Gnonto’s apology and Piroe’s arrival have transformed Daniel Farke’s Leeds United

What were you doing at the age of 19? Or more to the point, what were you doing wrong at the age of 19, the fast-and-loose scrapes that make you cringe all these years on?

That was the conversation started by Daniel Farke on Thursday as he simultaneously threw Willy Gnonto under a bus before dragging him out again, chiding him for meddling in disrepute but reflecting that Gnonto, human after all, was a 19-year-old doing 19-year-old’s things. “I think we all make mistakes at the age of 19,” Farke said, to knowing looks all round.

Farke avoided compromising himself by talking about his own teenage misdemeanours and the need for the fifth amendment in this conversation is pretty much universal, save for those without sin. But Gnonto, back in business after trying to wriggle his way out of Elland Road, was a case study in how quickly and easily football can forgive. Gnonto became popular almost overnight in Leeds, a player whose father’s car would be swamped by autograph hunters whenever they drove out of training. His job as of Tuesday, as peace was made between him and Farke, was to remind people why he had that appeal.

Two things worked in Gnonto’s favour in the 48 hours that followed his reconciliation with the club. One was an injury to Dan James which contributed to Farke slinging Gnonto back into his team at Ipswich Town yesterday, in front of an away end which was always going to be the best gauge of how deeply his perceived disloyalty had cut. Often it is better to just take the plunge and get on with it, to bite the bullet that some are threatening to shoot you with.

The second was Thursday night’s deal for Joel Piroe, a signing which made it look as if Leeds, at the end of a relatively cruel summer, were getting their house in order. A shiny new toy and a very good one at that cleared some of the air and spared Gnonto from being the sole centre of attention, a little more free to knuckle down and crack on. There was a little prayer from him before kick-off and no histrionics or wild dissent towards him, like dispersing anger. And then 14 minutes in, came a goal in a slugfest with Ipswich from which a 4-3 win materialised and enough of what needed to go right did. It is not easy remembering when Leeds last said that.

Farke kept calm as Leeds sorted their house out (Photo: George Tewkesbury/PA Images via Getty Images)

As time goes on, it is ever more obvious that Leeds have been lucky to have Farke to this point. The club can crack the firmest of facades but Farke has ridden the summer without ever sounding like his belief that shorter-term pain would bring longer-term gains was a cliche or a bluff. He played Gnonto’s situation perfectly and stopped it becoming an all-out shambles. He has let Leeds get their ducks in a row in the transfer market without throwing toys out the pram. That Gnonto said sorry to him, as opposed to merely trying to talk his way out of trouble, was a psychological win for Farke, a tangible sign of a player deciding where the power at Thorp Arch lies.

By the start of this week, Leeds had come round to thinking that there were no winners in their conflict with Gnonto. A player like him knocking around their training ground at 8am in the morning was a waste of a match-winner and, from Gnonto’s viewpoint, what they tried to stress to him was that he, surely, could see no upsides in being ostracised either. What sense in being divorced from the day job with the window about to close and Leeds rigid about retaining him?

The first round of conciliatory talks were initiated by the club’s chief executive, Angus Kinnear, who stressed that Leeds stood by their policy of sidelining him but would be willing to thaw the ice if Gnonto showed true contrition. The final say came down to Farke, as it has on so many fronts since his appointment as manager, but an apology made to him by Gnonto and an admission from the Italian that his refusal to play and his request for a transfer had been ill-judged saw him rejoin first-team training for a session late on Tuesday afternoon. Farke considered the matter closed, beyond saying that he was not in the habit of offering anyone a third chance.

That, combined with Sinisterra getting through a contractual dispute to resume full training himself and Leeds completing the type of signing that pleases everyone by buying Piroe, made it tempting to think that the club had finally pressed the reset button, edging out the other side of a period in which events seemed to be controlled by everyone else. The paperwork for Piroe was done in time for him to start at Ipswich. Farke’s forward line of Piroe, Gnonto, Sinisterra and Georgino Rutter was extraordinarily high in transfer value, development potential, raw ability and goals. What a difference a week makes, as Farke promised it would.

In flashes, Leeds at Ipswich was football working like a dream, at least after Joe Rodon’s own goal gave Ipswich an early lead. Rutter equalised with a lovely change of direction, stepping inside his marker and shooting in off the far post. Gnonto arrived at the opposite stick to bundle in a cross from Byram, reacting with a little finger to his lips; for whose benefit, who knows? Farke’s front four, so under-strength against Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, had morphed into a monster and Piroe could not fail to finish when Sinisterra tore Ipswich open again and generated a tap-in which Piroe lapped up. A logical addition, explained with one of his first touches.

Farke had chosen to play Piroe at 10 in behind Rutter because, well, why not? Nothing in the week behind him dissuaded him from trusting his own judgement. The entire attack was fluid, interchangeable and a nightmare for a team who, under Kieran McKenna, just do not concede like this; undone in a nine-minute period and inside 20 minutes, despite Nathan Broadhead making it interesting after a mistake by Cody Drameh right on half-time.

Drameh had been on for 20-odd minutes, a replacement for the injured Sam Byram. Farke digested his error and substituted him at the start of the second half, absolutely ruthless in seeing a problem and dealing with it and United bailed water for long enough for Sinisterra to complete the march of the front four by bouncing off Brandon Williams, opening his body and guiding a through ball around Vaclav Hladky.

Ipswich nicked a third in the 97th minute, heightening angst about Leeds’ obscenely-generous defence, but that topic can wait for another day. Here ended a week of statements, from managerial authority to a big signing and a hardcore win at a bulletproof stadium. Game on.

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