Reading v Leeds United: Maturing Souleymane Doukara realistic about size of task ahead for Whites

TRADITIONALLY a time of regeneration and growth, Spring has not been too kind to Souleymane Doukara on the footballing front in recent seasons.

Leeds United's  Souleymane Doukara (Picture: Tony Johnson).
Leeds United's Souleymane Doukara (Picture: Tony Johnson).

And you would be correct in thinking that the Leeds United forward is somewhat anxious to make up for lost time in what is shaping up to be one of the most consuming finishes to a campaign since the Whites ignominiously slipped away from the Premier League scene and into relative obscurity in 2004.

By this time last year, the burly Frenchman had played his last game of the season for Leeds on a wretched Elland Road afternoon for home supporters when near-neighbours Huddersfield Town cantered to a 4-1 derby victory.

Almost exactly 12 months ago, Doukara was infamously banned for eight matches by the Football Association after being found guilty of biting Fulham defender Fernando Amorebieta in a game in Leeds in February – and that was his 2015-16 season done and dusted.

The last chapter in Doukara’s first season at Leeds was not much kinder, with the 25-year-old one of the infamous ‘Charlton Six’ who controversially pulled out of the 18-man squad for a game at The Valley at the tail end of a 2014-15 campaign that unravelled chaotically at its conclusion.

It was a season when Doukara made just four appearances in its final four months. Forgettable is the word.

That Doukara is now looking forward to playing a full part in such a key end to a campaign for Leeds is living proof that football can be full of surprises.

After coming out of the comparative wilderness, the striker is positively blossoming under the smart tutelage of head coach Garry Monk and his staff.

On some difficult times at the end of his previous two seasons, and fully relishing what is potentially ahead for Leeds and himself during the current run-in, Doukara said: “They (the last two seasons) have been very difficult for everybody, not just for me.

“When you change country, you need to adapt and know everybody. Once you have that, it is more easy.

“Last year, I was suspended and it is something special to especially play at the end of the season when everybody is looking at us and I need to play well to help the team stay there.

“I have grown up a lot. Last year, I was with some friends such as (Jordan) Botaka, (Sol) Bamba and (Toumani) Diagouraga as well. We are still in touch, but I have grown up a lot and I am stronger and motivated.”

The Thorp Arch ‘makeover’ of Chris Wood into arguably the Championship’s leading striker may have drawn justifiable headlines so far this season, but the painstaking work in developing the all-round team game of Doukara is also worthy of mention.

It showcases a more mature-looking player – and individual – and his calming words prove his increased wisdom.

Hailing the impact of Monk in making him a better player, Doukara acknowledged: “I think so, yes. He spoke a lot with me at the beginning of the season and has been clear with me and that is why I have become stronger mentally here.

“My job is very valued for the team. It does not matter who scores, the most important thing is for the team to stay in the play-offs.”

Having never been promoted in his career so far, the current campaign tantalisingly offers something truly momentous for the Parisian.

While Doukara may acknowledge that a play-off final at Wembley would be “special”, he is the first to venture that plenty of hills need to be climbed. He has been schooled well by Monk.

The latest challenge comes in the form of a Reading side who are plainly intent on claiming their pound of flesh at the Madejski Stadium after leaving Elland Road somewhat sore after a 2-0 pre-Christmas defeat.

But Doukara, like everyone at Leeds, is electing to keep cool.

Recharged after spending some valuable relaxation time with friends and family in his native Paris during the recent international break, Doukara said: “This is something new and it is important for my experience.

“If we can stay in the play-offs to go to the Premier League, it will be a big thing for me. Not only for me, but the club as well.

“Wembley would be special. But we need to stay focused every game to get there. We have not achieved it at the moment.

“Reading is going to be a tough game and we need to stay focused on every detail because they are a very good side, especially at home where they play very well.

“We need to stay focused on our objective.”