Explain yourself Stuart Dallas - how did Leeds United man become Premier League star?
Explain yourself, Stuart Dallas.
The accepted wisdom when it comes to Leeds United’s strongest case for inclusion in any Premier League team of the season is that Marcelo Bielsa turned him from a bit-part winger to a linchpin capable of playing full-back or central midfield.
But, for all the understanding of the game that Bielsa has instilled in the Northern Irish international, for all the improvements in his conditioning since the summer of 2018, it has to be true that there was always a very good, technically capable and dynamic player in there.
It might be difficult to argue that in the player Leeds signed from Brentford there was a Premier League central midfielder capable of winning games against Manchester City and producing remarkable consistency against the elite to make himself the darling of Fantasy Football enthusiasts, but the building blocks had to be there.
All the first-hand accounts of the professionalism and determination witnessed by those who have spent time with him on his journey from the Irish League to what many believe is the best league in the world, tell a story of a player with some of the most important qualities for a successful career.
There are successful careers and there are trajectories that confound expectation and belief, however.
Arriving at the best version of himself at the age of 30 puts Dallas firmly in the latter camp.
Bielsa’s explanation for how the Cookstown man has managed to pull it off nods in the direction of the stuff some players are just made of.
“Due to the experience I have working with him I consider him a player with a lot of resources,” said Bielsa after Dallas scored and starred in the 3-1 win over Spurs.
“What he attempts is simple but he has a lot of possibilities to impose it. Apart from that he’s a tireless worker, throughout the week and during the games and an example for all of us.”
The best thing, Bielsa added, would be for Dallas to explain it.
Like so many of the players Bielsa found when he turned up at Thorp Arch for the first time, Dallas has, on numerous occasions, happily handed credit to his head coach for the transformation in his fortunes.
He did so again recently when the subject of becoming a top-flight midfielder cropped up, in the wake of a famous win at Manchester City in which Dallas got both goals.
“If you’d have said to me two or three years ago I’d be playing as a No 8 in the Premier League, I’d have laughed at you and thought it wasn’t possible,” he said.
“The manager has seen that in me and seen I could play in that position.
“I think experience plays a part. Playing at international level plays a huge role as well but I think the main change has been since the manager has come in. He’s shown belief and faith in me to play these positions. The big thing for me is him showing that belief in me when others didn’t.”
Bielsa’s belief and the hours on the training ground drilling those one-two passing moves that have served Dallas so well might have given him the confidence to go and express himself but he has still had to go out and do so in close proximity and under the pressure of some of the best footballers in Europe or the World.
Man cannot live by hard work alone, not in the Premier League. Desire and work-rate can take you a brave distance but talent has to kick in on a very regular basis. Dallas’ willingness to sprint through the exhaustion late on at the Etihad put him in position but the finish, through the legs, was pure technique. His goal against Spurs was pure instinct. The one against Manchester United was pure brilliance.
And his knack of scoring against very good teams – Leicester City couldn’t deny him in either fixture – hints at the exact mentality Leeds will need next season, when all and sundry will want and expect even more from Bielsa’s team.
Dallas even put it into words in a chat with Luke Ayling, when the media were clamouring for their reaction to the 10-man win against the team who were en route to the title. His concern over the media work was that it would be framed as Leeds delighting themselves with a shock win as a plucky underdog. He stopped short of ‘we’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over’ but insisting Leeds should see every game as winnable is the direction in which the club should be travelling.
Playing under this head coach, with these team-mates, in this system and with this style of play, along with qualities he has always possessed, has helped Dallas arrive exactly where he wanted to be.
If he goes on to surpass what he has achieved this season and reach yet another new level then maybe all those in search of an explanation should arrive at the conclusion that the very top is where he was always eventually meant to be.