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A review of Stuart Dallas’ Leeds United career

In this life, the only thing permanent is impermanence itself. Stuart Dallas’ recent retirement was a reminder of that. Dallas was a fixture so omnipresent at Leeds United for so long, that you felt he would remain so forever.

Not every battle can be won, nor every mountain climbed. Even the most valiant of heroes fall in the end.

The Leeds United Dallas departed was markedly different to the one he joined in 2015. The Ulsterman was brought on board by a familiar face, Uwe Rosler, who had managed him previously at Brentford. Massimo Cellino was just over a year into his anarchic proprietorship of Leeds and the handing of the reins of power to Rosler was a sign of the times. German managers who employed aggressive, pressing tactics were very much in vogue and the new sheriff in town ticked all the right boxes.

As was the norm with Leeds under Cellino, things went as smoothly as a shopping trolly down a cobbled street. Whilst Dallas himself looked sprightly on the flanks – he would score five and assist seven across the season – the team largely struggled. Rosler had talked of ‘heavy metal football’, the reality was considerably different. He pledged Slipknot and delivered McFly. What little patience Cellino had snapped and Rosler was replaced by none other than Steve Evans and the rest of that season went exactly how you’d expect.

Stuart Dallas. Credit: Imago Images

The following season was the first stable one in some considerable time. Due to protracted negotiations between Cellino and Andrea Radrizzani over the sale of the club (successfully concluded January of 2017), Garry Monk was allowed to carry out his job predominantly free of the boardroom commotion that had hindered many of his predecessors. Whilst it was a respectable campaign for the club, for Dallas, it was one of slight frustration as he made 15 fewer appearances than the year before.

On a cool evening in September 2017, Dallas emerged from the bench and duly powered home a left-foot drive past Birmingham keeper David Stockdale sparking Elland Road into a thundering chorus of “We’re Leeds United, we’re top of the league!”. It would prove to be yet another false dawn for Dallas and Leeds. Results turned against them. Out went the suave Thomas Christiansen and in came the incompatible Paul Heckingbottom. Another season consigned to the dustbin.

The summer of 2018 saw the turning point for Leeds and Dallas with the appointment of Marcelo Bielsa. The demanding Argentine would prove to be neon in a world of gas lanterns where Leeds United were concerned. A renowned stickler for specifics, Bielsa would leave no stone unturned in his bid to turn the shipwreck into a vessel.

An opening-day demolition of Stoke City set the tone. Along the way, there would be bumps in the road and eventually heartache, but under Bielsa Leeds garnered respect and intrigue by the bucket load.

Life under Bielsa was initially a slow burn for Dallas, but before long the Argentine taskmaster realised what a gem he had on his hands, both in terms of ability and attitude. Whatever the boss asked, Dallas simply carried out with no objection.

Be it left-back, right-back, or centre-midfield, it really didn’t matter, Dallas was exemplary as the finest Leeds United team in two decades hurtled to promotion. In a time of global bleakness, Bielsa’s side were a beacon of light, serving as an antidote to the restricted way of life at the time.

Leeds took to the Premier League like a duck to water. They became a universal case study into how the game should be played. Dallas enjoyed arguably his greatest season in a Leeds shirt, notching a memorable double as Manchester City were put to the sword in their own backyard and then claiming the Player of the Year award at the season’s end. He was the standout choice.

If the ascent to the summit had been joyous, the fall would be swift and torturous.

For Bielsa, Leeds, and Dallas the zenith was in the rearview mirror and the nadir awaited them eagerly in the foreground, teeth bared, claws sharpened. From starting gun in season 21/22 Leeds stuttered and stalled. Results and performances conspired against the exalted Bielsa, and the axe fell callously in February.  Dallas wouldn’t be far behind his mentor, suffering a harrowing injury against Manchester City a mere two months later.

Nothing would be the same again.

Dallas’ injury was a bridge too far, one sacrifice too many for the man who sacrificed everything. He would never kick a ball again; Leeds would fall through the Premier League trap door twelve months later.

Just how do you some up someone as self-sacrificing and humble as Stuart Dallas? How can you?

Possibly the greatest compliment you can pay Dallas is that any of the great Leeds United managers, from any of the great eras, would’ve found room for him in their sides. His selfless attitude and aversion to the histrionics that permeate the modern game endeared him to a crowd that values application as highly as it values ability.

Dallas just got Leeds and Leeds just got Dallas. For him, the badge on the front of the shirt always mattered more than the name on the back.

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