Leeds United caution over Adam Forshaw is prudent but his unexpected comeback is already a sensational story - YEP 2/12/21


Leeds United’s head of medicine and performance Rob Price has a pair of masters degrees and experience with the FA, Liverpool and FIFA but rebuilding Adam Forshaw might be the most astonishing addition to his CV.

By Graham Smyth

Price’s importance to Leeds was never more evident than when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, because he got out ahead of it and took action to ensure the club were ready when lockdown halted all football and normal life in March 2020.

Marcelo Bielsa’s players missed each other and the Thorp Arch environment but did not miss a beat when it came to staying physically fit and ready for the eventual resumption of the Championship season.

It was around the time that coronavirus was beginning to make an appearance in the UK news cycle and Price was putting his plans into place that Forshaw travelled to the Steadman Clinic in Colorado for surgery on a hip injury that had plagued him since September 2019, keeping him out of action.

Valentine’s Day 2020 was the day he went under the knife and he emerged from the operation feeling like a new man, yet a global pandemic, promotion to the Premier League and an entire top-flight campaign all took place without him playing a single league game for Leeds because his battle to get fit again was hampered by setback after setback.

Throughout all of it, there were positive noises, optimistic briefs from the club and tentative hints that a comeback was close, without the sight of Forshaw’s name on a senior teamsheet.

Outside the club, there were doubts that he would return at all and, inside it, there were doubts he could be the player he once was, such was the length of time he spent on the sidelines.

“To be fair and sincere, I didn’t expect him to come back to who he was before,” said Marcelo Bielsa this week.

That was why Price and the head coach were so cautious over Forshaw’s reintroduction when it eventually happened this season.

Niggles that crept in late last season when he played once for the 23s and again this season after his comeback in the Carabao Cup might have given an impression to supporters that it just wasn’t to be for the man Andrea Radrizzani highlighted as the club’s ‘new signing’ in midfield, but Leeds insisted they were an expected part of the process.

But no-one, possibly not even the player himself, could have held a reasonable expectation of what has transpired over the past few weeks.

Forshaw has not only started the last four Premier League games without issue and lasted 90 minutes in three of them, but he’s played with a freshness and an intensity that has been genuinely transformative for Leeds.

He even managed it in a pair of back-to-back 90-minute-plus appearances in the space of four days.

Against Leicester City, Brighton and, most notably, Crystal Palace this week, he was the midfielder Leeds have been crying out for.

The thing that was always spoken of when Forshaw’s absence was discussed in the 2019/20 season was control, the way he moves around the pitch moving the ball to retain possession.

With him in the side, there appears a far greater chance of Leeds enjoying a measure of control, than they did earlier this season without him.

He’s playing a box-to-box role effectively and intelligently without being blessed with breakneck pace.

His ability to keep the ball under pressure, to receive and retain it in less-than-ideal scenarios and even the flashes of creativity and attacking intent in the final third we’ve seen, are all so significant for Leeds.

Don’t call him a new signing though because he’s miles ahead of where any recent addition would be in their understanding of the system and each role’s requirements.

He pops up all over the pitch too. He was there on the left wing to help Daniel James and Junior Firpo work the ball and themselves in off the touchline and into more dangerous central areas on Tuesday night.

He was there chasing down possession in the middle of the park right to the end at Brighton on Saturday, clocking up a greater distance covered than any other player. To do what he did against Palace so soon after doing what he did at Brighton can be considered sensational, near miraculous in fact and a story for Price to tell in guest lectures and podcasts long after his time at Leeds eventually comes to an end.

Leeds and Forshaw are still cautious, there’s very much a sense that he should be allowed to get a serious number of games under his belt before making too much of his comeback and that is prudent because the demands of Bielsaball and the Premier League are great.

December’s run of games against elite opposition and midfields packed with world beaters will be a test of Forshaw’s ability, form and fitness.

But what he has achieved to date is a good-news story already too wholesome and staggering to ignore.

“To have achieved [his previous form] in the succession of games, he deserves to be valued by those who helped him get healthy and for himself and his affections,” said Bielsa after the win over Palace, nodding in Price’s direction.

“I don’t include myself in that contribution. I never expected him to come back this way.”

Forshaw is an unexpected boost at an important time and long may that continue but, having missed 82 games, every one he plays is a triumph for himself, Price and Leeds.

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