Jack Harrison reveals 'inspiring' example set by Leeds United joker Gjanni Alioski

Gjanni Alioski went quiet for a spell during lockdown, there were few social media updates and no videos of japes and pranks to delight Leeds fans, prompting team-mate and pal Mateusz Klich to quip: “I hope he’s still alive.”

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 3rd July 2020, 5:45 am

Since the return of football, it has become clear that the North Macedonian, known as a bundle of energy on and off the pitch and the chief source of mischief and mayhem at Thorp Arch, had his head down during the break.

His displays as a half-time replacement in both the win over Fulham and the 1-1 draw with Luton Town, were so good that an injury to player-of-the-season candidate Stuart Dallas might not be met with the level of panic you would otherwise expect.

Alioski showed much more than the energy and nuisance factor opposition teams have come to expect.

In the Fulham game he bust a gut to get up in support as Jack Harrison, switched to the right flank, drove forward.

It brought a goal – Alioski showing awareness and anticipation as defenders fell in comedic fashion out of the ball’s path, before picking out a fine finish. It was exactly the composure Leeds have needed in and around the area.

And in midweek against the Hatters, he doubled up with Harrison on the left, both men playing in crosses that deserved to become assists. As it happened, Alioski did get an assist, from a clever ball into the feet of Dallas, who did the rest impressively to turn what could have been an horrific night into a somewhat more palatable one.

In the frenetic run-in, with games every few days until the finish and the potential for players to pick up niggly injuries – Pablo Hernandez and Dallas the two recent examples for Leeds – Alioski could be worth his weight in gold to Marcelo Bielsa, who favours players with the ability to play in more than one position. Alioski can play left-back or left-wing but, no matter where he plays, his main focus is charging downfield to try and make things happen, which means opposition sides can’t ever take their eyes off him.

ENERGETIC - Gjanni Alioski has been involved in some big goals for Leeds United this season and is setting examples at Thorp Arch.

He was involved in counter attacks that brought goals at Reading and Huddersfield and got on the end of one to score against Hull City at home. Five goals and four assists puts him a little behind his 2018/19 goal involvement, so far, but the attacking intent is always there and, as was evident when the Hatters visited, not every good pass or cross earns an assist.

Harrison, for whom Alioski can be a partner or competition for a place, appreciates the 28-year-old’s forward thinking.

“He’s always energetic and he’s always running and causing problems for opponents,” said the Manchester City loanee.

“He’s a great addition for the side and a great source that we have. We know what he’s like as a player, he’s always going to go forward – he loves to attack and he provides that as an outlet for the side as well.

“He’s done brilliantly coming in the last two games and you can see as an audience watching the impact that he has on the game.

“It’s crucial for us as a side and it shows that every player in the starting 11 and on the bench is just as important as each other.”

It says much about Alioski’s penchant for attacking play and his importance to Bielsa that, when the previous two games were not going to plan, he sent him on straight after the break.

Speaking after the Luton game the head coach explained that he had withdrawn Gaetano Berardi and put Alioski on the pitch because he wanted a more attack-minded presence on both flanks. A three-man back line allowed Alioski and Dallas to almost play like second wingers, behind Harrison and Costa on the left and right respectively. It brought more chances.

“I think that in the first half how the players were placed wasn’t convenient,” said Bielsa.

“In the second half Alioski and Harrison made more things than Dallas and Harrison [in the first half]. The same on the right side with Costa and Dallas [in the second half].”

Everyone is responsible for attack and defence in a Bielsa side but his wide men have to be capable of repeated sprints, in order to be in position for switches in play and flowing counter-attacking moves, or to hare back and solidify Leeds out of possession. It takes serious leg and lung power to do what Alioski and Harrison have to do.

The latter recently took it upon himself to investigate Alioski’s running statistics at Thorp Arch, having been impressed by his team-mate in training since the lockdown, and what he found has provided motivation.

At a time when Leeds need leaders of all kinds, the man who has built a reputation for setting up the jokes is setting examples.

“He’s obviously worked hard over the quarantine; he’s in brilliant shape,” said Harrison.

“I was looking at his GPS stats the other day and it’s inspiring the amount of work that he does.

“It pushes other team-mates as well to do better so I know if he’s running and putting great stats up that I have to do that as well. It runs throughout the team. He’s a great addition to the squad.”