Leeds and The Pontus Mystery: Was Jansson Believing His Own Publicity? – by Rob Atkinson


After such a very impressive result as Leeds United earned against Brighton yesterday, it’s quite perplexing to see quite so many virtual furrowed brows across social media today. The reason, of course, is The Mystery of the Missing Pontus – why, oh why was Jansson benched?

In a way, it’s an irrelevant question – Leeds won, so all is well. The margins between victory and defeat, though, are narrow – and we were only a slip or two from what might have turned into a full scale post mortem, had Rob Green not saved Liam Cooper from a spectacular own goal, for example. Or had Brighton capitalised on a couple of other defensive wobbles, and emerged winners. They say that being a lucky manager is at least as important as being a good manager. Garry Monk has shown over this season that he is arguably both – and it was certainly vital for United to do well and win, after what was, to say the least, a bold decision to drop his talismanic defender.

All we were told was that the decision made was the “best for the group”. That’s pretty much in line with what we are coming to know and love as the Monk Mantra; everything is done for the good of the team, the good of the group, the good of the club. The issues underlying this particular decision were not gone into – Garry is inviting us to accept that he knows what’s best and can be relied upon to act for the good of Leeds United. But still, we can speculate.

I’ve been as impressed as anyone by the startling effect, the galvanising influence Pontus Jansson has had on Leeds United since his arrival in the first team. He’s been a colossus, endlessly effective at both ends of the field, a giant unit of a bloke fit to fill that famous shirt. But, as a relatively young man (for a central defender), and as a mere mortal besides, Jansson is prey to human failings just as anyone else. And the truth is that there have been signs lately of the guy starting to believe his own publicity; buying into, perhaps, the “legend” status accorded him by so many, so soon. There have been times when Jansson has made challenges when perhaps he could have backed off, times when he’s dived in and then been found out of position and unable to recover. Huddersfield away springs to mind. All in all, the more recent Pontus performances have not been quite of the same vintage as those that went before, and it’s difficult not to wonder whether the lad’s got a bit carried away with that early success, to the detriment of his finer judgement.

Leeds can be a difficult place to perform; for players of doubtful character, it can be a veritable snakepit. Once the crowd gets on a player’s back, you can sometimes see that player shrink and shrivel – and you know that the player will then have the devil’s own job restoring the fans’ faith in him. But, on the other side of the coin, the adulation of our crowd can have its downside too. Such a very vociferous set of fans we are, that – when we take a player to our hearts – it’s a real production number. The player is levitated to hero status, then rapidly proceeds to be worshiped almost as a god. Jansson has had this treatment, since his amazing early impact and given his undeniable rapport with the crowd. He’s had his own song, he’s enjoyed his own one-on-thousands encounters with delirious fans in the wake of victories he’s helped win. Perhaps – just perhaps – he’s started to believe that he really could head that brick back. Perhaps the time had come to get the boy’s feet back on the ground.

Some say he failed to acknowledge the fans yesterday, a very un-Pontus-like thing to do. But we don’t know what’s been said to him. In the ultra-professional, hyper-focused environment of Garry Monk’s Leeds United, maybe Pontus has been told to cool off the love affair with the fans, stop believing in his own legend, concentrate on doing the simple things well, and get his mind set on the team and the three points up for grabs. That seems likely to me, and appropriate, given the recent slightly diminished level of the Swede’s performances.

There’s also the issue of a forthcoming suspension for Jansson, depending upon further bookings ahead of an approaching deadline. From a pragmatic point of view, that might justify taking the lad out of the firing line in order to avoid losing him for a couple of games later on. But a vital match against the second in the league seems an odd time to be quite that pragmatic – and so I tend to favour the view that Pontus is being, in a reasonably gentle and fatherly way, taken down a peg or two.

I hope it works, and I hope that Jansson can come back stronger and wiser, fiercely focused on the team and its aims. Because, on his day, and along with fellow juggernaut Kyle Bartley, he’s by far and away the best this league has to offer at centre-back. Liam Cooper did well yesterday, being slightly lucky to be saved from a calamitous misfortune by his own keeper. It’s starting to look as though, with Ayling and Jansson to return, we have a decent four from six perm for our back line, with Coyle and Denton showing potential to raise that six to eight. Not bad for a “paper-thin squad”.

Jansson will be back, we will all sincerely hope, as good and commanding as ever. But, for the time being, if he learns that he’s not utterly indispensable – if he can absorb the truly legendary Billy Bremner‘s maxim of “Side before self, every time” – then this will be a lesson well learned, and we’ll be getting back a better and more grounded hero. 

