call it. Max is an exciting player and he's made a contribution every time he's come on."

Grayson's one demand of his fringe players has consistently been that they make the most of the time he is able to offer them on the field and Saturday's victory was an occasion when his substitutes made their presence felt.

Gradel's influence was the talk of Elland Road, Kilkenny's impact in the centre of midfield was keenly felt by a United team who took the best part of an hour to gain a tight hold of Yeovil and Tresor Kandol scored the fourth goal minutes after replacing Jermaine Beckford.

Grayson said: "Max obviously affected the game, but Kilkenny did the same when he came on and Tres got his goal.

"They've all made an impact, but that's what I want from my players when they come on as substitutes.

"They have to make an impact and, to be fair, we've got a very good squad now with players pushing for places."


Leeds United head coach Thomas Christiansen. 
(Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe)

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