Leeds United flyer Gjanni Alioski thanks Marcelo Bielsa and eyes dream double
GJANNI ALIOSKI has quietly but quickly clocked up over a century of appearances in a Leeds United shirt.
One hundred and eleven and counting for one of the current United squad's longest-serving players who joined the Whites under Thomas Christiansen from Swiss side Lugano in July 2017.
By his own admission, Alioski admits he is a now a significantly better player two and a half years on.
Still only 27, there ought to be plenty more to come but already the North Macedonian is hugely grateful for the input of United’s head coach Marcelo Bielsa who, he says, the squad will be thanking both now and at their end of their careers.
For Alioski, a first season at Leeds featured 40 league starts under Christiansen and then Paul Heckingbottom though United had to make do with a 13th-placed finish.
But then came the appointment of Bielsa and with it says Alioski a massive step forward in his career.
A player signed as a winger who has now become a very able full-back made 44 Championship starts under Bielsa last term which looked destined to end in promotion to the Premier League until United’s late collapse.
Leeds, though, and Alioski are back for more with the North Macedonian now targeting a fairy-tale double celebration with club and country next summer.
One game short of the half-way stage of the season, second-placed Leeds have a ten-point cushion in the automatic promotion places with United long odds on to atone last season’s near miss by sealing a place in the Premier League next May.
By then, Alioski hopes he will have booked a ticket to June’s 2020 UEFA European Championships with North Macedonia who face a play-offs semi final against Kosovo in March with Georgia or Belarus awaiting the victors in a winner-takes-all final qualification match.
But however the 2019-20 season and indeed even Alioski’s career as a whole ends, the Whites star says there can be no doubt as to the influence of Bielsa both on Alioski and the United squad as a whole.
“I’m a stronger person, stronger in the head and tactically much better and cleverer,” said Alioski, reflecting on his improvement under Bielsa.
“It’s not easy to say but when you play in the games you realise some of the things he talked about, things you’ve remembered from the meetings he had with you.
“Everybody’s made a big step forward with him and I think later we will all be saying, ‘Thank you very much Marcelo.’”
In two of his last two outings, United have been left saying thank you very much Gjanni with the North Macedonian netting ferocious finishes after coming on as a second-half substitute in the 2-0 wins at home to Hull City and at Huddersfield Town.
Not finishes befitting a left back but Alioski says he is thriving in the position and taking inspiration from another Marcelo - the Real Madrid star.
The Brazil international as well as Brazil’s former World Cup winning star Roberto Carlos are the inspirations and Bielsa does the rest.
“He’s put me to left-back but it’s a position I enjoy because I can get up and down,” said Alioski.
“I have a lot of power to get forward, to get up and down. It’s not a new position for me because I sometimes play it for the national team.
"It wasn’t difficult for me to switch from left wing to left-back because with the system that we play and the style that Marcelo Bielsa wants.
"It’s nice to play at left-back because you can attack, defend and do the game you want. You have a lot of space.
“My idols were always Marcelo and Roberto Carlos who are left-backs. When Marcelo plays you don’t need to watch the other players because he can teach you so many things about playing left-back.
“I think Marcelo can easily play for Real Madrid because they play such an offensive game. I don’t know how he would play in another team but I like his offensive play as left-back, because that’s the modern approach.
“Marcelo likes us to defend but what is good is that left-backs now are expected to attack a lot.
"It’s important because you have more players that can attack and create chances and it’s positive.
"It’s not an easy position because if you lose the ball you need to get back so you need a lot of power but our fitness is really strong.”
It is testament to the strength of United’s squad that Alioski does not even find himself first choice left back at present, with Northern Ireland Stuart Dallas starting in the position for United’s last four games.
Come next May, Alioski hopes both he and Dallas are celebrating magnificent doubles.
“It would be perfect to get the country into Euro 2020, and get to the Premier League with Leeds - both together,” said Alioski, speaking in Saturday's match day programme.
“It is a big dream, but I hope this dream comes true.”