Former Leeds United loanee lifts lid on disappointment of almost-breakthrough under Marcelo Bielsa

Former Leeds United loanee Eddie Nketiah has opened up about the cruel twist of fate which denied him his big chance at Elland Road.

By Flora Snelson
Thursday, 21st April 2022, 6:00 am

The Arsenal striker had a host of suitors keen for his signature ahead of the 2019/2020 season but the young player opted to join the Whites on a season-long loan deal.

But Nketiah left the West Yorkshire side midway through their promotion-winning season as the opportunities to play first team football were not as plentiful as the attacker first hoped.

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Despite calls from fans, Nketiah played second fiddle to Patrick Bamford for the duration of his Elland Road stay, making only made two league starts as Marcelo Bielsa continued to show faith in his misfiring number nine.

But things might have looked very different for the youngster were it not for an unfortunate injury which halted his progress right on the cusp of his Leeds breakthrough.

After making four goal contributions across nine bench appearances, Nketiah gave a strong 45-minute showing at Sheffield Wednesday which prompted the Argentine to reconsider the striker's position in the pecking order.

But on the eve of a promised start against QPR, Nketiah suffered an injury which put paid to what he felt could have been a career-defining moment.

Leeds United striker Eddie Nketiah reacts during a Championship match against Barnsley. Pic: George Wood.

"It's a sad story," Nketiah said.

"I remember going in the next week - we did shape work, it was the day before the game.

"I'm doing the shape and I'm seeing myself with the stars, looking around like, 'Ok, I'm in now'.

"He's told me, 'you're playing, this is your time.' I'm thinking, the way he operates - once you're in, until you break, you're in."

Leeds United striker Eddie Nketiah scores against Brentford in August 2020. Pic: George Wood.

"In that session, I felt something. I had an injury on my adductor, my pelvis.

"So sad story, I went home thinking 'I'm still going to force it through', but I went for a scan and they said I was going to be out for a month and I needed surgery."

While Nketiah was sidelined, Bamford found form again, scoring two goals and making one assist across four Championship games.

When he returned from injury in late November, Nketiah's contribution was once again limited to substitute appearances and, with the transfer window coming up, Nketiah felt frustrated that his progress had been lost.

Eddie Nketiah scored against Leeds United to knock the Whites out of the Carabao Cup in October 2021. Pic: Julian Finney.

"January's round the corner, you're thinking, 'I was going to play but I've still got to go back to step one because I've been injured'" Nketiah told The Beautiful Game podcast."It's December, looking at it with Arsenal - I've only started four or five games, am I willing to wait and redo this process again?

"Or am I going to come back [to the Emirates] and reassess things?"

The youngster opted to return to North London, where newly-appointed Gunners manager Mikel Arteta found a role for Nketiah in his Arsenal squad.

The striker racked up 633 minutes across 13 Premier League appearances in the 2019/2020 season - but still collected his medal when Leeds lifted the Championship trophy in the summer of 2020.

In all, Nketiah reflects positively on his stint at Leeds United.

"I learnt a lot, I improved. I worked under a great manager," Nketiah said.

"It was a good spell."