From outcast to Marcelo Bielsa's sharpshooter - the inside story of how Mateusz Klich almost wasn't scoring goals for Leeds United

It came good for Mateusz Klich over the course of one week in July as the tide which was flowing against him at Leeds United turned the other way.

Thursday, 28th March 2019, 7:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th March 2019, 7:53 pm
Leeds United midfielder Mateusz Klich celebrates with Kemar Roofe.

Circumstances, it seems, saved Klich from himself at a time when he was minded to talk his way out of the club.

Klich had come to feel like something of a spare part and Marcelo Bielsa understood why. Samuel Saiz was guaranteed to start the first game of the season, Bielsa had taken a shine to Adam Forshaw and Ronaldo Vieira and Lewis Baker were packing out the midfield options.

In the contest for a solitary position, Klich was nothing more than fourth choice.

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Then Forshaw broke a foot, Leeds embraced a £7m bid for Ronaldo Vieira from Sampdoria, Klich played as a substitute in a pre-season friendly against Las Palmas and Bielsa’s outlook changed.

“In this moment I thought that using Klich was the best decision,” United’s head coach said.

Time moves on and a 50th club appearance is on the cards for Klich at home to Millwall tomorrow. Bielsa recalled the Poland international’s Sliding Doors moment yesterday as he discussed the form of a player who has been glued to a first-team shirt ever since.

Klich and Gjanni Alioski are the only ever-present names in Bielsa’s ranks, an irony considering that Klich had doubts about whether he would play at all and was, according to Bielsa, asking to leave as the season approached.

Las Palmas were Leeds’ final opponents in pre-season, a game played at home a week before their opening league fixture against Stoke City.

Forshaw was out injured, Vieira played the first half but was already halfway out of the door to Italy and Klich came off the bench at half-time in a way which made Bielsa re-evaluate his opinion of him.

“Forshaw was the best player in pre-season,” Bielsa said, echoing a comment he has made many times. “Ronaldo was one of the talented young players at the club and Baker we imagined as a new solution for this position.

“But in this moment we had a pre-season friendly game against Las Palmas and Klich played.

“In this moment I thought that using Kilch was the best decision. Until the Las Palmas game I was thinking more to move him out (of the club) because Klich would have been the fourth player in this position.

“To have four options in one position is not the best thing when you are keeping the player but he’s not going to play.”

Klich was not a problem or a disruption for Bielsa. His strange, almost non-existent, relationship with Thomas Christiansen last season saw him finish it on loan in Holland but he was back at Thorp Arch in June, initially as part of the middle of three groups of players; lodged below those Bielsa had decided to use but above those who Bielsa wanted to discard.

He trained his way up to the main squad but was shown the reality of the pecking order when his first pre-season outing came in the centre of defence with a young line-up at York City.

“In pre-season he was used as a centre-back,” Bielsa said.

“It didn’t give him the right interpretation about (his future) at the club.” Klich persisted and Bielsa liked his attitude but the idea of leaving Elland Road seemed like common sense with so many players in front of him.

“It was unbelievable, his behaviour on the pitch,” Bielsa said. “When something is positive for me, I try to say it.

“Victor Orta was the guy who selected him to be in the squad and he made the right decision. Then Klich made it work to be part of the squad.

“The week before the start of the season, he was insisting on trying to move out of the club because he didn’t have a space in the team.

“But in this moment the club sold Ronaldo and at the same time Forshaw had his injury.

“Klich for me was the fourth option (behind Lewis Baker) but he moved to be the first option.

“And with the passing of time he has been a very good player.

“The merit goes to Orta because he moved the player to Leeds and the merit goes to Klich too because with his effort, he won a space in the squad.”

Klich’s first few months in the team were spellbinding, bringing goals and assists and the demeanour of a midfield general with a constant appetite for possession of the ball.

His devilment faded around Christmas but Bielsa felt he was asking a lot of Klich: to link up with Kalvin Phillips in a defensive role and, in an instant, support his number 10 in an attacking area, in between attempting to keep an eye on the flanks.

Bielsa found him to be a fairly unique footballer, with the versatility needed to play almost anywhere across the middle.

“There are few players like this, making a lot of different things happen in the right way,” Bielsa said.

“He plays in a difficult position because in this position you have to do a lot of things.

“Sometimes he plays on the right side, sometimes on the left side, he has to defend close to the defensive midfielder and attack close to the playmaker. He has to know how to attack and defend on both sides of the field and in the middle too. Not every player can do all these things. Klich is one who can do all of them.

“Some players attack like Klich, some players defend like him, some players make movements to be free like him and some can play on both sides of the pitch.

“We have a lot of players who can do these different things. But to find all of these things together in the same player is so difficult.”