RONALDO VIEIRA’S first-ever assist took 57 games to arrive – but it was worth the wait when it came.
Only a pass as sumptuous as his could have eclipsed the free-kick scored by Pablo Hernandez at Burton Albion on Boxing Day.
The deftness of Hernandez’s feet are no secret in the Championship but Vieira’s vision for the second goal in Leeds United’s 2-1 win at Burton was out of the ordinary for a 19-year-old who is more accustomed to the role of the midfield water-carrier.
Vieira had eight Burton players in front of him in the 64th minute but took every one bar Stephen Bywater out by shaking off Sean Scannell, glancing up momentarily and slicing a pass between Nigel Clough’s centre-backs. Kemar Roofe read his 40-yard ball and neatly tucked the it away.
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A touch of skill like that accentuates Vieira’s potential but his value to Leeds and to Thomas Christiansen is found in basics of his game. At his best, his penchant for breaking up play and allowing for quick transitions - an unfashionable job over the years - feeds the style and rhythm which Christiansen wants.
At the point of his substitution at Burton, with 13 minutes left to play, Vieira had a pass completion rate of 91 per cent and his control of possession was one reason why Leeds were able to pin Burton back from the outset, albeit before Burton scored against the run of play. Alongside him Eunan O’Kane had more touches than anyone else on the pitch.
Christiansen was made aware of Vieira’s reputation when he United named him as head coach in June but it has taken time for the Dane to feel the benefit.
While Kavin Phillips, an academy product with two years on Vieira and a similar amount of first-team experience, found a niche in Christiansen’s line-up immediately, Vieira was a passenger for the first two months of the season; occasionally a substitute and sometimes failing to make matchday squads at all.
United’s initial form - seven league games unbeaten - dictated their selection policy but the club and Christiansen were also guarding against burnout in a teenager who turned professional in 2016 and immediately bypassed the development squad. Over the summer, he had no break to speak of.
England’s Under-20s took him to the Toulon Tournament in France, winning the competition in the process, but Vieira was back at Thorp Arch for the start of pre-season training a fortnight later, reluctant to take up the offer of more time off.
Held back to begin with, he was one of the few beneficiaries of Leeds’ autumn slump. Christiansen gave him his first league start at Bristol City on October 21 and United won at a canter. Vieira has held his place ever since, with the exception of a suspension served in Leeds’ victory at Barnsley following a red card against Wolverhampton Wanderers five days earlier. The door was left open again by O’Kane suffering a hip injury at Oakwell.
Vieira’s game will evolve as his experience of the Football League mounts but Christiansen will know not to expect the creative skill seen at Burton every week. Vieira’s key passes this season total eight - fewer than Pawel Cibicki who has featured only four times in the league - and in the whole of his short career with Leeds he has scored only twice. His solitary Championship goal, buried from 30 yards at Norwich last year, was as memorable as his first assist at Burton, suggesting that when Vieira picks his moments he won’t do these things by half.