It’s going to be a big summer for you – another one.
Two years ago you were celebrating promotion to the Premier League; last year you were playing almost every single minute of Euro 2020 and going all the way to the final. This year, there are likely to be some huge moments away from the pitch as various incredible options threaten to present themselves to you.
I think career decisions are perhaps more difficult for you given you grew up with dreams of playing for your home club and getting them into the Premier League. You’ve achieved those dreams, things you’ve always wanted to do and you’re still living them. But your career has accelerated to a point that you might not have thought possible and now Manchester City want you and PSG are on the phone.
You had options in 2019 and stayed, although they weren’t quite of the magnitude of the offers that may come in the next few weeks, so this is going to be a huge period for you and Leeds, deciding which is the best way forward.
You’re 27 this year and that will come into your thinking. It certainly came into mine. I was at a very similar age when I made the decision to move to Leeds United from Chelsea.
When I first went to Aston Villa, I thought ‘I’m going to be here forever and we’re going to reach the top and win things together and everything is always going to be rosy in the garden’.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way and, when Villa were relegated four years later, I went off to Chelsea. That was where I thought, as a 25-year-old, I want to go and win things and other clubs were looking at me who could take me to that next level. It was really, really difficult and I didn’t have the same hometown attachment that you have with Leeds.
It’s clear you feel that very deeply but, at some point, and it could be this summer, it might be that you want to try and fulfil your full potential, see how good you can be and what you can win. That, for me, is what it is always about. Can I win something? Can I show I can be the best and compete for the big titles? That’s where you are at right now.
PSG could certainly help you win a league title, at least. I have to say that going abroad [to Torino], for me, unfortunately came at the wrong time. I would have loved to have experienced it when I was at the height of my career rather than at the end, but what a fantastic experience it is and a great education, too. It’s difficult now because the Premier League has such power, profile and quality, however the life experiences and the chance to look at things in football or in life from a different angle was hugely educational for me. I had already moved from Australia to England so maybe I was prepared for a move abroad. You’ve always been in West Yorkshire so it would be a heck of a difference in Paris. You would be playing in an incredible team, with unbelievable players, but with a very different mindset. You have to win the league by March and, if not, there’s a problem. It’s all about the Champions League and, of course, winning that is going to be tough, as PSG have found out for many a year.
Then there’s Manchester City, the elite, with an infrastructure, manager and players so good you can’t really find better elsewhere. It’s a club at the top of its game. That then brings in one or two issues about game time: how many games would you play, would you be the number one holding midfielder or would Rodri? What City have shown is that they have two teams; they can change at will and I suppose that’s the modern game when you want to attack on every single front for every single trophy. You need two players in every position. You’ll have to accept, if you find yourself at City, that you won’t be relied upon like you are at Leeds and it’ll be a very different scenario, although one that I’m sure could elevate your game again.
I found, in my career, a lot of players with different mentalities. There were some who liked to be the big fish in a smaller pond and, when they weren’t treated the same in a huge pond, they found that difficult. It’s really down to character and you need to understand what will suit you best. At elite clubs, it’s wall-to-wall superstars and, suddenly, you’re one part of the squad, not the main man. From what I’ve seen, you’re such a level-headed lad that I’m sure you could take anything in your stride but it’s something to consider, along with the third option that will always be on the table – staying at Leeds United.
You’re a lucky boy that you’ve got a great family around you and that’s who you should be listening to. You know what’s best for yourself but family are important, they can back your decisions and make them easier. Agents are always going to push for what they believe is the best option but only you know, deep down, what you want. Lots of people will have opinions and tell you all about them but it’s for you and Leeds to decide.
Whatever your decision is, and if this is goodbye, you’ve been simply superb. When I came back to the club and started watching Leeds, I saw you playing further up the pitch, sometimes with your back to goal and I wasn’t so sure. This was a mid-table Championship side and there were a number of players I wasn’t so sure about. Yet then, all of a sudden, your whole career was transformed by Marcelo Bielsa coming in, changing your position and you’ve just grown and grown in confidence.
I liken you to David Batty – a no-nonsense, homegrown lad who absolutely loves his hometown club, a defensive destroyer in midfield who was so important. People always want to talk to me about Strachan and McAllister but, as a player, I look back and look at Batts. If I was going to go to war I’d want David Batty beside me and you’re in that mould.
People who have played with you hold you in the very highest esteem and Leeds fans know you’ve given everything for the club. You’ve stayed even beyond what some people would expect and , even if I and so many others want you to stay, if you leave the club in the Premier League I don’t think anyone will begrudge you a move because you’ve been a wonderful servant to the club.