Saiz shuns individualism for sake of Leeds United collective

IT has already been a season rich in imagery for Leeds United.

Leeds Uniteds Samuel Saiz, left, stretches to control the ball despite the attentions of Hull Citys Kevin Stewart (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire).
Leeds Uniteds Samuel Saiz, left, stretches to control the ball despite the attentions of Hull Citys Kevin Stewart (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire).

Picture-book moments have arrived with regularity. From Mateusz Klich’s opening strike of the Championship season against Stoke City to usher in ‘Bielsa-Ball’ joyously to the midfielder’s sublime equaliser at Sheffield Wednesday.

Sheer artistry in away wins at Derby County and Norwich City and sweet goals of redemption at Millwall and Swansea City have also formed part of the montage.

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Yet sometimes the most important moments are not necessarily the most spectacular.

The sight of Samuel Saiz relentlessly covering the hard yards to help out his team-mates on countless occasions so far this season may not have been headline-grabbing, but it perhaps tells the story of the Whites’ season better than anything else.

In the second half of 2017-18 – when he was available – a demoralised Saiz did not do this sort of thing with regularity. He would probably admit so himself.

Self-indulgence has thankfully been replaced by on-pitch selflessness.

And self-awareness, too, with the gifted Spanish playmaker energised by the preaching of Marcelo Bielsa and wise to the futility of tempestuous tendencies.

Those reached a nadir when he served a six-match ban for spitting during an infamous FA Cup defeat at Newport County in January for which he subsequently publicly apologised.

Under Bielsa, technical and emotional discipline have been displayed and a team player has emerged.

Saiz said: “This season I am more collective. I am less individual than last season. I work more for the team.

“I do not score as many goals as I wish, but I do not do the individual actions I used to do.

“I think I have improved on other aspects in comparison with last year.

“Last season when we found out we could not make it to the play-offs it was a moment that was hard for me.

“I had less motivation because I could not reach the objective. It is a problem that I had and it cannot happen again.”

Specifically on the impact of revered former Argentina and Chile manager Bielsa, he acknowledged: “I feel better because Marcelo made the whole team be more aggressive from a football point of view, not from outside of football.

“We are focused on being aggressive playing football. This season we trust more in each other. It is very hard for the opponent to have a chance to score and thanks to all this I feel more safe and I am less aggressive, apart from the football on the pitch.

“I like the football fight with the opponents and I am not afraid of that.

“This year all the players are playing better. We combine better with the team-mates and have a different style of play. We always control the game. We want to be the protagonist in each game.”

Saiz’s performances of late may not have been as sparkling as they were in early-season alongside a willing accomplice in a fellow midfield craftsman in Pablo Hernandez, but they have been constructive and mature all the same.

This maturity has also been displayed in coping with close attention from rival midfielders, who have man-marked him on a number of occasions this season – which Saiz views as an occupational hazard.

“I think it is a normal thing because when you play as a No 10 the rivals are always focused on you,” he added.

“It is right that the last year at the beginning of the season the players did not know me and I had more freedom.

“But this season and the second part of last season the marker is always on me and I am surrounded by the opponents. But that is football.”

For Saiz, a little less attention from opponents may just be coming his way shortly with Hernandez returning to the Whites squad for tomorrow’s high-noon Roses appointment at Blackburn Rovers.

And he is the first to appreciate that his compatriot’s return may provide him with a little bit more licence in the final third, with opponents conscious of containing two talismanic midfielders and not just one.

The Spaniard said: “When Pablo plays I am not always the player who receives the first pass as Pablo makes very good movements to receive the first pass.

“Of course I prefer if Pablo plays, so I can have more freedom and will not have as many opponents marking me.”

Leeds may welcome a trio of players back for tomorrow’s Ewood Park test in Hernandez, Kemar Roofe and Gaetano Berardi, but they must make do without Jack Harrison.

The 21-year-old picked up a muscle injury during the international break, but is expected to return to training next week alongside Barry Douglas (hamstring).

Fellow full-back Luke Ayling also misses this weekend’s game due to a one-match suspension following his recent dismissal against Brentford.