'More to come' - Stuart Dallas on new deal, Leeds United rollercoaster and his John Stones moment
Stuart Dallas can’t quite remember how many seasons he has spent at Leeds United, but when you’re on a rollercoaster you don’t look at your watch.
With a new three-year contract tucked under his arm heading into a second season of Premier League football, the Ulsterman is in a good place football-wise.
Of the 24 players who reported back for pre-season testing at Leeds Beckett University’s still shiny and new Carnegie School of Sport facility, Dallas was among the most important – how many others can cover at least five positions – and the most popular.
The stature held by the leaders in Marcelo Bielsa’s group is obvious when you see them all together, surrounded by staff and the young hopefuls of the Under 23s.
Like Luke Ayling, Dallas is a gregarious figure, equally at home with his peers and Bielsa’s medical team as he is the youngsters – Crysencio Summerville received an affectionate bop on the head with a lunch carton as Dallas passed by during a break in fitness assessments.
Leeds recognise Dallas’ value and that’s why, just two years into a four-year contract, they’ve given him another.
Time flies when you’re having fun and a Championship title win followed by an eight-goal haul in his Premier League debut season has made life at Leeds highly enjoyable for the winger-turned-defender-turned-midfielder.
“It hasn’t seemed that long ago but when I sit back and think about everything that’s happened since then, it’s been a crazy journey, a crazy few years,” he said.
“Obviously I’m absolutely delighted to be signing a new deal, I’ve had what is it five seasons, six seasons now, I can’t even remember I’ve enjoyed myself that much.
“Football is a rollercoaster. I always believed in myself, that I was good enough to make a name for myself at this club.
At times you don’t perform, that’s part and parcel of being a player, you have the set-backs to improve and keep learning.
“I’ll be the first to admit in the first few seasons here I didn’t perform as well as I could have and in these last few seasons the fans have seen what I’m capable of.
“This is where I want to be, I’ve always said that, I want to be at this club.
“My family are here, my kids are at school here and they want to stay as well. It’s a big moment for me.”
Last season was full of big moments, none bigger than the winner Dallas scored for 10-man Leeds at Manchester City when he outpaced John Stones from his own half to find the net.
“I think that was more of a mental thing than anything, a great moment,” he said.
“Looking back on it now was huge. But he’s now playing in the quarter-finals of the Euros and I’m sitting looking at a running track, I’m sure he’s a lot happier than me.”
That particular moment is one that will be replayed for years to come but Dallas, who only turned 30 in April, would like many more memories to add to the collection.
Resting on laurels wasn’t the Leeds United way in 1965 or 1991 after impressive returns to the top flight and it won’t be the Leeds United way this year if Dallas has anything to do with it.
“Last season on a personal note was a benchmark but it was a benchmark for the club as well,” he said.
“Want want to progress this year. We’re realistic in terms of where we are. It’s going to be difficult, we know expectations on us will be a lot higher, there will be a lot more pressure on us but it’s up to us to embrace that and look forward to it.
“Hopefully we can start the season well and push on.
“I think [the Premier League] is becoming stronger and stronger every year and it’s important we don’t let the top teams get away from us, we’ve got to try and bridge that gap. We want to keep improving.”
He’s keeping Sheffield United’s annus horribilis in mind, although he’s quick to add that Bielsa, the head coach he labels a genius, isn’t the kind of manager to let a team stand still or slip backwards.
On a personal level Dallas is keen to keep moving forward, one year shy of a full decade in the professional ranks but a world away from his Irish League beginnings.
The rollercoaster continues and the hard work never stops but his hope is that time will continue to fly. “I feel there’s still more to come,” he said.
“I didn’t start playing professional football until I was 21, probably a lot older than some other players, so I still feel I have a lot more to give. Last season is a good benchmark for me to push on and hopefully with this team we can achieve great things together.
“Where I’ve come from, people often ask me about my journey and when I look back to where I’ve come from and it’s been a crazy journey, a lot of ups and downs along the way. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.
“I can’t rest on last season, I have to keep trying to improve. As I’ve said, there’s a lot more to come from me."