Tony Dorigo cites Patrick Bamford example in Leeds United hope for Junior Firpo
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Two and a half decades after excelling in the position for the Whites, Dorigo readily admits he had doubts about Gjanni Alioski’s suitability for the role.
Dorigo, though, says that Alioski ultimately proved him wrong in his transformation under head coach Marcelo Bielsa from winger to left-back.
Bielsa and Leeds wanted Alioski to stay but talks over a new contract hit a standstill and, in any case, signing a new ‘natural’ left-back was always going to be a priority this summer.
It means a new man will now occupy the berth Dorigo once excelled in, a man by the name of Junior Firpo. This time, Dorigo sees the new incumbent as a much more natural fit.
Yet Alioski’s best traits are not forgotten and Dorigo hopes Leeds United’s new recruit can bring a combination of the old and the new to provide the perfect fit on the left-hand side of defence.
Excelling in that role, Dorigo amassed 209 outings for Leeds, the Melbourne-born footballer-turned-England-international having signed from Chelsea in 1991.
Thirty years later, Leeds have looked rather farther afield for their next left-back - to Barcelona.
Two days after United announced that an out-of-contract Alioski would be leaving, Dominican Republic-born Firpo was unveiled as the club’s new left-back at a cost of 15 million euro, joining the club on a four-year deal.
Dorigo was aware of the former Spain Under-21s defender from his time with Real Betis and has been highly impressed with what he has seen.
Leeds, he admits, were in need of an upgrade at left-back - and have found one.
Yet Dorigo is also keen to applaud Alioski’s efforts in the role and the best traits of the outgoing North Macedonian international that Dorigo hopes Firpo will also bring to his game.
“I have to say that I think Gjanni did fantastically well,” Dorigo told The YEP.
“He kept proving the doubters wrong and me included, lots of people.
“I never thought he could reach those sorts of heights but he did tremendously well and scored some really important goals.
“But I think more important was just his spirit, his absolute never-say-die spirit and what I know is Leeds fans absolutely love that.
“You look at Berardi and you look at Alioski and that spirit is really important so that’s what we are going to miss and that’s what, hopefully, Junior Firpo understands and brings to the table as well.
“It is obviously all about ability but it is very much about the heart that you have got as well and Gjanni had that in spades.”
Reflecting on the purchase of Firpo as Alioski moves on, Dorigo reasoned: “When you are looking at upgrading the team and upgrading the squad you are looking at left-back and there had been plenty of rumours of who they had been looking for.
“But this one is really interesting. I didn’t know huge amounts about him but, when I started looking and watching and seeing where he has come from and his age and everything else, he kind of fits it perfectly.
“Because he has been at Barcelona as well for the last couple of years, he hasn’t been the No 1 choice and that’s why this is interesting for him in that he is coming here knowing that he is the No 1 choice.
“That’s a bit like Patrick Bamford. Patrick came to Leeds to be Leeds’ No 9, the manager has backed him and I think this is the same with Junior Firpo now.
“He is going to be the left-back so I think he will relish that, given the opportunity, because, clearly, he couldn’t get rid of Jordi Alba at Barcelona and then, of course, lots of things must go through your mind.
“Fortunately, I haven’t been through that same situation but, when you come to a big club, you want to nail down that position and be ‘the man’ and, when you are not, it must knock your confidence a little bit. But there’s no doubt he has got all the attributes.”
United’s capture of Firpo was announced on Monday and the 24-year-old was then straight into one of Bielsa’s triple training sessions.
There are just five weeks until Leeds kick off the Premier League season and Dorigo is excited by the prospect of seeing Firpo in a Whites shirt. Dorigo says the new recruit has all the required attributes to mirror the work of Luke Ayling on the opposite side of the pitch.
“He goes forward fantastically well,” said Dorigo.
“He has got great balance and ability getting forward and such a turn of pace as well. I think that’s the big difference.
“You look at what we need at left-back and now you need a left-back, left-midfield and left-winger all in one.
“That’s the way that we play and you look at Ayling and how he links up so well on that side with Raphinha and you need a player like that and I think he can do that.
"He seems so comfortable on the ball and getting forward.
"Defensively, when they do the highlights, they don’t show too much of the defensive stuff!
"But if Marcelo can turn Gjanni into a left-back he can work with players and get them to improve where you think they can’t improve so I’m sure that will get sorted out as well on the way.”
Firpo arrives at Leeds having made 41 appearances in his two years at Barcelona including 10 in the Champions League. Barcelona signed Firpo for €18 million plus €12 million in add-ons from Betis in August 2019.
Experienced Spanish international Alba was not for budging as first-choice left-back but Firpo still made 24 appearances in La Liga for the Spanish giants and weighed in with two goals and three assists.
Dorigo is aware there might be a question mark about the actual defending - but is in no doubt that Firpo’s acquisition leaves Leeds in a much better place.
“It depends what Barcelona worked on and how he was asked to play before,” said Dorigo about the defensive side of Firpo’s game.
“There’s no doubt there is always going to be things to be worked on but what is important, and this is no slight on Gjanni whatsoever, but, sometimes when you come up against big teams, they have got a really pacy, explosive guy playing on the right.
“We need someone to match that up and I just think Gjanni, at times, kind of struggled with that.
"He did some other things fantastically well but, when you have got Ayling on one side who is bombing up and down and threatening the other way but also defending really well, that’s what we need on the other side too.
"He looks to have the physique and certainly the pace and the ability to do that.”
Providing his own version of a Victor Orta scouting report, Dorigo recalled: “I saw bits of him when he was at Betis and, wow, the boy can play.
“He has got great athleticism and great ability on the ball.
"What will take him time is obviously just the different style and tactics that Marcelo employs so that will take time.
"But he has got all the attributes to learn and do rather well.”
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Thank you Laura Collins