Leeds United directors box excitement, Victor Orta's reassuring signals and why Stuart Dallas followed in Lee Bowyer's footsteps
What a way to end the season.
I felt very grateful and lucky to receive an invite from Angus Kinnear and it was brilliant to be there, writes Dominic Matteo for the YEP.
There was such a buzz at Elland Road. Everyone around the directors box was so excited. It was amazing to be around such positivity. I had conversations with a lot of people and they seemed like a good group who have Leeds United at heart. We want to see that passion and we want to see the club running the right way. We don’t want to count our chickens but it feels like the club is going places.
The atmosphere was amazing. It felt like Leeds were back.
The way they’ve finished the season has proved they can go on and achieve something. Victor Orta is clearly thinking Leeds can get back into Europe, maybe not yet, but they’re on the path towards that. The signals he sends and the fact that the people in charge seem to be on the same page, it all bodes well.
The feelgood factor around Marcelo Bielsa is vital. Everyone around the club talks about his impact, the players themselves admit they wouldn’t be where they are without Bielsa and his staff. He’s changed the way they play and given them such confidence. We’ve got an identity again and that will help grow the club and the brand.
Sunday was a good day, a great result and I got to speak to the players on a Zoom call, along with Lucas Radebe and some fans, for the awards ceremony. I just wanted to tell the lads how well they had done.
For me it was between Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas for the main award, either one of them could have won it. Maybe Dallas just edged it. They can both play in different positions and they have both had such good seasons. The awards ceremony was nicely done and it was great to see someone so humble winning awards and dedicating it to his Grandad.
The one year I thought I might get it was the year Rio Ferdinand got it. When you’ve got a player as good as him you probably know he’s going to take all the awards because of the way he played. I was a little bit gutted to be honest because the Players’ Player is the award you want to win, you want to impress your team-mates. Lee Bowyer won quite a lot before I arrived and then I think he won it again during my time. He was all action, always involved. Dallas is like that, defends and attacks so well. He conducts himself so well too, which matters to players and fans. I always felt that whoever won it, it was usually about right.
Ayling could easily have won it, I was a bit disappointed he didn’t get at least one because he had such a good year. But you can’t really argue with Dallas given what he did throughout the season.
They still had a job to do against West Bromwich Albion but it was a special day and it was important to pay tribute to both Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi. Berardi is whole-hearted, he played with his heart on his sleeve for Leeds United and put his head in anywhere. Hernandez is obviously a magician, someone I liken to David Silva, someone I think has been underrated outside Leeds. It was nice for them to receive that send-off. I didn’t when I packed in, it just kind of ended, so I was glad they did, it was richly deserved.
They’ll be big losses, two big characters, but the group seem to be in a good place.
Liam Cooper has been inspirational as a leader and when he and the rest of the players piled into Dallas’ interview it made me think we might just be able to keep this group together, such is their affection for each other and the club, even the new lads Rodrigo and Raphinha. I just hope they’ve all been able to unwind and relax a little, even the lads that are now heading off to the Euros like Cooper. I always felt you needed at least two weeks of rest and I hope the lads get a proper break. Bielsa will have a plan for all of that.
Hopefully, we can bring a couple of players in to strengthen the group, especially with the loss of the players who are heading out the door. Gjanni Alioski is obviously well-liked by the lads at Leeds, he’s a bit lively at times. He’s surprised me a little bit this season with his performances, he really has done alright and maybe it’s worth keeping him. Regardless of what he decides to do, we will still need to strengthen ain the left-back area.
The recruitment has been brilliant for this season and long may that continue. You have to keep getting better and new signings help with momentum.
Leeds have been moving forward for a while now and they’ll want to quicken the pace, not slow down.
Dominic Matteo's column in association with Data Facilities