Last Thursday Tommaso Bianchi was talking about his optimism for the season ahead.
On Friday Leeds United decided to send him for knee surgery. He had an operation yesterday and will spend up to six weeks getting himself fit again.
That’s football as the saying goes but Bianchi will feel aggrieved as he sits with a leg up this week. The midfielder was looking forward to the start of the season. His head coach, Uwe Rosler, made regular use of him in pre-season and talked Bianchi up. “I felt Tommaso was one of the players who really came on,” Rosler said. “It’s a pity.”
The Italian can take comfort from comments like that. Back in May, before Rosler was named as Leeds’ head coach, it was hard to know if Bianchi’s face would fit. Even he admits that the transition from Italy’s Serie B to the Championship was a culture shock and as his first year at Elland Road wore on, he became increasingly anonymous. A cruciate knee injury ended his season early in February.
His latest problem is less serious and Leeds expect that Bianchi will return from cartilage surgery at some point next month. Bianchi for his part is itching to get involved. “I want to stay in Leeds,” he said. “This year we have more experience, especially the international players.
“The first year was difficult – getting used to a different culture and the type of football. We understand how they play football here in England now. It’s better for us. I think we’re going to have a very good season.”
How happy Bianchi has been in his 12 months at Elland Road is for him to know. He signed a four-year contract last summer, joining United from Sassuolo, and played regularly during the first half of last season. United’s form was up and down and by Christmas the club were in serious trouble. Bianchi shone in patches at Elland Road but looked less sure of himself away from home.
When the January transfer window opened, it seemed that Bianchi might be heading home. Massimo Cellino, United’s owner, said the midfielder had asked for a transfer in the event that Cellino was hit with an ownership ban by the Football League. Cellino was duly disqualified that month. Modena’s coach, Walter Novellino, also suggested that the 26-year-old wanted to resume his career in Italy.
Bianchi disputes both of those claims. “I don’t understand why there was this news about me, and also this summer, about the chance (of a transfer),” he said. “I never spoke to the president (Cellino) or to the coach of Modena because I wanted to stay in Leeds and show how I can play.
“Maybe in Italy there was news – the coach of Modena wanted me – but it’s not the same as me saying I want to go. There was a misunderstanding maybe. I want to stay here and try to help the team have a very good season.”
Bianchi was happy with his form at the start of last term but conceded that the intensity of the Championship found him out eventually. Nonetheless, he was unfortunate to damage knee ligaments on the night in February when Neil Redfearn, then the club’s head coach, gave him a rare opportunity in a 2-0 win at Reading.
“It was difficult for me because of the change of country, the philosophy of the football, but I think I started well at the beginning of last season,” Bianchi said.
“After December I went down because of my fitness and after that I lost my position because the coach changed the system and the team played better. Then I had some bad luck with the tackle at Reading and after the surgery it was hard.
“But I hope this season will be better. I don’t want to say too much but I’ll continue to work hard and try to play hard.”
That is very much Rosler’s style of play; “heavy metal” as the German – and Jurgen Klopp before him – calls it.
Divisions in United’s multi-national dressing room were evident last season but Rosler has run a tight, disciplined ship since his appointment May. Numerous players, Bianchi among them, have spoken of a more healthy atmosphere at Thorp Arch.
“The coach is very good with a lot of experience,” Bianchi said. “He’s trying to build a good team with good team spirit.
“We have a very good team spirit – better than last year – and we’ve signed a lot of good players.
“We have more organisation in the team and we try to play in two or three systems. If we play 4-4-2 or 4-3-2-1, I play in the middle and that is my role. If we play 4-3-3 I also play in the middle and I’m happy with this coach because I play in the right position. In Italy I played every time in the middle, every match.”
Bianchi sat with Luke Murphy – another midfielder who is recovering from knee surgery – during Saturday’s 2-0 win over Everton at Elland Road, a rousing performance which caught the imagination of a crowd of more than 17,000.
Whatever Rosler’s squad are truly aiming for over the next nine months, the players all agree that the club should be finishing higher up the Championship than they did last season.
“If we stay together in the bad moments – because it’s a long season and bad moments are possible – we can go up the table,” Bianchi said.
“It will be a very hard season but we’ll try to do our best and try to get into the top six.”