New twist in Willy Gnonto’s up and down Leeds United story as Farke eyes obvious potential benefits

Willy Gnonto has come through a rough patch to hit something like his stride at Leeds United, just in time for a different kind of hurdle.
BEST PALS - Willy Gnonto and Crysencio Summerville are best pals with different Leeds United stories this season under Daniel Farke. Pic: George Wood/Getty ImagesBEST PALS - Willy Gnonto and Crysencio Summerville are best pals with different Leeds United stories this season under Daniel Farke. Pic: George Wood/Getty Images
BEST PALS - Willy Gnonto and Crysencio Summerville are best pals with different Leeds United stories this season under Daniel Farke. Pic: George Wood/Getty Images

The irony of summer 2023 was that anyone looking at wing pairing and best pals Gnonto and Crysencio Summerville would have predicted a transfer request from the latter and not the former. Summerville was the one whose professionalism Jesse Marsch kept highlighting as an area in need of improvement, the one who had asked Marcelo Bielsa for permission to leave and one the club considered a real flight risk going into the summer window. Gnonto was the one Marsch insisted was having a positive impact on Summerville, the one painted as a role model who watched the manager's press conferences. And yet, it was Summerville and his representatives who decided a season tearing up the Championship with Leeds was exactly what he needed, while Gnonto's camp submitted a transfer request that led to the youngster training away from Daniel Farke's first team squad.

And it has to be said, Summerville has been the one reaping the rewards of a decision to focus solely on what he could do in a Leeds shirt. Twenty-six starts from 29 Championship games, 15 goals and eight assists in all competitions is already a record to be proud of and though Summerville keeps his end product targets to himself he can't be far off whatever it was he hoped to hit this season. Gnonto's 2023/24 Leeds United story is very different. There was that horrible period of inactivity, when the transfer request went in despite being doomed to failure by the club's determination to keep him. Then, after an apology and a return to the squad, came a period of frustration as Gnonto lagged behind Daniel James in the right wing pecking order. James was scoring and making goals for fun, while Gnonto was struggling to do much at all with his substitute cameos or very rare starts.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But Farke always saw a way back for Gnonto and kept turning to him off the bench, until an injury to James threw wide the doors of opportunity once again for the 20-year-old. The manager is fond of saying that he can only lead players to do the door, it is down to them to walk through it, and Gnonto did just that with a match-winning strike at Bristol City and the opener in the FA Cup replay at Plymouth Argyle. It was the goal at Ashton Gate that visibly shook the frustration from Gnonto's game, because since then he has come alive and looked a far closer resemblence to the player Leeds were so keen to keep hold of.

Farke has watched Gnonto mature through the adversity this season. "We spoke about this topic a lot in the in the beginning of season, and although it was a difficult moment, also for the club if I’m honest, it's also never easy when you have so many expectations and so much noise for a player. We must not forget he was at this moment also 19 years old so more or less a teenager. He's in a situation where the spotlight is on him and then he has to handle many, many expectations. And I think about my situation when I was 19, there was not so much with social media and everywhere mobiles with pictures and whatever, Facebook and Instagram. My life was much easier at this age, I could do my own mistakes and no one realised. If you have to be perfect in this age, when you're still more or less searching for your own way, it's so, so difficult when you are in this spotlight. But they are leading a privileged life and they have to grow up pretty quickly nowadays, and this is also I think what Willy has done in the recent months. He has developed his personality and sometimes when you go through tough times it also helps you to value the good times and helps you to grow up even a bit quicker."

Gnonto has not cut the happiest of figures at times this season, but at Bristol his goal celebration was joy unconfined. And when pushed forward to accept the full-time acclaim of a packed away end, Gnonto let loose again and allowed himself to savour the moment. "He's still a young player and still will have to make his experiences but I think he feels much more settled, much more confident," said Farke. "He enjoys much more to be exactly in this role and obviously right now in the last games he was involved a lot, he scored goals. Everyone is singing his name again, that helps him a lot and I'm delighted for Willy."

The next twist in Gnonto's story is an expected one and it comes in the form of James' return to fitness. This brings a new challenge for the younger man. Having spent the season chasing the free-scoring and reliable Welsh international, Gnonto is now the one being pursued and that is a wholly different pressure. He now has something - a starting place - to lose. Farke made no secret of his delight that James is once again available for selection and even if his habit this season has been to reintroduce players gradually after periods on the sidelines, there is no doubt that he will use James again in the very near future. An appearance at Swansea City, for the ex Swan, would be no surprise whatsoever. So having finally made progress, the challenge for Gnonto now is to make sure he doesn't go backwards. He has to keep going. If anything, to keep his spot, he has to pick up the pace even more because James has been flying. The benefits for the Whites, if he does, are obvious. Two right wingers in form and in the goals would go a long way towards steering Leeds further in the right direction.