Graham Smyth: Who wanted an international break, who didn’t and how Leeds United rescued it for Liam Cooper

Stuart Dallas and Liam Cooper pictured after they signed new deals at Leeds United yesterday.
Stuart Dallas and Liam Cooper pictured after they signed new deals at Leeds United yesterday.
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Almost three weeks have passed since Leeds United last won a game.

You can thank the seemingly endless international break for that little fact.

Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford visited St James' Hospital during the international break to raise awareness of organ donation.

Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford visited St James' Hospital during the international break to raise awareness of organ donation.

The fortnight off from Championship action will have been as unwelcome in Leeds as it was in Swansea.

Everyone at Elland Road would have dearly loved to have had an immediate opportunity to bounce back from a first league defeat of the season, in the final game before a two week fixture void.

Their Welsh conquerors, who snatched victory from the jaws of what would have been a scarcely deserved draw, made themselves the Championship’s form team with that result and then had to accept the possibility that all that momentum and elation could dissipate as players drifted off to join up with their national teams.

For Sunday’s hosts Barnsley, however, the international break could be considered a Godsend.

Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel.

Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel.

The 2019/20 season has not been kind to the Tykes and they have not celebrated a victory for nearly six weeks.

Five points from their first six games highlights just how much of a struggle it has been for Daniel Stendel’s men.

And then there is the packed Oakwell treatment room.

Before the break, a grand total of eight players were out injured.

Stuart Dallas acknowledges the Northern Ireland fans after the final whistle of his country's game against Germany on Monday.

Stuart Dallas acknowledges the Northern Ireland fans after the final whistle of his country's game against Germany on Monday.

The fortnight’s rest has given the majority of those Reds a chance to recover and prepare for potential comebacks in the derby game.

Stendel and co might find themselves in the minority, however, if a vote was taken on the popularity of the international break.

For those of us whose daily lives are consumed by club football and all its twists and turns, it feels like an intruder, shattering the comfort and sanctity of what we call ‘home.’

The Exodus of players to international duty has not meant a shut down for Leeds United.

Patrick Bamford, speaking at a hospital ward he visited on his birthday to raise awareness of organ donation, admitted it was a little more relaxed than normal at Thorp Arch.

Behind the scenes during the break, however, Leeds have been working hard to keep two of their internationals and one potential future England player at Elland Road.

Talks that have gone on for weeks and months were finally concluded with key trio Liam Cooper, Stuart Dallas and Kalvin Phillips.

Cooper and Dallas were away from the club with Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, but club football does not stop, not really, not ever.

All three have shown their importance to Leeds’ promotion push.

Cooper’s aerial ability and defensive solidity have helped ease his centre-half partner Ben White into Championship football.

Dallas has been equally sound in his own half and a genuine threat to the opposition going forward.

In the case of Phillips, his long-term deal comes with a caveat the size of Yorkshire itself, because few would foresee his presence at Elland Road next season were Leeds not to become a Premier League club.

Everyone who has watched the 23-year-old, including the trio of top flight clubs who bid for him in the summer, could picture him gracing the biggest domestic stage – he is a Premier League player in waiting.

For Cooper, a new deal rescues what has been a difficult international break and should help banish any lingering malaise from Scotland’s failures over the past week, allowing him to walk out at Barnsley on Sunday full of confidence once more.

And for both he and good pal Dallas, a long-term deal is a huge vote of confidence from a club who expect to be playing at the highest level in 2020/21.

Neither contract comes with a guarantee of a starting place, regardless of the division Leeds find themselves in next season.

But what the length of those deals tells you is that Leeds believe in Cooper and Dallas.

They must see, in both men, the ability to make the step up and contribute, should this season’s goal be met.

Maybe just as important is the continuity, stability and leadership they will both bring next season, if the worst case scenario becomes reality and the Whites require a summer rebuild under a new manager.

As international breaks go, this has not been a bad one.