There is no point telling Stuart Dallas what Leeds United can and cannot aspire to in his first year at Elland Road.
Brentford were not so much written off last season as roundly ignored, until they made the Championship sit up and notice them.
Dallas’ former club – the club he left to join Leeds this week – were an unforeseen threat this time last year but they made the play-off semi-finals while United were grinding into 15th place in May. Why the leap forward and why the surprise so soon after promotion from League One? “We were a young, hungry squad,” Dallas says. “We had a team who wanted to win. That was it. It’s similar to what I’ve found at Leeds.”
Young and hungry were two words Rosler used when he talked about prospective signings on the day he became United’s head coach. At the age of 24, Dallas – a one-time joinery apprentice who Rosler sourced from semi-professional football in 2012 – fits both descriptions. He also comes from a club who, since Rosler took them on three years ago, have been nothing if not aspirational.
““People doubted Brentford last season and they didn’t give us recognition but we always set out to do well,” Dallas says. “By taking it a game at a time we put a run together and whenever that happens in this league, you can stretch away.
“Eventually we found ourselves in a position where we were in the dressing room, looking around at each other and thinking ‘we’ve got a chance here. We can do this.’ Again, towards the end of the season, we dropped a few points and people didn’t think we’d get into the play-offs but when it came to it on the last day of the season we did. We never stopped believing.”
To the bewilderment of many, Brentford’s appearance in the play-offs was not enough to save the job of Mark Warburton, the head coach responsible. Warburton’s departure and that of assistant David Weir was one of the reasons why Dallas felt the urge to leave Griffin Park. Leeds paid £1.3m to sign him on Tuesday and the Northern Ireland international says he was sold on the move as soon as United got in touch. “To be fair, last season I played in just about any game I was fit to play in,” Dallas says. “I started 20-odd games and came on as a sub in the others.
“Brentford have brought a lot of players in but as a player yourself, you’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to be confident that you’re going to play no matter who’s here, otherwise you’re not even putting up a fight. Give your best and leave it up to the manager.
“As a player you want to play as much as you can but things went on at Brentford that I wasn’t happy with. I just felt it was the right time to move on.”
The treatment of Warburton plainly disappointed him. “Warbs had a big part to play last season,” Dallas says. “I had good years with him there and he did well. He did better than well. What happened between him and the club isn’t really for me to talk about but I was very close to him and Davie Weir. It was a shame the way it worked out for them.
“But that’s football. The club wanted to go in a different direction and Mark and Davie either didn’t agree with that or buy into that. The new manager (Dutchman Marinus Dijkhuizen) was good with what he was trying to impose. I didn’t have a problem with that. He was good with the players. But there were a number of things I thought about and the manager (Warburton) going was one of them.”
In Rosler, Dallas has another head coach who served him well in the past. Rosler gave the winger his break in 2012, travelling to Belfast to meet with Dallas and his family and discuss a transfer to Brentford. Dallas was on the books of Crusaders, training whenever work allowed him to.
“I was playing part-time football in Belfast,” he says. “I was training twice a week, sometimes once. Sometimes I wasn’t training at all because I was working. That’s how it was.
“Mark was sporting director at Brentford at the time and the two of them (Warburton and Rosler) had a big influence on me. It’s a step I’m glad I took. At the start when I first came into Brentford getting up to speed took work because it was my first professional club but it’s worked out well.”
Dallas jokes about his employment prospects at the time of his move to London. “I was doing nothing,” he says. “No, actually I was learning my trade as a joiner. That’s what I was looking at. It makes me appreciate things now because I know what it’s like to work in an actual job.”
It might make his current job sound simple but at lunchtime tomorrow, on the first weekend of the season, Dallas will have a crowd of 29,000 around him at Elland Road. Rosler plans to make a late decision about whether Dallas or Souleymane Doukara will start on the left wing, the only dilemma for United’s boss. “Stuart’s a little behind but he’s match fit,” Rosler said today.
“The main thing for me was to get the deal done and to get in here ahead of the start of the season,” Dallas said.
“I came back to training with Brentford 10 days late because I had a few internationals at the end of last season but I was straight in and I feel pretty much up to speed.
“There were a few clubs interested in me and you can’t speak to them while you’re under contract but I kept in close touch with my agent. I knew there was a bit of interest and I do think that when Leeds come calling, you’re not going to turn them down.”