You spend all summer chasing a centre-forward, invest £7m on one just before the transfer deadline and then, by early September, he’s out until Christmas without starting a league game.
I think that’s what they call sod’s law. There’s no point trying to apportion any blame with Patrick Bamford’s injury because quite honestly, these things are sent to test you.
It would be different if Leeds United had taken a risk on an existing condition or had flogged him to death through August. Then you’d be questioning the handling of him. But the fact that he was hurt in an Under-23s fixture as opposed to a first-team game is irrelevant. If it doesn’t happen there it could happen in a two-minute appearance off the bench when Leeds are 3-0 up. Or, like Kevin De Bruyne, it could happen in training on any given day. Bielsa is hardly the sort to let his squad take it easy through the international break.
Bamford will feel like he’s at the start of a long tunnel. Four months out is by no estimation the worst a footballer can suffer but I did three-month stints a few times and trust me, it goes by slowly. It’ll go particularly slowly for Bamford because of the situation he’s in: newly signed for a lot of money, wanting to make a big impression and trying to become Leeds’ established number nine. Now he has the delights of getting to know the medical department intimately.
There are slight positives for him and the club too, though. For one thing, he has the protection of a long contract at Leeds and despite the club anticipating a big impact from him this year, they weren’t ever paying £7m for a one-season wonder.
The last bad injury I had – and I say bad in the context of my career because I was lucky to never do an ACL or anything like that – was with Sheffield Wednesday, where I damaged an ankle. I was into the last year of my contract at Hillsborough and when all was said and done, I finished playing at the end of that season. I had other things to go into, the television work I do now, but the occupational hazard of playing football hit me at a time when I was exposed.
Despite the club anticipating a big impact from him this year, they weren’t ever paying £7m for a one-season wonder.David Prutton
I remember Dave Jones, my manager when it happened, being asked about my injury and saying matter-of-factly that I wasn’t in his line-up anyway so it wasn’t the end of the world. That might sound crass but actually, it was the truth. And that’s the thing with Leeds.
Bamford ought to be a major player for them but as it stands, Kemar Roofe’s been holding down the centre-forward’s position.
Bamford hasn’t had much of a look-in and assuming that Roofe’s injury is minor enough for him to get back in the groove quickly, it might be that Bamford returns at a key stage of the season with the league table looking good; after the squad have done five months of donkey work and set Leeds up nicely for the run-in. That’s what you hope, anyway.
There’s no denying that without Bamford, the club look short of alternatives up front. That’s made glaringly obvious by the lack of fallback options now Roofe is missing Millwall away this afternoon. Experienced forwards are very thin on the ground and in many ways, this is the risk Bielsa has taken with the size of squad he likes to carry.
You might not like that approach and if it proves to be a mistake then it’ll be called out as such but I go back to something I said a few weeks ago. If you recruit a coach like Bielsa, with his reputation and his salary, you don’t start telling him his way is the wrong way. If he’s set on this squad size and if that’s what he wants, you let him get on with it and show why it is that he’s so revered.
I’d hate to think that Leeds might fall short this season on the basis of a lack of players, and it would be hard not to see that as a dereliction of duty, but the fact is that Bielsa has hardly put a foot wrong so far. He’s handled the squad well, he’s strolled through the standard pressure to make a good start and he gives you the impression of a man who has everything under control.
There’s extra stress without Bamford, and even more when Roofe is unavailable, but this, as we’re seeing, is how Bielsa works: a man who likes to solve problems rather than moan about them and a man who sees solutions rather than crises. It’s not to say Bamford won’t be missed and you wish he was fit this afternoon. But a comeback in January, February time? Without being presumptuous, it could be a handy shot in the arm.
Sky Sports Championship coverage today: Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa – Sky Sports Main Event 5.30pm.