Brutality awaits for Leeds United teen Joe Gelhardt but Fulham tormentor Patrick Bamford can advise best - Graham Smyth's Verdict
What have you done for me today? What will you do for me tomorrow?
That’s where we seem to be, in football right now.
Perhaps it’s because our discussion and our interactions take place almost exclusively online, where comments are thrown away as easily and quickly as the human beings we talk about.
Maybe being removed from the games and watching exclusively through a screen gives the debate a colder, more distant tone.
The discourse around footballers, football teams and football managers can be brutal, in the way those adored and idolised for what they had done for us yesterday are written off today.
Chris Wilder at Sheffield United is a recent, stark, example.
Criticism is to be expected, but there can be hints of relish and haste when it’s dished out.
When the going is good, everyone loves you. The messages on social media are fawning, it’s all hearts and thumbs pointing upward. When things aren’t quite as good as they once were, the mood soon shifts.
The answer obviously lies elsewhere. He’s done. He’s not good enough for this level. Thanks for everything but we’re moving on. Next.
It can take an age to build up a reputation and a relationship and then you blink and it’s gone.
The young players at Leeds, yet to be blooded by Marcelo Bielsa, are thus far immune to it. They represent 100 per cent potential. They embody the giddy excitement of prospective future glory. They’ve done nothing wrong yet, after all. Joe Gelhardt, Sam Greenwood, Cody Drameh, Charlie Cresswell, they’re heroes in waiting, tomorrow’s stars, already on the international scene for their age group, tearing up Premier League 2 games, champing at the bit to get their big chance with the big boys. It’s only natural to want to see if they’re as good as their Under-23s performances suggest.
Bielsa has protected them, up until now, by keeping them under wraps and out of the senior side, but they won’t get too far into their careers before experiencing the doubt, the criticism and the naysaying.
Gelhardt has been the closest of the Thorp Arch young guns to match action of late and was included among the substitutes again for a trip to Fulham that ended in a 2-1 victory, replacing the injured £27m man Rodrigo.
The clamour for him to get game time is already difficult for the player himself to ignore, but Bielsa will bow only to Gelhardt’s ability to fulfill the immediate needs of the first team.
If he’s the best option, he’ll play. If he does well, the buzz around him will intensify. If not, Patrick Bamford or Tyler Roberts can put an arm around the younger man’s shoulder and tell him all about tuning out the noise.
Next to Gelhardt on the bench at Craven Cottage sat Mateusz Klich, a player who was utterly integral to everything Leeds did last season en route to a Championship title.
A very bright start to Premier League life gave way to a less impressive spell and, with an injury to contend with, his downturn in form has led to the inevitable desire to see the next thing.
Leeds will inevitably try to strengthen in a number of areas, midfield included, this summer and it’s only natural if they wish to take steps forward into a brighter future.
But Klich is already yesterday’s man, for some. You might have run yourself into the ground to get us here, but what have you done today? His doubters might be proven right in the fullness of time but there’s something cruel about a rush to say goodbye to players yet to even celebrate their promotion properly, in a full stadium.
Bamford is the one who knows most about the wild swings in public opinion, however. He suffered the most last season but his 14th goal of the current campaign arrived in the first half at Craven Cottage and his assist for Raphinha’s winner, ensured he remains in vogue.
Top flight goals have been the perfect response to his 2019/20 doubters and this one, a low, drilled close range effort from Jack Harrison’s cross, was also a nod in the direction of England boss Gareth Southgate who named Ollie Watkins ahead of him in Thursday’s squad announcement.
His success in front of goal has been the deserved result of hard work and Leeds too deserved their lead against Fulham after an aggressive, urgent start.
They’d already had a goal disallowed, Roberts a fraction offside as he hung the perfect ball to the back post for Luke Ayling to head over Alphonse Areola and into the net.
Their tempo and hunger for the ball caused Fulham no end of first half problems, Roberts’ challenge on halfway starting an attack that ended with another goal chalked off, Raphinha offside as he ran onto Stuart Dallas’ pass to finish coolly.
Fulham had created little in the way of danger before their first chance, from a crazy sequence of pinball in the area, Illan Meslier punching half clear then retreating to his line to make a fine reflex save from Josh Maja, Luke Ayling whacking the ball out of the goalmouth.
Having gone behind to Bamford’s opener, Fulham could have capitulated but within 10 minutes were level.
The equaliser was surprising, in terms of how the first half had gone, but arriving from a corner it still had a depressing air of predictability as Joachim Andersen escaped Ayling to slam in instinctively, the Whites in defensive disarray.
Panic set in with alarming speed, Meslier required to make another fine stop from André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and he held onto Ivan Cavaleiro’s long-range effort well, although before half-time Leeds had composed themselves.
Leeds’ second-half performance was all the counter-attack. It was how they retook the lead – Kalvin Phillips’ challenge on halfway allowing him to release Bamford who slipped Raphinha into the area, the jet-heeled Brazilian keeping his balance to do the rest.
Raphinha was in the mood for more, running in behind the defence again, this time on the left, and chopping back onto his right foot, unable to find a team-mate or a finish.
By the 77th minute Bamford, who came into the game with a knock, had run his race and Klich, not Gelhardt, was the man Bielsa entrusted to see the game out.
The Polish international had a late chance to rewrite his name in the good books but sent his shot off target.
What have you done for me today? Ended a rank awful winless run in London and moved onto 39 points, with the most Premier League away wins for a newly-promoted side since 2005/06. That will do, Leeds. That will do, Bamford. That will do.