Mateusz Klich's Leeds United future boils down to two key factors after jarring Elland road sight

Mateusz Klich’s Leeds United future boils down to two key questions - can they afford to let him go and can he afford to stay?

By Graham Smyth
Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 12:59 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 12:59 pm

Klich will forever remain one of the central characters in the story of the Whites' escape from the wilderness.His personal story mirrors that of the club's. He was nowhere, drifting out of Elland Road entirely, a self-confessed member of the Thorp Arch 'bomb squad' until he convinced Marcelo Bielsa of his worth and then proved it, in spades, relentlessly, over the course of two cracks at promotion.

A Championship title he both contributed to and celebrated mightily could have been a happy ending but, like so many others in the squad, Klich deserved to play in the Premier League for Leeds.

Even if his first English top-flight season was up and down, it ended the right way with a top-half finish and a return to form in time to head to the Euros as an important part of the Poland side.

What's more, the Premier League is a different animal to the Championship so having any ups at all, let alone four goals and five assists, is more than many can boast following promotion.

Last season, however, was a tough one for everybody at Leeds United and it wore visibly on Klich. He struggled, in a struggling team, just one of many who couldn't individually hit the standards they previously set, with a collective knock-on.

He was substituted in 18 of his 26 Premier League starts and, on more than one occasion, failed to hide his frustration at leaving yet another game early.

The frustration still seemed to be nibbling at him in the latter stages of the season, post-Bielsa, when he was in and out of the starting line-up.

NO CERTAINTY - Jesse Marsch was unable to say with any certainty that Mateusz Klich would remain at Elland Road after the transfer window closed. Pic: Getty

The arrival of Jesse Marsch seemed, to this correspondent, like a potential fresh start for Klich and a move that might work in his favour. His game felt quite suited to a style of football involving pressing and then playing quickly in tight spaces.

"That's what I thought as well," said Klich a fortnight ago in Perth, after a chuckle that sounds a little more wry and a little more telling now that Marsch cannot say for certain if the Polish international's future lies at Elland Road.

"To be fair, we all like to play good football," he continued. "Everyone here is fit to play good football and quick football.

"Now we have more players, more rotations and more subs for next season in the Premier League so I think it will be good for all of us. I just hope to have the most minutes I can get before the World Cup."

It didn't feel like there was a lot to read into that response at the time. Klich might not have been starting games in Australia but he came off the bench in all three and played a full part in the training sessions.

It was thought, prior to the trip, that anyone flying Down Under could be considered part of Marsch's plans for the season. That did not prove to be the case for Leif Davis and it might not now for Klich.

The sight of him running the length of the pitch with 2022 'bomb squad' members Helder Costa and Ian Poveda on Sunday night having sat out as an unused sub was a jarring one, even if the summer recruitment made it harder to see where his Premier League starts were coming from. And he needs them if he is to head into the World Cup as an important part of the Poland side.

At 32, it's a very real possibility that this will be his last chance to play in the world's biggest international tournament so starting the season behind Brenden Aaronson or Rodrigo in the spot behind Patrick Bamford, or behind Tyler Adams and Marc Roca in the deeper-lying midfield roles, would be a risk.

The arrival of three senior central players and Under-21s prospect Darko Gyabi does not necessarily mean Leeds can get by comfortably without Klich, though. Their idea in this window was clearly to raise the floor of the squad so that a look to the bench showed experience, at least in the first, second and third substitutes.

Klich may not carry the goal threat he once did and the legs that carried so much of the responsibility for making Bielsa's Leeds tick might not have 38 sets of 90-minute Premier League intensity in them but that's not to say he cannot operate at this level anymore.

His legs are not gone; he's got years left if used wisely and protected from injury.

As he said himself in Perth, a bigger squad means fresher players. And he's a clever player, so often the man behind the pass before the last pass. So often the man to make the run that opens up space for a team-mate. Always the man doing his utmost. He's an option.

The Leeds squad is not so big and Marsch's options are not so plentiful that anyone with quality and experience can be let go easily. Klich's popularity is such that a great swathe of the fanbase would celebrate his presence post-transfer deadline - few footballers are quite as real on social media or when a microphone is on - and the dressing room surely would too.

Being just an option or a good man to have around is likely a tough sell for the player, though. He put side before self, over and over, in that run of 92 consecutive league starts.

The club's mantra is easier to say with all your chest when your name is one of the first on the teamsheet every week and Klich can decide his future safe in the knowledge that Leeds are in a better place thanks to his considerable efforts.

He has made his mark, quite literally if not indelibly, with his artistry on and off the pitch. The day they paint over his 'champions' mural at Elland Road there will be an outcry he'll hear wherever in the world he finds himself.

This might not be the end, of course; he might stay and play a part in this new chapter at Leeds.

But, if the writing is on the wall and he and the club decide to turn the page on each other, he will leave with stories that only a select few have lived and can tell.