In Malmo they remember the evening when Pontus Jansson took the shirt off the back of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It was only a friendly, a pre-season kick-around between Malmo and AC Milan, but Janson took Ibrahimovic on and the striker completed an hour before leaving the pitch with a sprained ankle.
Ibrahimovic was born and bred as a footballer in Malmo, long before he came to rule various cities across Europe, and he had the good grace to give a 20-year-old Jansson his match shirt – though not before Malmo insisted on penalties to settle a meaningless 2-2 draw.
Ibrahimovic was asked if the friendly, and the centre-back, had been excessively robust. He simply said that Jansson had no reason to “show too much respect” for him.
Jansson, at first glance, has come to Leeds United in that spirit, ready to go and uninterested in the usual practice of acclimatising gradually, settling in and discovering form as it comes.
He was less than match-fit when he signed from Torino but by the time he came back from international duty a fortnight ago, he was knocking on Garry Monk’s door. “Now I’ll play, no question about it,” Jansson told the Swedish media. And Monk duly played him.
Leeds knew last month and they know now that they have a defender on their hands. That much was shown by the deal which was put in place when Torino let him go. Jansson’s transfer is not the typical taste-and-try-before-you-buy loan. Leeds have already finalised paperwork which will convert his move into a permanent transfer if and when he passes 20 senior appearances, at the cost of a seven-figure fee and a revised contract. Barring injury, Jansson should amass enough games to allow United to push through that agreement in January.
Binding or not, these clauses are always dependent on all three sides playing ball but Leeds like Jansson, the club appealed to him and a change of coach at Torino in the summer – bringing Sinisa Mijajlovic to the table – appears to have done for a full international who was part of the picture in Turin last season. Jansson is surplus in Italy, though not to the extent that Torino saw him as a free transfer, and Leeds were happy to take the chance that his 20 appearances would merit the permanent contract they were promising him. At face value, an arrangement like that minus any reference to performance seemed strangely arbitrary. But then we saw Jansson play.
He has on his side imposing physical statistics – 6’5” and, to go by his record, more than 14 stone in weight – but on the evidence of his performances, his physique is only the half of it. Jansson’s anticipation is evident with the naked eye but also backed up by analysis of recent matches: seven clearances against Huddersfield, 12 against Blackburn and 17 against Cardiff. To give the third of those totals some context, Cardiff as a team made 12. Only one other defender in those three fixtures reached double figures. Jansson’s interceptions are more numerous than the players around him and he is out-tackling the rest of Monk’s backline. It is as good as it looks.
Leeds know better than any club that footballers (and especially loanees) who blossom initially can tail-off badly as the games go on but Jansson’s stats are more than flash-in-the-pan hits. They are those of a consistently dominant centre-back. It could be argued that Leeds are inviting trouble by asking him to shovel so much coal, and Monk admitted as much after Saturday’s win over Cardiff, but Jansson has so far helped to address what Rob Green called “a failure to give ourselves a fighting chance.” Otherwise known as the concession of feeble goals. There have been occasional errors too, and Kyle Bartley dug him out of one at Cardiff. A quicker, more hungry striker than Rickie Lambert would made something of Jansson’s mis-kick.
Jansson looks happy and it is nice to see a player enjoying himself at Leeds. Jansson’s out-there persona is what the club need. Jansson is talking a language which people understand. His personality and his style of football are easy to relate to, and relating to the public is where others before him with similar, in-built confidence went wrong.
“Heavy and strong,” was what Ibrahimovic called Jansson as he limped around on an injured ankle all those years ago.
So it seems.