Stuart Dallas and the story of perseverance as Leeds United's ultimate utility man earns Premier League place

Stuart Dallas was voted the Players' Players of the Year by his team-mates for this season.

By Joe Urquhart
Sunday, 26th July 2020, 11:50 am
Stuart Dallas celebrates with his team-mates after lifting the Championship trophy at Elland Road. (PA)
Stuart Dallas celebrates with his team-mates after lifting the Championship trophy at Elland Road. (PA)

Everywhere you glance in Leeds United’s title-winning squad there is a romantic story to tell.

Liam Cooper’s emergence as club captain leading his boyhood side to the Premier League ... Mateusz Klich’s refusal to give up on his Elland Road dream by forcing his way off the departure list two pre-seasons ago ... or Kalvin Phillips’ deep-rooted trust in Marcelo Bielsa’s process meaning that he will now play top-flight football with the Whites instead of last summer’s suitors Aston Villa.

Stuart Dallas, though, has a story of his own - one of perseverance.

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At 21, the Northern Irishman was learning his trade as a joiner while playing part-time football in his home country until Brentford came knocking at his door.

It’s now been five years since the Whites thought similar, as they brought him to West Yorkshire from West London on an initial three-year deal.

It is testament to Dallas and his abilities that he is just one of a handful still to be on the books at Elland Road from the squad that he joined on the day of his arrival.

“It makes me appreciate things much more, that I’ve come from that side, it makes me want to drive on and be successful as a footballer,” Dallas revealed last year of his late start in the professional game.

Now 29, he is closing in on 200 appearances for Leeds, sitting just 10 away with only Cooper boasting more in the current side.

Dallas won the Players’ Player of the Year award in his debut season, and has been handed the same gong this term by his team-mates - both seriously impressive feats in their own right.

He has seen a lot in his time in LS11, some good and some bad, but Bielsa’s arrival two years ago was the start of a journey towards a Premier League dream for the ultimate utility man.

“When you look back on where we were three years ago, even two-and-a-half years ago, he’s completely transformed the club,” Dallas said of Bielsa’s impact.

“There hasn’t been a lot of players introduced, we still have the core of the team that was here when he came in, and he’s just transformed everybody, he’s made everybody a better player and a better person off the pitch as well

“He showed belief in me that I didn’t even have in myself, and other managers certainly didn’t have in me either.

“He’s made so many changes and I’ll never have words to repay him for the way he has improved me over the last couple of years.

“For that, I’ll always be thankful.”

Dallas featured in all but one of United’s league games across season, as Leeds finally ended a 16-year wait for top flight football by clinching the Championship crown.

To be voted the best player in a title-winning squad is a serious tip of the hat, but it is richly deserved.

For the winger turned right-back, left-back, central midfielder and everywhere in between it has been a culmination of a career built on hard work and graft along with stunning consistency, no matter the position.

“It’s incredible,” he continued.

“We’ve worked so hard to get to this point, especially over the last two years. It’s been a very demanding two years for us and we’re delighted to be back.

“To be able to call ourselves champions as well, it’s very, very special and something we’re very proud of.

“It’s so emotional and I don’t think words can describe it. I don’t think it has sunk in properly and it probably won’t sink in for a while.

“This isn’t just for us, it’s for the fans who have waited a long time for this.

“None of this would have been possible without the help of everyone at the club, from the chefs, security staff, physios, everyone.

“It has been a real team effort.”

Dallas is used to the big time at international level, having helped Northern Ireland make history by qualifying for Euro 2016, before reaching the round of 16 stage in that very tournament.

The Premier League and all that it brings, though, will be a completely different animal - but it is one that he has worked for throughout his whole career, and now he has a seat at the table with Leeds.

“It has been a long time since the club was in the big time and it’s just extremely exciting to be part of it again,” Dallas concluded.

“Playing in the Premier League and coming up against some of the best players in the world is where you want to be.

“You always want to play at the highest level possible and to get to do that with this club is going to be really special.”