Okay, so it’s an obvious statement, but it’s worth saying because in 2019 goals might be more important than they’ve ever been.
Internet viewers are fragmenting football games into shareable clips that are shaping opinions as much as, if not more than, the full 90 minutes.
If it’s Jack Grealish, that means dives; if it’s Gjanni Alioski, it means physical comedy. If it’s Eddie Nketiah, it means goals.
I don’t know the viewing figures for England Under-21’s 3-2 win over Turkey, but I’m confident that many, many more people have watched Nketiah’s two goals on social media. The goals have been enough. They add to goals in the Carabao Cup and Under-23s, and one in the Championship so that, if all you see is the clips, all you see is a striker who can’t stop scoring.
Now Leeds fans want him to play, Arsenal fans want him to play, Ian Wright wants him to play.
But does Marcelo Bielsa want him to play? I’m sure Bielsa will have watched the whole game. Last season he was the only British-based coach to turn up at Fylde and watch England’s Under-20s – including then-Leeds left-back Tom Pearce – beat Italy. He’ll know about everything his players do for their countries this week, and Nketiah’s goals will surely catch his eye, as they’ve caught everybody else’s.
The way Nketiah arrives into the box, right place, right time and rapid, controlling a low cross that could have come from Jack Harrison for his first, a through ball that Pablo Hernandez could have played for his second, dispatching both like a veteran poacher. We saw plenty of chances like those for Leeds against Swansea City, but they didn’t go into the net. Which might remind Bielsa, as he shuffles his stack of videotapes, where is the latest footage of Patrick Bamford, anyway?
That could also be seen on social media last week: Bamford and Leeds United Women’s Olivia Smart visiting St James’s Hospital to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation – which is important, so please listen to Pat and Olivia and consider joining the organ donation register if you haven’t already.
It was also Bamford’s birthday, and he said his girlfriend had given him a guitar. Before he could play it he was off to training. “I don’t want to say it’s relaxed,” he said, “but it is slightly more relaxed than it is when we’re building up for matches.” Then again, ‘relaxing’ with Bielsa probably means slightly shortening the day’s third session.
Meanwhile, Mick McCarthy was putting his Irish players through their paces, watching Robbie Keane working with the strikers, and resisting the urge to check the read receipt on his last Whatsapp message to Bamford. Bamford turned down McCarthy’s offer of international football last season, when he wanted to concentrate on recovering from serious knee injuries and playing for Leeds. Now Bamford’s recovered from those injuries and McCarthy still wants him, but he’d still rather concentrate on Leeds.
It’s a laudable stance from United’s point of view, but it feels like an opportunity passing Bamford by. He spoke last week about how he had a good start in the game when he was 21, but, “Then I had a few years when I didn’t really play ... I still feel like I have not actually been playing for that long.”
This was on his 26th birthday. He’s another victim of Chelsea’s farm-and-loan youth policy that seems to have bred a group of placid drifters; we saw Lewis Baker last season, a 24-year-old now off to his eighth club; Leeds is Bamford’s 10th. Time doesn’t wait forever.
People who have worked with Bamford say he has a steely inner confidence, but I can’t help wishing on his behalf that he’d shown it when McCarthy came calling. With his knees now strong, why shouldn’t he play for Leeds, but also go and claim the Irish number nine shirt as his own, starting their games and scoring their goals, so that it’s his goals being shared around social media, his name dominating the fans’ thoughts?
In many ways Bamford has done everything right in this international break. He has kept his head down, kept working in training, kept his focus where we want it: on Leeds. But goals are important in football, and perhaps when Bamford finally sat down after a hard day’s Bielsa, to strum his birthday guitar, the tune he heard was, ‘Eddie, Eddie, Eddie’.
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.