Leeds United carpark stay, Bielsa statement and Twitter hunt - Graham Smyth's Verdict on Mateusz Klich exit

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Just shy of midnight Mateusz Klich signed his last autograph, posed for one final selfie and jogged to his car.

It was parked in the players' section of Elland Road's West Stand car park, where it once sat for a full week in the wake of promotion celebrations that rendered him unfit to drive. It's no slight on Klich or what could be a bright future in the MLS to suggest that those were the best days of his career.

In his own words, it was Marcelo Bielsa who made him a Premier League player, but in order for that to happen the player had to give the coach everything that he had.

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Playing all of the football, all of the time - as he did barring that one post-title visit to Derby County when the injury written in brackets after his name in dispatches should have read '(hangover)' - left him tired all of the time and undoubtedly questioning the sanity of it all at times, but the juice was worth the squeeze.

Play-off semi-final heartache was exorcised with a breakdance on the pitch at Pride Park. "What a time to be alive," in the words of a very merry Klich.

There's a temptation, when writing about the Pole, to focus too heavily on the kilometres covered, for he was the one singled out by Bielsa as covering the greatest distances in each game en route to the Championship title and promotion glory.

When the counter was on he was there, up in support, providing an option. When attacks broke down he was there, putting a foot in or a sprint in to get back and cover. The dirty work and the tactical fouls came naturally for a player so inclined to infuriate rivals. He relished any chance to rustle feathers. On the pitch and off it, with a social media presence as bespoke and authentic as any supporter of any club could hope for. Besides Bob, of course.

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But he could play, too. When Bielsa was questioned over his team eschewing short corners, it was Klich who received a pass to feet and sent a shot on a quite beautiful arc through the air and into the Middlesbrough net in the very next game. A Klich goal was routinely a thing of beauty, struck from distance.

LAST DANCE - Mateusz Klich, who breakdanced on the Pride Park pitch when Leeds United won promotion, said farewell to Elland Road on Wednesday night. Pic: Bruce RollinsonLAST DANCE - Mateusz Klich, who breakdanced on the Pride Park pitch when Leeds United won promotion, said farewell to Elland Road on Wednesday night. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
LAST DANCE - Mateusz Klich, who breakdanced on the Pride Park pitch when Leeds United won promotion, said farewell to Elland Road on Wednesday night. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

Tidy, technical touches, played as quickly as he did everything else under Bielsa, kept Leeds moving at a pace that many opponents could not match. He might not have had the final pass of a Lionel Messi, a fact he himself bemoaned in an interview, but as Championship teams were put to the sword by Leeds the pass before the final pass was very often from the boot of Klich.

Bielsa had no problem telling the media what he told Klich in front of his team-mates, much to the player's chagrin and their mocking delight, that he could have played in any of the world's big teams. It was, as statements go, a big one, from a man not prone to bombast or blarney.

What made his Leeds story remarkable was not the goals, assists, key passes and kilometres, but the fact that he was on the pitch in the famous white kit at all. When a player is done at a club, in the way Klich was done having been farmed out on loan and then demoted to the 'bomb squad' upon Bielsa's arrival, they don't come back. Klich did. And because he did, Leeds came back.

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The Premier League wasn't as kind to him as the Championship, because as we're incessantly reminded it's the best league in the world and countless players, superstars even, have fallen victim to its relentless demands and standards. Even with a changing wind, however, and a manager who did not see him as Bielsa did, as a general to be relied upon, Klich showed his worth to Leeds.

When the call came, as it did on 14 occasions this season but never from the start of a Premier League game, he ran, he injected urgency, he played at pace and it has to be said he showed game changing ability. Even in his final outing, against West Ham United, playing through the emotional turmoil that spilled over during his full-time lap of the pitch, Klich helped Leeds turn a corner and earn a point.

They went a goal up through Willy Gnonto, whose earlier-than-initially-planned arrival from Zurich now looks like an accidental masterstroke, before a serious wobble and the same old back-post space issues led to a West Ham penalty, scored by Paqueta.

A sloppy start to the second half was summed up in nightmarish fashion by Brenden Aaronson's shocking pass to Gianluca Scamacca. The Italian duly turned, took a touch and whacked a precise low shot in off Meslier's left-hand post. Aaronson's face bore the haunted look of a man starting the year with an assist at the wrong end of the pitch and Elland Road was flat.

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But on came Jack Harrison and Klich to change the game. Klich's energy was key in putting Leeds on the front foot again, Harrison's positioning was spot on as he received the ball in space, found Rodrigo and the Spaniard blasted in the equaliser.

The Harrison-Rodrigo combination almost won it and Klich shaped for a volley for the ages, the headlines written as he drew back his boot and then spiked by his wild, wayward effort.

It wasn't until the final whistle of the 2-2 draw that Klich's exit dawned on those who were not already in the carpark. The tears that broke free onto his cheeks broke the news of his departure, before he broke down entirely.

There were smiles, too, as he made his way through a guard of honour and slapped the roof of the tunnel. Later, with the paperwork signed on his contract release, he would emerge for photos with friends and family before himself heading to the carpark and giving an adoring public everything they needed.

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Then he got in his car and drove off, past the graffiti he sprayed, that reads 'Champions.'

The writing has been on the wall for Klich for a while now and an offer from MLS side DC United is good enough, and long enough, to make this all very understandable from the player's point of view. He'll play over there, he'll feel important at DC United where they'll more than likely fall in love with him, he'll extend his earning potential deeper into his 30s and his young family will get to experience something exciting and new.

None of that eases the pain of a fanbase gradually parting with their 2020 promotion heroes, especially when this exit makes the least sense of all from a purely Leeds United perspective. Even the most relegation-concerned punter can at least acknowledge, though, that freedom to follow a new dream is a kindness he deserves.

Long after midnight, as Thursday's wee hours got underway, Klich was scrolling on his phone, liking Tweets, photos and videos of his farewell. Sticking his name into Twitter's search function is something he does after games, because he's curious about what's being written. It's a dangerous game for any footballer, venturing into the world wide web's wild west, yet he insists none of the bad stuff - not even the player ratings - bothers him in the slightest, because he simply doesn't care. Regardless, this time, this last time it was all good stuff. Goals, mischief, memories.

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They'll talk and Tweet about Mateusz Klich for years to come at Leeds, if he's still of a mind to search for his name and find it. They’ll talk about a player who found himself at Elland Road, found his place among Bielsa’s history boys, found the net from 20 yards or 30 yards. They’ll talk about a player who found a home and made it special.