PONTUS JANSSON, the Leeds United defender, is feeling guilty.
Having been part of the team that sold a Premier League dream to a city desperate to return to the top table of English football, he recognises the play-offs were not part of the deal.
Automatic promotion, something that was in United’s hands until an Easter hunt for points came up horribly short, was the objective for Marcelo Bielsa’s side during a season spent mainly residing in the top two.
Now, though, those targets have had to be redrawn and Jansson is eyeing a big day out at Wembley to go with the top-flight return that would mean so much to supporters.
“I feel a little bit guilty because so many people believe in us,” said the 28-year-old defender to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s semi-final first leg at Derby County.
“But we can say, since day one, this year we have given everything we could. Every training session, every meeting with Marcelo and every game we give 100 per cent.
“Sometimes, as a supporter, you can look at the pitch and think, ‘They do not give 100 per cent’. But that is just how it looks as a supporter.
“I have also been supporting my whole life so I get the feeling. But, as a player, we have been giving 100 per cent since day one. I am proud of all of this team, proud of Marcelo and his staff because we always give 100 per cent.
“If we can do it, that will be unbelievable, for sure. Now, we just have to do it game by game. It would be nice to have some memories for the rest of our lives.
“It would be good for our families to be close to us and see this, and probably go to Wembley. Let our families come here and see it. That would be unbelievable. Hopefully, we can do it.”
If we can do it, that will be unbelievable, for sure. Now, we just have to do it game by game.Pontus Jansson
Derby, of course, will have something to say about Jansson and co being the ones competing in the Championship play-offs final come May 27.
Frank Lampard’s Rams are bang in form, something that Leeds cannot say after ending the regular season with three defeats and a draw.
‘Spygate’ – arguably the story of the season in the Football League – will also be a motivating factor for the Rams, whose manager took umbrage at Bielsa sending a member of his staff to watch Derby train.
The saga eventually saw Leeds fined £200,000, a penalty the Argentinian is understood to have paid himself. But only after all manner of conjecture had been aired.
Police making clear Bielsa’s member of staff got no further than the public road that runs past Derby’s training ground did little to deter some from painting a lurid picture of bolt-cutters and binoculars in the bushes.
Bielsa, for his part, could not see what all the fuss was about. He still can’t. But there is an undoubted edge to an already keen rivalry dating back to the days of Don Revie and Brian Clough that will surely guarantee Sky bumper viewing figures this tea-time as the neutrals tune in hoping for a few more scores to be settled.
Jansson admitted during the build-up that there will be little love lost between the two teams at Pride Park. For his part, though, all that matters is the result and taking a step towards fulfilling a Premier League dream.
“I have been through a lot of situations in my football career,” said the Swedish international. “I played in the team of my heart, Malmo, when we won the league. That was big for me.
“I play (in the) Euros, I have played World Cups. So, I have been in those situations before. To be in this situation is special of course.
“Like I say, I feel a little bit guilty to have given all those Leeds supporters a chance to go to the Premier League because this year has been, from day one, when we have to go to the Premier League.
“That is how we talk and how the fans talk and we were so close. I feel a bit guilty. If we don’t do it, I will be sad for a couple of months.
“So, in my head we just have to do it. That is the only thing in my head.”
Fifteen long years have passed since United last played in the Premier League. Fourteen managers before Bielsa have tried and failed to take the club back, along with umpteen players.
“Every one of us would be legends,” added Jansson about the prospect of being part of the team that brings top-flight football back to Elland Road.
“Especially Marcelo, who is already ‘God’ with the fans. How he has changed us and how he has changed the club. He is the main man.
“Maybe when I came here I saw myself as the main man. But not any more.
“I am just one of the players and I am happy to be here.
“I am blessed that I can be here and play football for Leeds United. I am happy every day.”
If Leeds are to end the season on a high, banishing the gloom that has descended on the club since Easter’s decisive back-to-back defeats will be pivotal.
“You have to decide,” added Jansson. “Either you be sad that we lost automatic promotion or the other side is that you look forward.
“We are buzzing for the play-offs.
“If you had said before the season that we have the play-offs then I would say, ‘Yes, it would be nice’.
“We decided at the beginning of this week to look forward to it and accept it.
“Don’t feel sad that you lost automatic promotion. Use it as motivation.
“Wembley and to go through the play-offs is amazing.
“It is a harder way but if you can go that way then it is unbelievable. You have to look at it that way.”