Richard Sutcliffe talks to Leeds United’s unassuming attacking midfield man Robert Snodgrass, whose return to top form is driving them towards another promotion challenge.
As if to reflect Robert Snodgrass’s growing reputation as one of the most promising talents outside the Premier League, a reporter from a leading children’s football magazine visited Leeds United’s training ground earlier this week to interview the Scot.
The 23-year-old was asked all manner of questions for a feature that will appear in a forthcoming issue and clearly enjoyed the experience of wracking his brains on a number of off-the-wall topics.
One of these was the enquiry, ‘What super-power would you like to possess?’ Straight away, the United midfielder replies: ‘Invisibility’ before adding: ‘It’s a question I have been asked before and that is still my answer’.
Unfortunately for Snodgrass, this wish seems likely to be one that will not be granted after an amazing few weeks that have made him impossible to ignore.
Spectacular goals, rave reviews, man-of-the-match awards and a first international appearance for Scotland are just some of the reasons why the Glaswegian midfielder has become the man of the moment, a point underlined yesterday by the fulsome praise afforded him by BBC pundit Steve Claridge.
It means all eyes will be on the United man today as he looks to continue that scintillating run of form when Norwich City visit Elland Road on an afternoon when four of the Championship’s top six meet courtesy of Cardiff City’s trip to Nottingham Forest.
To some, being thrust into the spotlight so suddenly might be a problem. For Snodgrass, however, it is something he has learned to take in his stride.
“I am not the type of lad who lets things like that affect me,” says the 23-year-old when speaking to the Yorkshire Post about the praise that has been lavished on him in recent weeks. “When I was younger, there were loads of bad things written about me and I learned then the key for a footballer is not to let things like that affect you.
“Anyone can write or say what they want. What matters is what you think and believe yourself. That is why I don’t take any notice of what is written, such as when someone says, ‘You’re the best’ or something like that.
“In football, you are only ever one game away from having your worst performance of the season and I never lose sight of that.”
Such a level-headed attitude has clearly served Snodgrass well since swapping his native Scotland for Yorkshire in the summer of 2008.
Brought south by Gary McAllister, the signing from Livingston was best known for having turned down the chance of a trial with Barcelona as a teenager. He had also spent time at part-time Stirling Albion after a fall-out with the coaching staff at Almondvale a couple of seasons earlier.
The truth, as ever, did not quite match the tale with Snodgrass insisting no such offer had ever been made by the Catalan club and that the matter was more a misunderstanding between the two clubs. Likewise, his spell in the Scottish Second Division with Stirling followed a serious foot injury that had kept him out of the Livingston side for several months.
Once at Elland Road, it soon became apparent to his new club’s fans what a special talent Snodgrass possessed – a fact the rest of the country, and new Scotland manager Craig Levein, seem to have finally woken up to.
“I am really enjoying my football,” admits the Scot whose wonder goal at Bristol City last week took his tally to five in United’s last 11 games. “This is the best level I have played at – it is better than the SPL (Scottish Premier League) – and things are going well.”
Snodgrass’s stunning form over the past three months is all the more remarkable considering the serious knee injury he suffered during pre-season courtesy of an awful challenge in a friendly against SK Brann of Norway.
Initially, it was feared the Scot might be out for up to six months only for his return to come in a little over a third of that time. More bad luck was to follow, however, on his second appearance of the season from the bench when he was sent off in the closing stages of the 1-0 derby win over Sheffield United at Elland Road, incurring a one-game ban in the process.
He recalls: “I couldn’t have wished for a worse start. It had gone well in pre-season and I felt very strong but then I got injured and missed the next couple of months.
“Then, once I got back it took me a while to get my sharpness back. It wasn’t until we went to Coventry (on November 6) that I started to feel physically strong.”
It is, seasoned watchers of United this season will surely testify, no coincidence that the stirring run of just one defeat in 18 league outings began for Simon Grayson’s men at roughly the same time Snodgrass regained his sharpness.
During that run, the Scot has left a trail of destroyed Championship left-backs in his wake with his current form being perhaps best summed up by last week’s goal at Ashton Gate when he showed tremendous close control and poise to beat former England international David James.
Coming just three days after his international debut in Scotland’s 3-0 win over Northern Ireland, it proved once again what a special talent Grayson has in his team.
Today, it is Norwich’s turn to try to find a way to stop the Scot as the promotion race gathers pace.
“I love playing for Leeds,” says Snodgrass. “Ever since I came down here, Leeds has felt like a Premier League club. That may sound strange, especially as we were in League One at the time. But it did.
“Sometimes, the fans have let their voices be heard when we have not been performing. That is perfectly normal. I have loads of mates back home who work nine to five and pay their money for a season ticket at Celtic or Rangers.
“They show their disappointment when things are not going well. The one thing they do appreciate, though, is a player giving his all and that is exactly what the Leeds fans are like.
“We want to repay that support and get the club back where it belongs. The Championship is a very competitive division where anyone in the top six or seven can win it. QPR have not been through their bad spell yet and if they do then it is going to make it a really tasty final few weeks.”