Leeds United reward striker for patience and physical sacrifice after 'difficult' start

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Nothing good comes easy and for all Joe Gelhardt's obvious ability he has had to earn what Leeds United have given him.

A new five-year contract was one of the summer's most predictable bits of Elland Road business after a breakthrough season.

Tying Gelhardt to a long-term deal makes sense and although there were fine details to tune that ruled out a pre-Australia announcement, it was not a difficult deal to do for Victor Orta and the 20-year-old's representatives.

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Even prior to a campaign that saw him slowly but surely introduce his game-changing talent to the Premier League, Gelhardt was happy at Leeds.

He spoke last summer of his contentment to be patient and work hard until a chance came along, despite making Under-23s football look like child’s play in a first full season at Thorp Arch.

It took hard work and patience as well.

The Gelhardt who grinned for the cameras alongside Sam Greenwood and Crysencio Summerville as the club trumpeted a trio of new deals is a leaner version of the one who arrived from Wigan Athletic in 2020.

"It was difficult at the start, physically, getting used to the style of play the fans and the manager expected," he said after putting pen to paper on a new contract that runs to the summer of 2027.

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HARD EARNED - Joe Gelhardt endured a difficult start, physically, when he arrived at Leeds United but has earned a place in the first team squad and a five-year contract.HARD EARNED - Joe Gelhardt endured a difficult start, physically, when he arrived at Leeds United but has earned a place in the first team squad and a five-year contract.
HARD EARNED - Joe Gelhardt endured a difficult start, physically, when he arrived at Leeds United but has earned a place in the first team squad and a five-year contract.

Gelhardt could already do wonderful things with a football when he rocked up at Thorp Arch; he just had to get into the right condition to be able to do all the stuff required of him without a football.

In order to play, whether that was for the 23s or the first team, the scales had to show the optimum number that would allow him to press relentlessly for 90-plus minutes.

So he worked hard, the weight - almost eight kilos- dropped off and he began to look like a different player.

He sounds like a different one too, these days.

The Scouse accent remains but the commercial appearances and supporter events at which he spoke during the tour of Australia betrayed a far more confident, outgoing Gelhardt than the relatively shy lad Leeds took from the Latics.

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He's much more at ease in front of a microphone and, although he's not yet at the same polished level as veterans Adam Forshaw or Patrick Bamford, he speaks well in front of a crowd.

Crucially, for a player at a club like Leeds, playing in front of one has not been an issue.

Never was that more evident than when he produced a moment of school-yard stuff in one of the most fraught moments of the season.

Leeds were a goal down in the dying embers of their penultimate match of the season and staring relegation in the face.

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Gelhardt got the ball tight in the Brighton box, jinked one way and then the other to send Lewis Dunk to ground and flicked the ball over the defender before dinking it perfectly to the back post for Pascal Struijk to head home.

"For me, whenever I'm on the pitch it's just like a normal game," he said.

"The crowd, sometimes you've got to block it out but at the same time the Elland Road crowd fires you on so credit to the fans.

"When I play football I just try and enjoy myself."

Players like Gelhardt make football look fun, but if that talent had not been matched by a work ethic then neither he nor thousands of Whites would have enjoyed moments like his winner against Norwich City or that Brighton magic.

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Nothing was presented on a silver platter - he has still only made five starts in the Premier League and appeared in only three of the first 15 games of last season - and any minutes came strictly on merit.

The same is true of contracts.

Had he not put in the work, he would not have been handed a new five-year version and a pay rise, accompanied by a tacit agreement that he will continue to enjoy the backing of a manager with a track record of investing in young players.

"I'm over the moon obviously to sign another five years with this club," said Gelhardt.

"Ever since I came here I've loved every minute of it so to extend my contract for another five years, I'm absolutely made up.

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"I've enjoyed the challenge; stepping up from the 23s to the first team in the Premier League was my dream so I'm thankful to the club and everyone involved who gave me the opportunity and I'll continue working hard to help the team as much as possible.

"To be honest, every time I've stepped out wearing the badge at Elland Road or away games, it's been a privilege to represent Leeds in the Premier League.

"Hopefully I can play more games this season and for the next five seasons as well.

"Jesse is a great manager; he's a great person as well.

"From the past, everyone knows he's given youngsters a chance and it's the same with us.

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"He believes in the youth and we've got to repay him for that by giving him 100 per cent every time we step on the pitch for him."

Inking a new deal at the same time as his pals Greenwood and Summerville feels symbolic. Leeds believe they have a trio who can do far more than make up the numbers on matchday and all three will be desperate for more minutes this season.

Sitting side by side for photos with the club hierarchy was a special moment but, for Gelhardt, there's nothing quite like playing football with his mates.

"When you're on the pitch in the Premier League with one of your team-mates who you've worked through the 23s up to the first team with it's a great feeling because you know each other, you're proud of each other and willing to give your all," he said.

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"I'll run for him, he'll run for me and it's the same with all of us really. It's a great feeling."

As close as he is to his fellow youngsters, Gelhardt has visibly integrated with the older heads at Leeds.

In Australia, with his senior peers, he very much looked the part as simply ‘one of the lads’.

"From the first day I came they've been so welcoming," he said.

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"Stepping up to the first team, they just take you under their wing. You try learn off them every day in training and, when it comes to match days, you've got to be ready; they help you get ready.

"They're so supportive on and off the pitch as well so credit to them."

Leeds make a lot of how good the dressing-room culture is but the players, just like managers, directors of football and fans, would not be having Gelhardt or any other young hopeful if he didn't have what it takes in terms of skill and work-rate.

Gelhardt has his feet well under the table at Leeds United now because he's earned the right.