Fans’ favourite Pontus Jansson has developed a sound working partnership with Kyle Bartley, but the centre-half insists that the whole team deserves credit for Leeds upturn in form. Phil Hay reports.
Besides his ruthless defending, there is something infectious about Pontus Jansson’s attitude. You would go as far as saying that Jansson enjoys his work and at Leeds United that much has not been true of everyone.
Players speak of their pride in representing the club, but the burden of responsibility weighs heavily as years go by in the Football League.
Jansson came on board at Elland Road at an unhappy time, with Leeds out of form and dropping towards the Championship’s relegation zone. A month-and-a-half on the situation is unrecognisable and so is the mood of Garry Monk’s squad.
In that time Jansson has captivated the crowd with big hits and aggressive performances at the back, portraying himself as the most accomplished centre-back United have signed in years. His partnership with Kyle Bartley is arguably as competent as the club have seen since the days of League One and the pairing of Patrick Kisnorbo and Richard Naylor.
That Jansson already has his own song – a reworking of the ‘Magic Hat’ ditty – is proof enough of the relationship which is developing quickly between him and Leeds’ support.
In Jansson’s words, football is “not just a business”. The Sweden international said the game should be a “show”, a source of entertainment and, above all else, fun.
His mindset is a breath of fresh air for a club whose bouts of crisis have threatened to make football a chore at stages of the past decade. The month just gone has witnessed a positive sea-change in atmosphere.
“Football is a show, not only a business,” Jansson said. “I was saying to people in Italy a couple of months ago that football is more and more about business but you have to go out on the pitch and have fun. You have to show people that you have fun.
“That’s what I am looking for – to have a relationship with the fans and not just think about the business. You have to have fun because the fans like that and we have to have the fans with us, not against us. If we play well then they will be with us. It’s totally up to us.”
United’s recent form and the appreciation of it provides ample evidence of that. Garry Monk, whose job was rumoured to be under threat in the second week of September, has earned more and more acclaim for tactics and a system which brought five wins from six games in the lead up to the international break. Even last Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at Bristol City came without much gnashing of teeth.
Leeds’ head coach will learn later this week whether he is among the nominations for the Championship’s manager of the month award for September.
Jansson would merit inclusion in the player-of-the-month shortlist having adapted quickly to a league he knew little about before he signed on loan from Torino in August.
The 25-year-old watched his first Championship fixture the day before completing his move, sitting through a 1-1 draw with Fulham at Elland Road.
“The style of the contest appealed to him immediately.
“Before I came here I hadn’t seen a Championship game,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. With the move, everything happened really fast. Two days after Torino said they didn’t believe in me the way I wanted I was here at Leeds watching the game against Fulham.
“But I knew at that game that it would be good for me here.
“I feel something building at Leeds. That’s why I came here.
“I could see what could happen. I spoke to Pep (Clotet), (Massimo) Cellino and Monk and I had a good feeling.
“The first thing Monk did was give me a big hug and I thought ‘great, now I have a coach who believes in me’.
“It’s a good thing when you have a coach who believes in you. But after that it was up to me.”
Monk said after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Barnsley that attention on Jansson and the improvement in United’s defending should not deflect attention from other areas of his team which have picked up since a bad run through August. Amid the stability offered by the partnership of Jansson and Bartley, Leeds have also shown more nous and invention up front.
Jansson said: “It’s about the whole team, not just about us two (him and Bartley). We are playing better as a team and playing better offensively. You can’t only talk about one or two players.”
It took frantic defending in the closing minutes to see off Barnsley after a comfortable 2-0 lead was reduced by Charlie Taylor’s late own goal.
A goalline clearance from Jansson and a fine save from Rob Green saw Leeds through a heavy wave of pressure, sealing a fourth successive home win and lifting the club up to 11th in the table.
“Barnsley are a good football team,” said Jansson, who linked up with Sweden’s squad in Stockholm yesterday ahead of World Cup qualifiers with Luxembourg and Bulgaria. “They try to play from the back and they don’t just want to keep the ball, like some of the teams we play against.
“It was closer than we wanted at the end. We were calm at 2-0 but they scored and it’s normal to then get a bit nervous, especially as it was an own goal from us. But we were okay. I didn’t think they created so much.”