Happy-go-lucky Leeds United winger Ian Poveda admits Elland Road situation is upsetting

A smile is rarely far from the face of Leeds United's happy-go-lucky winger Ian Poveda but the continued absence of fans from games is an upsetting subject.

Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 4:36 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 4:40 pm
HAPPY CHAP - Ian Poveda is loving life at Leeds United but dreaming of the return of crowds to Elland Road, having not yet experienced a proper matchday with Marcelo Bielsa's side. Pic: Getty

Signed from Manchester City in January, just before he turned 20, Poveda had to bide his time to show Leeds supporters what he could do but is still yet to feature for the first team in front of a Whites crowd.

It wasn't until the Championsip season resumed after a three-month shutdown, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, that Poveda first appeared in Marcelo Bielsa's senior side.

He made a bright 13-minute cameo in the 2-0 defeat by Cardiff City, then got seven minutes towards the end of the 3-0 win over Fulham at an empty Elland Road.

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Another five games went by without involvement, Poveda an unused substitute as Leeds worked their way into position to clinch the Championship title.

He did get a full debut, at Derby, once promotion was secured and then claimed an assist as a substitute in the season's finale against Charlton Athletic. That night, when the team took the trophy out onto an open top bus to celebrate with the few thousand who had gathered outside Elland Road, was the closest he has come to experiencing a matchday crowd.

With Leeds in Tier 3 now that lockdown is over, Elland Road is still a no-go zone for fans, although Bielsa's men will play in front of 2,000 Chelsea supporters at Stamford Bridge when they visit Tier 2 London on Saturday.

For one whose relationship with a fanbase has largely played out on social media, Poveda has managed to garner remarkable popularity - a video of him gleefully handing out FIFA21 boxes, complete with player ratings to his team-mates has had half a million views and 12k likes on Twitter - but the admiration is mutual.

"When I first came to the club I was a bit surprised by everything," he said.

"I thought it was going to be a bit different but I really enjoy it. I didn't think I was going to be as happy as I am now. With the staff, my team-mates I'm really happy, especially with the fans."

Life is good, at Leeds. Poveda came off the bench against Everton on Saturday and, ignoring calls to take the ball into the corner, showed off the agility Bielsa likes to see from him by ghosting between two defenders to create a chance that Helder Costa was unlucky not to take. As good as Premier League involvement and Bielsa's obvious trust must feel, there is an emptiness brought on by vacant seats.

"It's not the same playing without the fans because they're the core of football," he said.

"Without them we're nothing. We're just hoping the coronavirus [situation] allows fans to come to the stadium and support us soon."

Poveda likes to picture what it will be like, when the Elland Road roar goes up when its most needed, because believes it will make a difference.

"I feel like they're going to have a big impact on our game," he said.

"Imagine playing and then in the 70th minute you're tired but you have fans there saying 'come on, come on' it will push us to the next level.

"It's upsetting they're not there to help us through."

Without fans Leeds have still managed to hit the ground running in the top flight, picking up 14 points from their opening 10 games and opening up six and seven point leads over fellow newboys Fulham and West Brom respectively.

Poveda has been in each of the 10 matchday squads and come off the bench on six occasions. Bielsa has real depth in the 20-year-old's position, with new signing Raphinha impressing in the early stages of his Leeds career and Jack Harrison holding down the left-sided role. Helder Costa has recently had to settle for a place on the bench and, like Poveda, is seen chiefly as a right wing option. Competition is fierce, but Poveda is all smiles.

"I am happy with my progress," he said.

"There's been some ups and downs but ultimately I'm still working hard. I feel like since I arrived I've become a better and a more complete player. I still have a long, long way to go.

"I'm grateful for every opportunity I get. I just try to give my all for the team. I'm happy overall.