BY any standards, it has been a meteoric rise.
Five years after playing amateur football with his mates and only three since combining a nine-to-five job as a joiner for a family friend’s firm with picking up £70 per week as a part-time footballer in the Northern Ireland Premiership, Stuart Dallas could make his Leeds United debut today in front of almost 30,000 fans.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the 24-year-old – who this week moved to Elland Road in a £1m move from Brentford – is also firmly on course to play for his country in next year’s European Championships. No wonder Dallas is loving life at the moment.
“It is great to be a Leeds player,” said the Northern Ireland winger ahead of today’s televised lunchtime clash at home to Burnley.
“There were a few clubs interested but when Leeds come calling you don’t turn them down. The big thing was to try and get the deal done so I was here ahead of the start of the season.”
Dallas arrived at Elland Road this week after three seasons at Griffin Park, the last of which had been by far his most fruitful.
Brought to Brentford by current Leeds head coach Uwe Rosler, the wideman – whose formative years had been spent at Northern Irish club Crusaders, after starting out with minnows Coagh United – understandably took a little time to adapt to the step-up to full-time football.
By the start of last season, however, Dallas had matured into a fine Championship player and he netted eight goals as the Bees reached the play-offs.
A change of approach – and manager, after Mark Warburton stepped down due to being uneasy with the ‘Moneyball’ concept under which the west London club will operate this season – left Dallas keen to move on and he is delighted to be reunited with Rosler.
“He (Rosler) was a factor in me coming here,” said the Northern Ireland international, who is comfortable on either wing.
“He knows what he is getting from me and I know what I am getting from him.
“I was playing part-time football in Belfast when he signed me. I was training twice a week, sometimes once. Sometimes I wasn’t training because I was working.
“I was learning my trade as a joiner.
“It makes me appreciate things now. I know what it is like to work in a proper job.
“Mark (Warburton) was (Brentford) sporting director there at the time and the two of them had a big influence on me.
“As for why I felt it was the right time to move on, there were things that went on at Brentford that I wasn’t happy with.
“Warbs had a big part to play in last season.
“I had good years with him there and he did well. Better than well, really.
“What has happened between him and the club isn’t really for me to talk about but I was very close to him and (assistant) Davie Weir.
“It was a shame the way it worked out for them. That is football. The club wanted to go in a different direction and Mark and Davie either didn’t agree with that or wouldn’t buy into that.
“The new manager (Marinus Dijkhuizen) was good, with what he was trying to impose. I didn’t have a problem with that. He was good with the players.
“But there were a number of things and the manager going was one of them.”
Dallas could be in line for his debut today, though Rosler has stressed that a lack of match fitness on the part of the new signing means Souleymane Doukara may, instead, start on the left flank against Burnley.
A late return to pre-season due to playing twice for Northern Ireland in June is behind the lack of game-time. It is, though, likely to be seen as a price worth paying by Dallas as the Irish continue to hone in on a possible first appearance at a major finals in 30 years.
Northern Ireland sit second in Group F behind Romania, who claimed a goalless draw from their visit to Windsor Park in the second of those June fixtures featuring Dallas.
With the top two going through automatically, hopes are high that the long wait could be over.
“For now, however, Dallas’ main focus is securing a regular place in the Leeds starting XI.
“Leeds have brought a lot of players in this summer,” he said. “But, as a player, you have got to be confident.
“I have to believe I am going to play no matter who is here. Otherwise, you are not even putting up a fight. Give your best and leave it up to the manager.”
Dallas, for his part, feels ready to start against the Clarets. “I came back ten days late because I had the internationals at the end of last season,” he said.
“It meant I finished that bit later than the rest of the lads. But I was straight in and I am up to speed. I think I am where the manager here would want me to be.”