New signing Matt Grimes might be in unfamilier surroundings at Elland Road but the similarities with Swansea City under Garry Monk make his move almost a home from home. Phil Hay reports.
There are some who might tell Matt Grimes that his leap into the Premier League 18 months ago was not the opportunity he thought it would be but the England Under-21 international still sees Swansea City as a club he had to join.
Grimes cost Swansea City £1.75m when he left Exeter City in January 2015, a sizeable fee for a 19-year-old in League Two, and he did not see any reason to say no to Garry Monk.
But after 19 appearances in the interim – most of them on loan at Blackburn Rovers last season – he has come to Elland Road hungry for the taste of another full season.
Monk thought enough of Grimes to pay seven figures for him while he was manager of Swansea and the midfielder became signing number five after Monk’s appointment as Leeds United’s head coach in June.
Grimes’ range of passing and his set-pieces – some of which was evident in a strong first half at Peterborough United on Saturday – suits the type of football Monk prefers and he took the chance of a year-long loan at Elland Road with the aim of being central to it.
“That’s what I need this season,” Grimes said. “I need to try and get a starting place every week and to get back to playing regular games, as I did a couple of years ago.
“It’s been a hard couple of years for me at Swansea, not really getting games, but it’s a move I had to make. I wanted to challenge myself and I still believe I can play at a high, high level. But getting regular games now is most important for my career. It’s what I want this year. Hopefully I can make an impact.”
Grimes was an Exeter academy player who broke through and made his debut at the start of the 2013-14 season. England capped him at Under-20 level inside 12 months, a level in which he played alongside United’s Alex Mowatt, and Swansea began to take a firm interest in him in the latter stages of 2014.
Exeter knew how much interest he was attracting and did not try to block his exit.
“We’re prepared for it, we were expecting it to happen, so it’s not a surprise to us,” said manager Paul Tisdale after Swansea’s bid was accepted. “But we’ll miss a very talented young player who we’re very fond of.”
Swansea blooded Grimes slowly and he scored on his first start, a League Cup win over York City in August 2015. But Monk relied on others in the league and was sacked last December.
When the dust settled on a change of manager, Grimes was sent on loan to Blackburn Rovers for the final two months of the 2015-16 season. He appeared as a late substitute in Leeds’ 2-1 win at Ewood Park in March.
Grimes, nonetheless, was rated highly enough by England’s coaching staff to make the leap into the Under-21 squad and much of what he has seen at Leeds so far echoes the approach taken by Monk at Swansea.
“He’s taken a fair amount of what he did at Swansea and brought it here,” Grimes said. “Obviously he’s tweaked a few things because this league (the Championship) is slightly different but I feel like we’re all buying into what he wants us to do. Everyone’s working well under him. He knows exactly what he wants and he’s drilled that into the lads.
“With the gaffer, Pep (Clotet) and Beats (James Beattie), it was very easy for me coming in here. I know (Kyle) Bartley and Alex Mowatt too and the lads have helped me settle. We’re all eager for the season to start.”
Grimes’ role in the team at Elland Road and Monk’s plans for him were apparent in the first half of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Peterborough.
The 21-year-old played alongside Luke Murphy, behind the more advanced Mowatt, and the initial tempo of United’s performance allowed Grimes to involve himself in an impressive attacking display. Mowatt produced the opening goal on 16 minutes.
Leeds then faded after half-time as the humidity and their fitness got the better of them and Grimes said: “We need to take what we did for 45 minutes and extend it through 90.
“It was our first 90 minutes of the summer and you could see towards the end that we were getting sloppy and sluggish.
“But by training hard and with the game this weekend, after that we’ll be raring to go.
“This was the first time I’d played with a few of these players so it was good to get to know how they play.
“The more we play together the better we’ll get.
“Obviously we wanted to win the game and we want to win every game but there were a lot of positives.”
Leeds will finish their pre-season schedule against Atalanta on Saturday, their traditional home fixture on the last weekend of the summer.
Officially, more than 1,900 supporters made the trip to Peterborough on Saturday, an early example of the weight of pressure which Grimes and United’s squad will carry during the new season. I’m really looking forward to it,” Grimes said.
“The away support was different class and I’m looking forward to the noise at Elland Road.
“We want to do well and the fans want us to do well.
“When things are going well, it’ll all be on a high.
“But when things don’t go so well, we need to stick together, keep believing in what we’re doing and keep our philosophy the same – not succumb to the pressure.”