'He had belief in me when others didn’t' - how Marcelo Bielsa's faith is helping Stuart Dallas flourish at Leeds United
Stuart Dallas’ 91st-minute lung-busting at Manchester City is already written into Leeds United folklore.
The Northern Irishman’s goal secured the unlikeliest of victories for the 10 men of the newly-promoted Whites against the Premier League’s champions in waiting.
His low strike underneath the onrushing Ederson sparked wild scenes of jubilation and amazement among players and staff at the Etihad stadium.
Supporters inside their homes up and down the country and across the world were sent into ecstasy too, as yet another successful chapter of Marcelo Bielsa’s incredible and chaotic tenure in charge at Elland Road was penned.
Dallas – a two times LS11 Players’ Player of the Year award winner – epitomises the United team that has been built by the Argentine in West Yorkshire.
Leeds’ current side is one that is greater than the sum of its parts and Bielsa’s squad has fully bought into that mantra since his arrival nearly three years ago.
Utility man Dallas has been brought to life under his head coach, having played as a winger, full-back and now, remarkably, as a No 8 in the Premier League.
Many have been transformed under Bielsa’s watch but few, if any, have been trusted quite as much to fill gaps to the standard required among England’s top division.
Dallas has notched seven goals and two assists this term, though his impact at Leeds is far greater than what the statistics may or may not suggest.
Defensive reliability and an engine to match the physical requirements demanded at Thorp Arch are just two of the traits that have seen him become a key element in Bielsa’s Leeds.
His belief in what has been built at Elland Road is another, and it is that which saw him set off on a run over the halfway line in the first minute of added time in Manchester rather than sit back in a defensive shape, settling for a point.
“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,” Dallas said recently.
“The manager has seen that in me and seen I could play in that position. Even at the start of the season I wouldn’t have said that was my favourite position but, the more I play in it, I’m starting to become more comfortable and grow into it.
“If I am asked to play there, or at full-back or wing-back, I’m more than happy.”
Experience and faith from his boss, Dallas says, are the keys as to why he has been so reliable in recent times wherever selected, having missed just one league game for Leeds across the last two seasons.
“I think experience plays a part,” Dallas continued.
“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.
“People on the outside looking in maybe haven’t had that faith in me but it gives me a lot of confidence. Playing in this team as well, it’s not just me, we have a number of players who can play in different positions.
“That’s what we work really hard on every day in training.”
Following Dallas’ winner against Pep Guardiola’s outfit, Bielsa described the 29-year-old as “a player whose game is based a lot on generosity”. The statement rings true.
Dallas is someone who will play wherever and however is needed for the team - bringing the famous ‘side before self, every time’ quote to life that is written on the inside of the four walls of United’s famous home ground.
“He just wants to see us do the best we can do,” Dallas said of his head coach.
“He sets very high standards and we have come to demand it of ourselves now. It’s great to work under a manager like him; it’s incredible the transformation he’s made in my career.
“I’ve worked under a lot of good managers in the past but for him to believe in me and show confidence in me has been incredible.
“He’s been a joy to work with and, hopefully, there are a few more years to come yet. We’re hoping he stays. What he has done for us as individuals has been incredible.
“Most of our squad was a mid-table Championship team three years ago, now we’re a mid-table Premier League team.”