“I am very happy to have signed for such a huge club and I’m looking forward to playing in the famous white shirt. I’m excited to come to England and test myself in the Championship and I can’t wait to get going.”
The words of then-27-year-old Mateusz Klich, after the Polish international became Thomas Christiansen’s first signing in 2017. The midfielder swapped Dutch outfit FC Twente for England’s fallen giant Leeds United, and within the space of a few years, Klich would cement himself in West Yorkshire folklore after playing an integral part of getting the side back to where they belonged.
It wasn’t plain sailing at first. An untimely slip away at Cardiff City gifted the Welsh side a goal and the former Kaiserslautern man, having made just five appearances for his new club, saw himself shipped back to the Eredivisie, joining FC Utrecht on a short-term loan. He vowed to return and make an impact and that summer, Klich and Leeds’ luck was about to change with the arrival of manager Marcelo Bielsa.
“Klich can play in all the best teams in the world,” the Argentine would go on to say in a few seasons’ time, after helping fire Leeds back into the big time and winding up just about everyone on the way.
The son of a former footballer, Klich found himself playing in a more advanced role than teammate Kalvin Phillips and would go on to become a crucial cog in the Bielsa machine. Scoring the first goal of the new era at Elland Road against Stoke City, he started every Championship game over the course of two seasons, finally being ruled out due to a hangover away at Derby County, the morning after Leeds had secured their long-awaited promotion back to the Premier League.
🎙️ "It's a dream start for Marcelo Bielsa and @LUFC!"
Mateusz Klich puts the home side in front!
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) August 5, 2018
A crossover between a traditional eight and ten, Klich, despite never having blistering pace or the skillset of the tricky wingers, drove with the ball whenever he received it. The ability to quickly progress the ball into the attacking third after transitions is what made the Whites so devastating on the counter, and the Polish midfielder’s tendency to routinely get his side up the pitch in the blink of an eye afforded the space for creative players like Pablo Hernández to thrive.
Alongside the former Spanish international, a contrasting duo complimented one another perfectly. Klich’s movement and tenacity provided the energy, whilst Hernández’s artistry with the ball unlocked defences and ultimately dragged Leeds over the line following the resumption of the pandemic-hit 2019-20 season.
A product of the Cracovia youth system, the 41-cap Polish star was a regular on the scoresheet too, notably scoring very similar long-range goals against Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and more recently Elche as Leeds lifted the coveted Festa d’Elx Trophy in a mid-season friendly… All goals bore a similar resemblance: the former Wolfsburg man picked the ball up deep in an inside left position before curling an effort into the far corner with the goalkeeper often rooted to the spot.
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) June 13, 2022
Footballing ability aside, Klich’s infectious personality and ability to infuriate the opposition endeared himself to fans even further. As Aston Villa forward Jonathan Kodjia lay injured at Elland Road, Dean Smith’s side downed tools despite Leeds having possession. Klich, latching onto the ball on the left wing, cut inside and fired into the far corner before chaos ensued late in the game. Marcelo Bielsa would go on to demand his players let the visitors score uncontested in response.
“What a day to be alive, f*ck me,” Klich slurred as promotion celebrations took their toll. The theme continued last campaign. “Get me beer,” he wrote on Instagram as Leeds survived the drop at the eleventh hour.
Graffiti art by Mateusz Klich to commemorate Leeds United’s Championship title.
Klich continued to play an integral role in the side’s first season back in the top-flight, but his influence in games dropped as the side struggled to a 17th-placed finish in last year’s campaign.
Since the divisive Jesse Marsch’s arrival in West Yorkshire, Klich’s involvement was limited even further to appearances off the bench, despite Leeds’ continual struggle to pick up results. The American tended to show faith in compatriot Brenden Aaronson despite a poor run of form or would opt to use versatile forward Sam Greenwood in a deeper role.
After missing out on Poland’s World Cup squad through his lack of game time, an attractive offer from the States saw Klich move on to pastures new. A player that really understood the fans and what it meant to be Leeds, the midfielder’s departure to MLS club DC United has seen Leeds bring in Weston McKennie from Italian giants Juventus. The American international has big shoes to fill. It could be twenty yards or thirty yards…
By: Jack Douglas / @JDouglasSport
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Getty Images