Rotterdam or anywhere was Mateusz Klich’s outlook in January. Any port in a storm. Utrecht provided a haven in the end, 40 miles inland from the coast of Holland, but his was a story of an unwanted footballer trying to drop anchor.
Utrecht was good for Klich, a loan which blew the cobwebs away, and the Eredivisie club would have happily taken him permanently but he clung to the belief that Leeds United, despite appearances, were not quite done with him. His instinct was right and many months later he has a personalised chant to prove it, a reworking of the Beautiful South’s 1996 release Rotterdam. Klich is scoring goals.
Klich always has scored goals; not prolifically and not always regularly but here and there with every club who let him play. The midfielder who Leeds and Marcelo Bielsa have now is nothing like the cumbersome, nondescript Pole who popped up under Thomas Christiansen for a drubbing at Cardiff City last season and was barely seen again. With five finishes and fives assists, he can take credit for more goals in the Championship than any other player in his position.
Bielsa has tapped into that aspect of Klich’s game, the attacking intelligence which seemed to pass Leeds by in his first year with the club. Klich’s chant talks somewhat generously of him scoring from 40 and 50 yards, and longer-range finishes have been a knack of his, but as effective for Bielsa has been the close-range interplay: the movement and passing between opposition lines and the willingness to gamble by running beyond the last man. It is arguable that Leeds have been without a central midfielder in that mould since selling Jonny Howson.
“I like to play forward and I like to play offensive football,” Klich said. “It’s the type of player I think I am so this season’s been good for me. So far so good I’d say, not just for me but for everyone.
“I like the song a lot. It’s nice and a lot of the fans seem to know it already. Let’s just hope I’ll score some more goals now that they’re singing it. I’m waiting now until I actually score again, then it’ll be a good time.”
Klich has created a healthy rod for his own back by encouraging the crowd to think that finishes from him are a sure thing. He scored the first of the season, at home to Stoke City, and again at Derby County the following weekend and he has mixed goals and assists consistently for four months. When Bielsa mixed up his midfield in October it was Samuel Saiz who made way rather than Klich, as the statistics said Saiz would.
Bielsa can see where the menace in his line-up is coming from. Roofe and Klich have had a hand in 10 goals each. Pablo Hernandez has been involved in 11. Leeds have scored 32 in the Championship so far and while some of those efforts have come in tandem – Klich laying on a finish for Roofe against Nottingham Forest last month and then doing the same for Hernandez at Wigan Athletic the following weekend – those players are fashioning something of a three-pronged attack.
Klich has never reached double figures in one season and admitted he was reluctant to talk in terms of targets. “If I score six it’s fine,” he said. “If I score 10 then I’m going to be happy but I really don’t want to say. To be fair, in the last couple of games I haven’t scored but we won and I was just as happy about that. It (scoring goals) is something I want to do but I don’t think only about what I’m doing. If I score and win it’s good. If we’re winning games and I’m not scoring, everyone is just as happy. I’m all right with that. But it’s what I try to do, always.
“It’s a little bit different for me to last year. I’m starting every game and I hope I’ll keep starting every game. I want to play games and I’ve always wanted to play games. I’ve always said that and I’m very happy. More happy than last year.”
The Poland international has had peaks in his career – a KNVB Cup win with Zwolle, who demolished Ajax in the 2014 final, and caps for his country which run into double figures after he ended a four-year hiatus by returning to the fold in September – but there is little on his CV which could compare to promotion from the Championship with a club where many people assumed he was finished.
“The cup game in Holland was big too,” Klich said. “I was at a small club and we won 5-1 against Ajax in the final. That’s hard to beat. But promotion from the Championship, I know it’s a very difficult thing to do. It would be equal to that, no less. But we’re still fighting. I don’t want to think too much about what we’ve done yet or what I’ve done yet.”
For a while it was fair to assume that Klich had no way back at Leeds. He was 27 when he signed from Twente in June 2017 and played nine times before being loaned back to Holland in the next transfer window. As deals go it had the look of a dud; of a signing which over-estimated Klich’s ability. As it stands, under arguably the most high-profile coach ever employed by United, he is one of only three players Bielsa is yet to drop.
Leeds play Sheffield United at Bramall Lane tomorrow, a finger-licking meeting of second against fifth. The season is still a month away from the halfway stage but it will not be long before fixtures like this go a long way to determining the make-up of the top six.
“I expect a tough game and a very open game,” Klich said. “They’ll want to attack and they’ll play forward as well. I think there’s going to be goals, maybe not like Wednesday (when Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest drew 5-5), but there’ll be goals. It’s going to be more like the Derby and Norwich games (in August). They tried to attack us and that was good for us because it meant we had space to attack them as well. We won those two games playing like that and I hope we’re going to win this one.
“It’s maybe weird to say this but it’s easier to play that way. When a team is just waiting in their half, doing nothing with 10 players behind the ball, it’s difficult. When it’s open 100 per cent, it’s easier for us to score goals. That’s when we play best.”