New Leeds United favourite opens up on Farke, fans and representing legacy of a Whites 'icon'

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When Joe Rodon swaps the white of Leeds United for the red of Wales this week he'll be representing an Elland Road hero.

Tottenham Hotspur initially showed no interest in sending Rodon to West Yorkshire unless an eight-figure sum was coming the other way, but a change of heart allowed the loan move Leeds wanted to be swiftly concluded.

Since then Rodon has gone about the business of ingratiating himself with the locals, consistently putting in sufficiently solid performances to already be considered a fan favourite. That said, there was more certainty in a classroom of Year 5 students over the identity of the other visitor tagging along with Rodon last week. Being slightly less of a recognisable face than local boy Archie Gray would be no slight on just about any player in the Leeds squad, though, given the excitement over the 17-year-old's emergence under Daniel Farke.

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Rodon and Gray popped in to see the youngsters at Our Lady of Good Counsel Primary in Seacroft as part of the Leeds United Foundation's anti-bullying educational programme and caused quite the stir with pupils and staff alike. Casting his mind back 16 or so years, Rodon picked out an ex-Leeds player when asked by the YEP who he would have wanted to visit him in the classroom.

"When I was in primary school Lee Trundle was the number 10 at Swansea and he was a hero of the city and then of course Leon Britton as well - they were the two favourite players," he said.

Trundle was unable to replicate his South Walean heroics when he spent two months on loan at Elland Road in 2009, so you would be hard pressed to find a Leeds fan to share in Rodon's nostalgia, but more common ground can be found when the conversation turns to the late, great Gary Speed. More than 300 appearances for Leeds, 57 goals and league titles in the top two tiers of English football ensured that Speed would long be remembered in these parts. His likeness adorns walls in the city and they still, at least once a year, sing his name at Elland Road. By the time Rodon was born, Speed was an Everton player. By the time Speed tragically passed in late 2011, Rodon was a 14-year-old in the Swansea City academy. And though Speed's managerial tenure with the Wales national team lasted just under a year, current international stalwart Rodon is acutely aware of the legacy built on that short period of time.

"I never got a chance to work with him but of course you know exactly what he did, not just in Welsh football but football in general," said Rodon. "He was an icon and I'm sure all the senior players and ex pros know way better than me but he set the blueprint, if that makes sense, and ever since Wales has been climbing and climbing and climbing. It's an honour for me to play for my country, and not just for me individually but everyone I'm representing. Representing Wales, and Gary as well because of what he did, is a pleasure for me."

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Rodon and the rest of Rob Page's Wales squad are now preparing for crunch games against Armenia and Türkiye, knowing that two wins will take them to the European Championships. Rodon's national pride was on show last week when he insisted that Leeds' trio of Welsh players - himself, Ethan Ampadu and Daniel James - would '100 per cent' beat their Dutch counterparts - Pascal Struijk, Joel Piroe and Crysencio Summerville - in a three-v-three game, even if the latter is the player he singles out as the most difficult to defend in training. "DJ may let us down a little bit but I'm sure me and Ethan can carry him," he added, exacting a little revenge for some good-natured abuse he took from James in a podcast recording a few days prior.

NEW FAVOURITE - Joe Rodon has become a fan favourite at Leeds United thanks to his performances in Daniel Farke's defence and this week he'll be on Wales duty hoping to do Gary Speed's legacy proud. Pic: Jonathan GawthorpeNEW FAVOURITE - Joe Rodon has become a fan favourite at Leeds United thanks to his performances in Daniel Farke's defence and this week he'll be on Wales duty hoping to do Gary Speed's legacy proud. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe
NEW FAVOURITE - Joe Rodon has become a fan favourite at Leeds United thanks to his performances in Daniel Farke's defence and this week he'll be on Wales duty hoping to do Gary Speed's legacy proud. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe

If Rodon, James and Ampadu bounce into the Wales camp this week it's for good reason. They're all in form. Ampadu has become as vital to the defensive effort in Farke's system as anyone. James is scoring and making goals for fun. As a collective, Leeds are having fun generally. Rodon cites Georginio Rutter and Gray as the Leeds players who make him laugh most often. "Georginio makes me laugh a lot, he's just so bubbly and funny, he's always bouncing around the place. I'd also say Archie - sometimes I don't realise how young he is and I can't help but laugh at the way he is. He's not the brightest of boys as well." That last comment was in response to Gray re-entering the room and it got the reaction intended. When they're not mocking one another, they're winning games. Saturday's 2-1 victory over Plymouth Argyle, in which Rodon and Gray both played leading roles, was their sixth in seven outings.

"At the start of the season everything was up in the air and we didn't know who's gonna be here, who's going to stay but I think as the weeks have progressed, and the games have come along, I think we've got better and better each week," Rodon told the YEP. He credits Farke for making it a largely seamless transition from an inactive pre-season with Spurs to all-action involvement with Leeds: "Since the first day I walked through the doors he's incredible and he made me feel right at home and settle in very quickly, not just the boss but his people as well. And even the group, even the people at Leeds, everyone involved with the club, have helped me settle in very well and I can't thank them enough. I've had meetings against the boss over the years and I know exactly what style he likes to play, and it suits me down to the ground. I think the standards he demands of us every day are exceptional and important and hopefully we can have a successful season and carry on."

Rodon's biggest takeaway from his time working under Farke is the way the German has made him feel about his ability as a central defender, playing a style of football into which he fits.

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"I think it's more the confidence, I think just the feeling of playing every week, week in week out, and the things he asks of me and my position, the confidence in myself to be playing with the ball and be involved constantly," he said. "The way he wants us to play I think for me, personally, is the way I've grown up with for all of my career, I'm loving every minute of it. And long may it continue this whole season."

While Leeds are becoming known for the creativity and speed with which they attack and the sheer number of chances that helps them to make, Farke is building a pretty mean defence too. Only Leicester have conceded fewer goals in the Championship and their clean sheet tally of six is the second highest in the division.

"We haven't got enough of them yet," said Rodon, before the Plymouth Argyle game came around and emphasised his point. "We all have a goal and objective and it starts at the back and then finishes up front. We want to keep as many clean sheets as we can and keep the ball out of our net, and I think we're growing with that each game. That's Illan, the whole back line and everyone involved in defence. It's a tight unit and something we're looking to build on each week."

The centre-half is discovering that attractive football, defensive steel and, most importantly, results will breed a certain level of support at Elland Road and on Saturday he was visibly relishing it, turning to roar at the South Stand after making a vital challenge in his own penalty area. He was made in Wales but moments like that suggest he's made for Leeds.

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"Playing here before you kind of remember the atmosphere but now playing for Leeds, when I get to play at home every other week I think you really understand what it's like and how it feels," he said. "Even my parents and my family know that Leeds is a massive club and I'm sure my family do all know the following and of Leeds and the history. I think me playing for them now, I'm sure that makes them proud and hopefully I can just keep chipping away and doing well. The support this club has and the team gets is incredible and it's something I'm very proud to be a part of and hopefully we can keep making them proud and have a successful season."