Leeds United: Antonsson relishing Championship challenge

Leeds United striker Marcus Antonsson.
Leeds United striker Marcus Antonsson.
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Questions about his transfer from Kalmar to Leeds United draw an instinctive grin from Marcus Antonsson, a man who sounds like one of life’s optimists. The impression given by United’s Swedish striker is the polar opposite of a bad apple.

His intention nonetheless is to define himself as a forward who some in the Championship hate, and defenders most of all. Antonsson was told before he joined Leeds in June that his style of play – varied runs from deep, in behind opposition backlines – would be nicely suited to a league where pace and movement is key. “It sounded like I’d fit in here,” he said.

That style worked well for him at Kalmar, where Antonsson held a record of 10 goals in 12 games when Leeds offered him a three-year deal. His prolific form won him the Allsvenskan’s player-of-the-month award just days before the transfer to England was paid for and signed off.

Antonsson describes Sweden’s top league as “much better lately” but he suspects that the Championship will ask more of him. Will he be comfortable in it when the curtain rises at Queens Park Rangers for Leeds’ first game of the season on Sunday? “I think so,” he said confidently. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to fit in well.

“That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy or that I don’t have work to do but I think my type of play will be suited to this league. I like to run in behind defenders and to get into space. From what I’ve heard, defenders in this league hate that type of player. That’s what people tell me. I’d like it if they hate playing against me.

“I know I’m new to the league, I’m new to this country, but I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be good for me in the Championship, I feel sure of that.”

Antonsson grew up in a remote village in Sweden and football at Kalmar was on a far smaller scale than the game in England. When he arrived at Thorp Arch for the start of pre-season training, he was surprised first of all by the quality of the pitches – pitches which compared to the best stadium surfaces in Sweden.

“In Sweden the league has been much better lately,” he said. “The football there is good, it’s at a pretty good level, but everything here is so much bigger.

“Even the training pitches – the grass is amazing. They’re like the pitches we actually play on in Sweden. At Kalmar, the pitch in the home stadium was really good but the training ground, all the other pieces around the football and the games, they don’t compare.

“It’s so much more professional here and as a player who wants to improve, it’s pretty amazing when you see it first. It’s all so much bigger than I’m used to but I haven’t found things difficult. The club have taken good care of me.”

Antonsson was one of the natural beneficiaries of United’s two-week tour of Ireland earlier in the summer. Like Garry Monk’s other new signings, the extended spell away allowed him to integrate quickly with the rest of the squad. He scored twice on his first start, in a friendly against Shamrock Rovers which proved to be something of a mis-match, and showed signs of the intelligent movement which he expects to define his time in England.

He also had the advantage of arriving at Leeds midway through Sweden’s domestic campaign, bringing him to Elland Road at a time when the majority of Monk’s players were feeling their way back into training.

“I think that’s helped me,” Antonsson said.

“I did have a little bit of a holiday before I came and that makes you lose your sharpness but the fitness was still there and the sharpness comes back to you quickly.

“It’s going to come more and more for me, and maybe faster than the other guys.”

He surmised: “Who knows? If that helps me then it’s positive because I want to do good things here and I want to help the team. I want to be scoring goals and making a difference from the start.”

Antonsson’s form for Kalmar has so far failed to translate into an international cap and he was not considered for the Swedish squad ahead of Euro 2016. A change of coach might change his prospects, however, and the 25-year-old came to Leeds with the stated intention of breaking into his national side.

“Coming here is a big moment for me,” Antonsson said, “but my focus is just here and now – to perform all the time, to improve my play, to get better every time and, of course, to score goals. I have to score goals. If we work together, if everyone works, we’re going to be a really good team this year. I’m sure of that.”