'Whoever comes in has to be ready to do that' - Leeds United midfielder on set standard for Whites squad
The standard has been set for any player coming into the Leeds United side for the final 12 games, says Jamie Shackleton.
A groin problem has taken Shackleton out of contention just when he had recorded back-to-back starts for the first time since October 2019.
Marcelo Bielsa played the 21-year-old as a right-back at Arsenal and then in the centre of midfield against Wolves, Kalvin Phillips’ calf injury leading to opportunities for his fellow Thorp Arch academy graduate.
But the 12 appearances he has earned in the top flight this season have allowed Shackleton to live his boyhood dream.
“Obviously, it is fantastic to play for Leeds in the Premier League,” he said.
“To win the Championship and be part of the team that did that, it really was a dream come true for me. I think that’s what I dreamed of as a kid, to play Premier League football.
“At that time the club weren’t there, so to be able to have both together is perfect for the club and for me personally as well.
“It’s every lad’s dream to play in the top division in the world, so to be getting minutes and time on the pitch in the Premier League is magical.”
It’s hard work, too. Bielsa’s man-to-man marking system, the relentless pressing and the speed of Leeds’ attacks when they win the ball back ask a lot of a player, even before you consider the quality of the opposition and the difficulties posed by world-class players.
Leeds have needed to produce what Bielsa calls a ‘massive physical effort’ in order to give themselves a chance of coming out on top and with a dozen games remaining can look at their league record with plenty of pride.
Eleven wins and two draws from their 26 games has put them in a comfortable midtable position of 11th, 12 points clear of the relegation zone.
Shackleton readily admits it’s a scenario Leeds would have snapped up had it been offered back in September, but it is only on the merit of giving everything in games that they have surpassed expectations in the Premier League.
So the same effort level will be required to keep them comfortable or to facilitate an even loftier finish to their first season back among the English elite.
For players coming back from injury like the recently returned Diego Llorente or Robin Koch, who was due back in training this week as he completes his post-surgery rehabilitation, the task is to match the standards that have been set.
“We would have taken it at the start of the season,” said Shackleton, expected to return in the next fortnight.
“But we have to keep doing what we’re doing and just continue to take each game as it comes. We will continue to give our all in each game, because that is what has got us into this position now.
“Whoever comes into the side has to be ready to do that until the end of the season and then who knows what points tally we might get, or where we’ll end in the table.”