Tyler Roberts reveals extra work at Leeds United, talks Marcelo Bielsa's constant analysis and eyes Europe
Tyler Roberts wants more for Leeds United and more from himself.
Three and a half years after walking into Elland Road to sign from West Brom as an excited, expectant teenager, Roberts is still excited and still expectant.
At just 22 he’s still young enough to wear the tag of potential, having shown glimpses of the player he could turn out to be since his January 2018 arrival, albeit in fits and starts owing to injuries prior to last season and form, in the first half of it.
Evidently, over the course of the last three seasons he has shown enough for Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds to consider him part of their future plans and put their money where their mouths are with a fresh three-year contract.
Just 17 days after finishing the 2020/21 Premier League campaign with a ninth-place finish and four days before starting the European Championships as part of the Wales squad, Roberts is in a good place.
When he looks back he sees 82 appearances for Leeds, a Championship title, a run of games at the highest domestic level and a first Premier League goal, scored in the penultimate game of the season at Southampton. All told, he’s a young man with plenty of unforgettable experiences under his belt.
“I was still quite young, I think I was 19 when I signed,” he said.
“Coming in I was full of expectancy and hope that I could become a good player at Leeds. We were in the Championship and I knew the plan was to get promoted, which we’ve done, so it’s been an amazing journey.
“[That run in the team last season] was massive. It was a tough start to the season for me; I didn’t find my feet too early but it’s great that the manager trusted me and kept the faith in me and gave me that run of games to find my fitness.
“[The first Premier League goal] was just a sigh of relief. I was getting a good run in the team and hadn’t hit the net yet. To get on the scoresheet was a great feeling, you saw in the celebration the emotion came out, Luke Ayling, Stuart Dallas and all the boys came over and were buzzing. It was a great feeling.
“I think I’ve come on massively. From a boy to a man, it’s been that kind of transition.
“It’s been great to do that at such a big club and a great manager has helped me improve my game and my life.”
When he looks forward, the possibilities are endless. He enjoys the trust and backing of a head coach famed for developing players, at a club with its sights set on European football.
He freely admits that he is yet to hit the heights he and his head coach believe are possible.
Midway through the season Bielsa said he wanted Roberts to be more decisive in the final third and make the kind of impact that would warrant a starting role in the team. So the attacker, determined to consign his injury issues to the past and be fit enough to play the required part, knuckled down.
“I haven’t reached my full potential yet and shown everything about, getting more goals and assists,” he said.
“I’m happy to sign but there’s a lot more to come. It’s definitely time to really push on now. The first couple of seasons were tough with injuries, stop start, but I’ve been fit all season and been called up to the national team which I’m very proud of.
“I think I was quite unfortunate with the injuries I had; it was a problem I had reoccuring. It was unfortunate to go through that but this season I’ve kept fit all season, which is credit to the physio team and sports scientists at Leeds. I’ve been doing a lot of extra work to make sure I can stay on the pitch and try and get that momentum.”
There was extra work too on consistent end product, the most obvious missing piece of the puzzle for a player who has hinted at how dangerous he can be.
“I think it’s just having the confidence and the composure to pick that last pass, get that shot off, get that yard of space to get the shot off,” he said.
“It’s something you work on every day in training. I’ve been doing a lot of extras recently to make sure that when I get into those positions I am more decisive and more clinical. That work will continue. I’m confident it will be shown on match days.”
When the fitness issues that besieged record-signing Rodrigo presented an opportunity for Roberts, it was in the attacking midfield role behind Patrick Bamford, whose goalscoring exploits ensured he would not be moved from the centre-forward position all season.
Roberts clearly benefited from the consistent game time and the constant feedback from Bielsa and his staff, that comes regardless of form, and believes he has gained an understanding of a role in which goal threat and chance creation are not the only expectations.
“I’m not sure it’s about difficulty, it’s understanding your position,” he said.
“No 10 I like to call a 10/8 position because, in a Marcelo Bielsa team, you have to do a lot of out of possession work, getting back in. I’ve definitely learned that this season, I’ve adapted to it and I feel pretty comfortable playing in that position.
“You’re never not learning, whether you’re scoring the goals like Patrick Bamford was this season, or not scoring like I was, you’re always getting told little things that can help you improve and push on.”
Even now that he’s swapped the Thorp Arch bubble for one in Azerbaijan, Roberts knows Bielsa will be watching and studying in order to help make him a better player.
“He’s someone that’s very proud. He knows it’s a big deal for you to get called up to your national team; he’s very big on that to be fair,” said Roberts.
“There’s a lot of boys going away, quite a lot at the Euros which is a big plus for the club. It’s a great achievement.
“He still does the analysing on the clips from your national team though, so there’s no hiding when you’re away.”
By the time he returns from the Euros he’s likely to encounter new faces in the Leeds dressing room as Victor Orta strengthen’s Bielsa’s hand ahead of a second season in the Premier League.
Roberts has the wide-eyed look of the youngster who first walked into Elland Road as he looks ahead to what could be.
“We’ll go into the season expecting and excited,” he said.
“We should be pushing on now, we should be looking at European places and getting into those sorts of areas.
“It’s another exciting season to look forward to and I’m confident the team and the club will be able to do it.”