Blackburn Rovers v Leeds United: Spence can improve Whites but they will not become 'Djed United'

DJED SPENCE was arguably Leeds United's biggest signing of the summer. That he has sat and watched the last two matches from the bench is a good sign in the eyes of his manager, Daniel Farke.

Spence was an unused substitute against Swansea City and Middlesbrough but his time is coming – maybe at Blackburn Rovers in Saturday's early kick-off but almost certainly during a hectic December. When it does, Leeds want him back for good, not just for Christmas.

Eighteen months ago, the right-back joined Tottenham Hotspur in a deal worth up to £20m, a sign of how good he was in Nottingham Forest's Championship promotion-winning season. He is only on loan at Elland Road but still the Whites have not had much bang for their buck, thanks to a knee injury on debut as an 81st-minute substitute against Sheffield Wednesday in September.

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Farke is rightly wary of pushing the 23-year-old back too soon but there is another element to it as well.

Leeds have moved on considerably since Spence last played. They were 15th in the Championship after the 0-0 draw with the Owls but are now third, unbeaten in six games – five won – and bona fide contenders for automatic promotion.

Part of the team's midfield base in the early weeks of the season, Archie Gray has been the right-back for the last eight matches, and a very good one at that. Where Spence is essentially a wing-back, Gray tends to be an “inverted full-back” – one who often steps in as an extra central midfielder when his side has the ball.

Perhaps if Spence's body had been robust enough for his debut to start a long run of games, Leeds might have adapted around his rampaging style but coming back at this juncture his manager says it is the defender will have to evolve more than his team-mates.

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Every press conference Farke comes out with a nugget of a phrase, and this week’s was “there is no need to make Leeds United Djed United.”

DEBUT: Djed Spence starts life as a Leeds United player at home to Sheffield Wednesday but he has not played sinceDEBUT: Djed Spence starts life as a Leeds United player at home to Sheffield Wednesday but he has not played since
DEBUT: Djed Spence starts life as a Leeds United player at home to Sheffield Wednesday but he has not played since

Of course there will be give and take, but it highlights what a good situation Farke and his team have created. And the German senses it will push all the right buttons with the former Middlesbrough player.

“It's important to use the strengths of the player and play them in their natural position so they can shine in the best possible way,” he argues. “But I was quite pleased I was not forced to rush a player like Djed into the side because he was out for such a long period – first in the beginning of the season with Tottenham, then more or less eight weeks in his rehab here after injury with us.

“It's healthy for him and it's healthy for the group because all the other lads see there's a player with lots of potential but it's not enough to just not be injured any more, you have to earn your right to play.

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“I was quite pleased I had so many other good options with Luke Ayling, Jamie Shackleton and Archie Gray that we were not forced to rush him too early into the team.

RIGHT CHOICE: Archie Gray has become Leeds United's regular right-backRIGHT CHOICE: Archie Gray has become Leeds United's regular right-back
RIGHT CHOICE: Archie Gray has become Leeds United's regular right-back

“I think also it sends the correct sign to Djed that he can't take it as granted – no, no, he has to work hard and earn his place. I think he also likes it that it is competitive and not easy for him.”

Managers love a bit of squad competition but you need the right characters to make it work. One thing very noticeable about this press conference was that such a no-nonsense manager seems to be spending far more time watching his side's goal celebrations than you might expect.

“In the last game against Middlesbrough, one of his former teams, I was 100 per cent sure he would have preferred to start the game but once Cree (Summerville) scored the (first) goal he was, together with Willy Gnonto, the first to celebrate with Cree on the pitch although he was named on the bench (with Gnonto).

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“It says a lot about how much he has identified with the club and how much it has clicked already with the group. I'm sure he can show his qualities in the future on the pitch.

OPTIONS: Leeds United manager Daniel FarkeOPTIONS: Leeds United manager Daniel Farke
OPTIONS: Leeds United manager Daniel Farke

“The team is settled in a special way and its not like we change our whole set-up and play him in his best position but move four or five players into positions where they can't shine any more.

“Even without him we've probably been the best team of the last months so there is no need to make Leeds United Djed United. He has also to adapt a bit more to our style and what we have, instead of Leeds United having to adapt to Djed Spence.”

Not that Farke dreams of 11 robots marching on together. He is careful to add: “He's always invited to shine in training to earn the right to be involved in games and when I unleash him he has to show some quality.”

Maybe not Djed United, but hopefully an upgrade on Djedless United.

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