Leeds United’s season has hardly gone to plan with the Yorkshire giants occupying a perilous place in 15th, just three points above the drop zone after 11 matches, but there has been one shining light for Marcelo Bielsa and co.
That being versatile defender Pascal Struijk, who impressed yet again at the weekend as the Whites drew to Leicester City in the Premier League.
Primarily a central option, standing at 6 foot 3 inches, the Belgium-born Dutchman was deployed as a left-back against the Foxes, with both Junior Firpo and Jamie Shackleton absent through injury.
As per SofaScore, he won 100% of his ground duels, coming up against the threat of Ricardo Pereira and Ademola Lookman down that left flank, whilst he also notched two interceptions, one tackle and one clearance despite playing in unfamiliar territory.
Struijk has also played in defensive midfielder whenever Bielsa’s usual lynchpin Kalvin Phillips has been out through injury or suspension, so he’s certainly proven to be a very valuable asset to Leeds since their promotion to the Premier League nearly 18 months ago.
The Argentine head coach waxed lyrical about his defender to reporters after the game, he said (via LeedsLive):
“He’s a very hard-working man. In the mental and the physical assimilation of a new position. Throughout the week he was looking for solutions in a new position.”
But it is in the heart of defence where his future will seemingly lie and it’s not just Bielsa who spoke glowingly in recent days.
LeedsLive journalist Beren Cross has touted him for big things in Yorkshire, claiming that the colossus is rather quite underrated.
“He’s [Bielsa] worked with so many players in world football, and for him to say the things he’s saying about Pascal, it’s very, very exciting.
“Defenders don’t always get a very exciting press. It’s all about Raphinha, it’s all about Joe Gelhardt. But Pascal is the future.
“And the longer he stays under the radar, the better, because he’s got the lot, to be honest. And at some point, there will be a changing of the guard and he’s going to become a supreme centre-back.”
Leeds poached Struijk from Ajax’s grasp on a free transfer in 2018 and ever since, he’s slowly earned the trust of Bielsa, which is a hard task no doubt.
The 22-year-old is now valued at €20m (£18m), according to CIES Football Observatory, which only goes to show just how his career is on an upward trajectory in Yorkshire.
Ex-United star Dominic Matteo is also a huge fan of the Deurne-born centre-back too.
“He reads the game a lot better than he’s credited for. He’ll get even better too. Struijk is one to look out for,” he claimed earlier this year.
“There’s plenty of work to be done but, with the size of him, his physicality, his passing, he’s got it all and can step into midfield. He looks very calm on the ball, players who are a bit erratic are not for me but he looks comfortable in possession.”
Also dubbed a “beast” by Yorkshire Evening Post journalist Joe Urquhart, Leeds have certainly struck gold over Struijk. In fact, this is surely like a dream for Bielsa as he has a young player who is very capable of playing a multitude of positions and one that will still only get better.
To make matters even better, he didn’t cost them a penny, meaning one day if he does move on, the club will receive a sizeable return on their investment.
Everyone associated with the club should feel lucky to have the Dutchman in their ranks, even more so this season.