By his own admission Gianni Alioski’s move to Leeds took some time to complete, but the multi-lingual winger, says he’s glad he can now realise his ambition of playing in England. Phil Hay reports.
Gianni Alioski was tailor-made for a dressing room as cosmopolitan as Leeds United’s. The winger speaks fluent Italian and has a strong grasp of English and German, a range of languages wide to enough to break the ice in his first few days with the club.
Alioski, who Leeds signed from Lugano last week after a long and persistent chase, would have come to England regardless of his ability to settle in quickly.
“You think about everything and I had other options, other clubs, but England was always my dream,” he said. “I heard about Leeds United and all the stories about this club. The dream I had, it feels like it’s coming true because England is where I want to play.”
Basel were strongly rumoured to be one of the teams angling for Alioski’s signature, helped in theory by their involvement in next season’s Champions League, but the 23-year-old signed a four-year contract at Elland Road last Thursday after a prolonged wait for a move from Lugano which he described as “not easy”.
Leeds saw in their analysis of Alioski a quick, direct and aggressive player. His record last season showed 16 goals, 14 assists and a strong hand in Lugano qualifying for the Europa League. Lugano – the Swiss club where United right-back Gaetano Berardi started his career as a youth-team player – have taken a couple of hits this summer. Loanee striker Armando Sadiku, the scorer of nine goals last term, joined Legia Warsaw a week ago.
I’ll fight in offence but I’ll fight in the defence too. How do you say? I am a fit boy. – Gianni Alioski
Alioski, a Macedonia international, arrived at Leeds on the back of his most eye-catching year as a professional.
“It was my best season,” he said. “When I look at it, I scored 16 goals and 14 assists and I did well for the national team. It was all good, the best I’ve had. I had good seasons before but last season was better again.
“Last year Lugano had a good team. Now more players are leaving – me and Armando Sadiku, the striker. The two of us scored a lot of the goals and those goals were important for the team. Lugano are losing quality in attack and it’s never easy. I hope they find new players.
“Now, I’m just so happy to be here with Leeds. It was not easy to do and I’m really lucky that it happened. From the start (of Leeds’ attempt to sign him) it felt like a long time. We spoke about this transfer so much but in the end we did it and everyone is happy. It ended in the right way.”
Alioski was used in the second-half of Monday’s bizarre friendly against a Bursaspor, a game arranged with the best of intentions – a replacement for Sunday’s cancelled friendly against Ingolstadt – but which became the subject of much fascination after Bursaspor publicised an event that Leeds expected to be a private affair.
Alioski completed 45 minutes with a small local crowd in attendance and no Leeds supporters to be seen but footage of the game published online by Bursaspor showed his turn of pace and a hint of the threat that head coach Thomas Christiansen will look for him to carry in the Championship.
United relied on Hadi Sacko for pace out wide last season but Alioski said: “I would say I’m very fast. People say I’m quick.
“I like to dribble with the ball. I’ll fight in offence but I’ll fight in the defence too. How do you say? I’m a fit boy.”
The Championship will put that fitness to the test. Alioski came to in England with his eyes open, educated about the even nature of the league and aware of a level of intensity which rarely drops. Leeds found to their cost last season how quickly the Championship can smother a club, dropping them out of a strong position in the play-off zone in the space of the final eight games.
“I know about it because I’ve watched it,” Alioski said. “I’ve seen this league before, I watch it as well as the Premier (League).
“I would say that the Championship is more hard than the Premier – not because the players are better but because all teams have a level of quality. You can lose against the last team and win against the first and it happens a lot of the time.
“It means that every time you go out you have to play with the right consideration and in the right way. You must be focused in every game. That’s what I’m thinking coming here. That’s what I will try to do.”
United grafted through double training sessions over the weekend and were worked by Christiansen again in Jenbach yesterday evening having arrived home late from their meeting with Bursaspor in the Italian town of Natz-Schabs.
Alioski said his introduction at United had been straightforward and helped by his multi-lingual talent. “I must say it’s been very easy. There are players here who speak Italian and I speak Italian too. I speak German also, I’ve got two or three languages, and that makes it easier for me. It’s been nice to find everyone so open.”
It is players like Alioski who Christiansen will need to thrive and adapt quickly to English football if Leeds are to make a play for promotion again next season. Alioski believes a squad supplemented with nine signings already this summer will be good enough.
“There is so much quality there,” he said. “I’ve seen it already on the pitch and I see a club who want to go into the Premier League. But you do it on the pitch. You win on the pitch, not by talking. We’ll be ready and I hope we can do it.”