'Leeds United turned out to be my place on earth' - Mateusz Klich on Whites, Poland hope and new role
At Leeds United Mateusz Klich found his ‘place on earth’ and in Marcelo Bielsa a head coach who trusted him but now he must gain the trust of another.
It’s 10 years since the midfielder set out from his native Poland in search of footballing fame and glory on foreign soil, joining Wolfsburg in what was a record deal for Cracovia, his first club.
But while Die Wölfe provided the springboard for Kevin de Bruyne to go on and become the player he was always supposed to be, Klich was never really able to call the Volkswagen Arena his home.
Short spells with 1. FC Kaiserslautern, where he befriended current Leeds team-mate Robin Koch, and FC Twente followed before a move to Leeds that eventually resulted in a Championship title then 35, and counting, appearances in what he calls ‘the best league in the world.’
Under Bielsa, Klich has become a pressing machine in the middle and a player who links defence and attack, producing the little passes that help move Leeds from deep in their own half to further up the pitch, along with goals, assists and the passes that allow chances to be created.
An up and down first season in the top flight ended on a high note with solid performances against Spurs and Burnley, a club who have long admired his talents and against whom he scored a very good goal.
By playing as well as he did in those games Klich put a smile on Bielsa’s face.
The head coach was delighted to see his Polish international performing at the level they both knew he could reach and not for the first time in the season, Klich came in for high praise.
The pair have been on quite the journey together over the past three years, one that has allowed Klich to taste the fame and glory that eluded him elsewhere.
“I read the words of coach Bielsa in which he complimented me, but this is not the first time,” the 30-year-old said on Sunday.
“It is nice to listen to such words, but in private conversations there are not only compliments. I know I have to keep my feet on the ground and work with all my strength.
“I have proved a lot to myself for sure. My adventure with foreign football started badly for me. I was lost in Germany, I don’t think I was ready to play in the Bundesliga, but I wanted to stay overseas, wandered around clubs, and finally ended up in Leeds, which turned out to be my place on earth.
“I found a coach who trusted me and helped me.
“Thanks to this, I can play in the best league in the world, where not everyone is able to meet the requirements. Apparently, I needed time to see football.”
After a run of 128 league and play-off appearances out of a possible 130, he needed time to rest too.
Bielsa called time on Klich’s season two games before it finished and he headed off to recharge his batteries at Osada Gubałówka na Polanie Pająkówka, an apartment complex with views of the stunning Tatra Mountains.
From there he made the 550km journey to Hotel Remes, a sport and spa facility in Opalenica, where he’s putting all his energy into securing involvement in Paulo Sousa’s Poland squad for a European Championships delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Catching the virus back in March denied Klich the opportunity to add to his 30 caps – 20 of which have been won as a Leeds player – or get his first taste of international football under January appointment Sousa.
Speaking from Sousa’s pre-tournament camp, Klich is hungrily eyeing the warm-up games against Russia, tonight, and Iceland, next Tuesday.
“I haven’t had a chance to play for the team [Sousa] is building yet, so I’m looking forward to the upcoming games,” he said.
“I really want to play in them.”
To that end he’s been putting in the work on the training pitch, firstly to return to peak condition and secondly to familiarise himself with what will be a different kind of system.
“Before coming to the training camp, coach Marcelo Bielsa gave me a week off, so I rested a bit,” he said.
“I hope that I am ready and I can withstand the rigors of training. I want to do my best for the Euros, so I have to grit my teeth and work with maximum commitment all the time. The first week was definitely very intense, we’ve developed some motor skills, and now it’s time for more tactical aspects.
“Coach Paulo Sousa requires me to turn the ball as quickly as possible in the middle of the field and propel the attacks. I think when I get on the pitch I will be playing with two midfielders in front of the back line.
“At Leeds I play a bit differently because the set-up is also different. Our ‘six’ rather does not attack, and I usually play higher knowing that my friend is protecting me behind my back.
“There will probably be more interchangeability of positions.”
Regardless of where he fits in the formation Sousa chooses – Poland went with a 3-5-2, a 4-4-2 diamond and a 3-4-1-2 in March – Klich will seek to bring the same energy and principles that have made him an important player at club level.
“I definitely feel very comfortable with high pressing,” he said.
“I like running a lot, and such assumptions are very effective. You can pick up the ball higher and attack quickly.
“I would definitely like to score my first goal in the Polish national team.
“I would definitely like to be an important part of this team and an important player for coach Paulo Sousa.”