Leeds United v Derby County: Gjanni Alioski setting sights on new milestones

Going past: Leeds United's Gjanni Alioski goes through Barnsley challenges.  Picture: Tony Johnson
Going past: Leeds United's Gjanni Alioski goes through Barnsley challenges. Picture: Tony Johnson
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SOMETIMES it is what you do not say as opposed to what you do which reveals the most.

Which is where Gjanni Alioski comes in.

We grow up more like friends and family and we are going to fight on the pitch for our other friends; the players.

Gjanni Alioski

Standing out from the crowd with his headline-grabbing and distinctive hairstyle, Leeds United’s peroxide patroller is an infectious character, a ‘bottle of pop’ and a bit of an impetuous joker in the pack within the Whites squad, by all accounts.

Given the symbolism of today’s fixture with Derby County, heightened by ‘Spygate’ and the events of that shattering season denouement on a madcap and gut-wrenching Elland Road evening in mid-May, some may have ventured that Leeds’ media team were taking a potential risk in putting Alioski on pre-match press duties.

Could he be trusted to play a straight bat to the psychological importance of today’s meeting? Or would he, as many may have expected, instinctively cut to the chase when questioned and stated that Leeds owed Derby one after their play-off semi-final elimination.

It is to Alioski’s credit that he ‘padded up’ and adopted a forward defensive stroke when asked whether Leeds wanted to exact some revenge upon the Rams.

An admiring Yorkshireman in Sir Geoffrey Boycott would have surely nodded his head in approval.

Yet conversely, it was Alioski’s conscious decision to avoid the D word in Derby – and the P word in promotion too – which spoke volumes about Leeds’ conscious decision not to be distracted by any sideshows this time around.

Everyone knows how much those apocalyptic events in the play-off semi-final second leg against Derby hurt, after all.

Just ask the majority of the crowd who could scarcely believe what they witnessed as Leeds unfathomably plucked defeat from the jaws of victory.

Most would, with some justification, suggest that the events of May 15 serve a huge motivational tool in Leeds’ quest to go one better and purge those memories with a cathartic return to the Premier League next Spring.

But for Alioski, a heart-on-sleeve footballer whose pride at representing the Whites – alongside Macedonia, the country of his birth – is worn as a badge of honour and is deadly serious, it has gone.

Publicly, at least. As for privately? Well, Alioski was not one for giving away trade secrets.

Alioski, set to make his 100th appearance for Leeds today, said: “I do not want to watch (talk) about what happened last season because everyone knows how upset we were and how we did not get promoted.

“That is why I do not want to speak about last season, so let us focus on this one and play it game by game.

“Forget the play-offs, that was last time.

“It is a new game now, we start new, so we have a new game.

“We are going to face them for the first time this season and we know what we want.

“We play at home and if we play like always how we do, then we need to win.”

For fans at least, United’s reaction to last season’s cruel finale is helping to vanquish memories of that painful evening, with the talk in some quarters having centred on how the experience may have mentally toughened up players.

Alioski, once again, was not giving away too much on that matter either.

But, in its own way, the events will have helped to bring a group of touch-tight players even closer.

It was a shared hurt and the first half of the summer was no doubt difficult. But as the saying goes, what does not kill you, makes you stronger.

It will have forged further bonds in a group of friends as well as footballers. In the very best traditions of successful Leeds United teams of yore.

No doubt, Marcelo Bielsa’s return for a second season to Leeds has aided in the rehabilitation process.

Alioski continued: “Of course we are now here longer with the coach. The players are the same, we work hard and are always together in our preparation.

“We sleep here (at Thorp Arch), we enjoy our time together here and I think that it is also important to always be together.

“We grow up more like friends and family and we are going to fight on the pitch for our other friends; the players.

“When they need help, we are going to help them and I think this year that is better.

“But it’s normal motivation and it is not a reason because of what happened last time.

“It is a new season, we are going to face them (Derby) the first time this season, but we know what we have and that is why I think we need to win.”

In his third season at Leeds, Alioski’s emotional attachment to the club is a strong one and something that plainly is not manufactured.

He has seen plenty and experienced the ‘ups and downs’ which United followers reference regularly in song, with his time under Bielsa proving both inspirational, career-enhancing and enlightening at the same time.

It explains why, when asked about the significance of reaching his century milestone of games today, the 27-year-old immediately switched talk to his fervent hope of being here for another hundred.

A happy player is invariably a successful player, with Alioski looking like a case in point.

Alioski continued: “I came here to change something, not to be the same person, to change something in me, to improve something, to work harder and I think the club gives me a lot and has changed me a lot as a person.

“To take decisions on the pitch, mostly with this coach how he has changed me tactically, to defend, to run more, not only in training but the food, the weight, to be more professional, the discipline.

“This shows you how life is in football.”