35 responses to “Leeds and The Pontus Mystery: Was Jansson Believing His Own Publicity? – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Statetheobvious

    I hope you’re right Rob but I suspect some incident has occurred possibly with another player or perhaps Monk himself but either way he was brave to drop him as it could have back fired and we can only hope the situation is retrievable and he is back for Reading away.


  2. The longer Gary Monk is manager the more impressive he becomes.
    Very few managers would have had the guts to bench Jansson yesterday but there is no doubt that Pontus was just beginning to believe in his own hype. Cooper did a decent job again last night and Jansson will be all the better for being made aware no one is bigger than the team.


  3. Reality Cheque

    Excellent post Rob, which gives reasoned consideration of Garry’s excellent man management rather than just trying to “stir up” mischief and disharmony theories.

    I have admired Garry’s calm, professional and unifying manner and the way that he conducts himself throughout every presser this season. Compared to recent “head coaches” appointed at our club Garry certainly does not use one hundred words when a couple will do and doesn’t need to use pressers to massage his ego.

    So I am quite happy with any decisions Garry sees fit to make for the good of the group, the club, and ultimately, the fans and it appears from your post that you share my opinion in that respect Rob.

    We are streets ahead of where anyone expected this season in such a very short space of time and Garry, Pep & James can take full credit for achieving so much so quickly. One of the hardest jobs for Garry has been to manage the expectations of us fans, a task made all the more difficult because he is so bloody good at his job!

    It is so strangely fantastic to be entering a mid-March international break full of excitement, pride and belief in our ability to battle for one of the three promotion berths rather than, once again, anxiously checking how close we are to the relegation trapdoor.

    In Garry I (we), trust. MOT


  4. He could have had egg on his face if rob green hadn’t been so sharp with coopers goal bound clearance, I think the knives would have been out today rob ,, but he didn’t and monk just gets better and better as the season goes on,, I can only assume , like yourself, that something has been said and monk is 100% right to put his foot down , I suspect we’ll never know , just hope it’s put to bed asap…
    And why have you never asked me to do a guest blog? Ha ,


  5. David Dean

    With Pontus out I assumed that he must be not quite100%. Did the Monk want to give Cooper a game? We looked to be 3 wins away from the playoffs before the win last night – and we could well need Cooper if Pontus is suspended or injured. Mighy it have been a case of giving Cooper game time and Pontus was disappointed being left on the bench? I am sure I read there is no deadline for Pontus – 2 more bookings and he is out for 3 matches even for the playoffs. I can’t disagree – 🎩 could have gone to his head.


    • I’ve seen mention of a deadline somewhere, couldn’t swear to it. I think it was Pontus’ apparent unhappy demeanour that’s had some folk worrying.


  6. Hi Rob. I hope the reason for his ommission was purely one of protection until the bookings cut off date. No single player is bigger than the team, but he is a major part. He is undoubtedly committed, but that commitment needs to be controlled, he gets too many unnecessary bookings.
    Whilst writing, with Ayling back, neither Taylor nor Berardi deserve to be dropped, l feel that both Ayling and Berardi are such versatile players, either could add to strength in midfield.
    Finally, as you may remember l was very anti Rob Green, and for much of the early season l felt justified in my thoughts. However, l have to give credit where due, he has made improvements l thought beyond him.especially at his age, In recent games he has started to command his 6 yd box, l have always thought him a good shot stopper, but prone to the odd costly bloomer. Apart from one unpunished flap his recent games have been devoid of such occurrences, and he has justified his selection. Let’s hope it continues.
    l still feel, given the same solid defence in front, Silvestri will be the long term way to go.


  7. Mould Stroller

    I’ve just noticed in the last few weeks that he has a tendency to keep hold of the ball in defence and invite a tackle from the attacker before passing to a teammate( almost to the extent of being cocky…a la Chris Whyte) and putting that teammate under pressure. Would of course still b my first choice but sometimes he needs to release it earlier and stop taking unnecessary chances.


  8. The performances of Jansson have definitely taken a dip of late, and significantly ever since his future at Elland Road was announced as being confirmed – shades of the Sol Bamba situation! Consequently, it should perhaps not have been a surprise​ for his first team place to come under threat, though few could have foreseen that he would be absent for such a high profile fixture as that last night.
    The result yesterday was well deserved and it can justifiably be argued that Garry Monk was therefore ultimately proved right in his decision to omit Jansson, but I have to say that his replacement Liam Cooper scared me to death every time he touched the ball. In addition to his attempt on goal (God bless Rob Green!!) there were several other occasions when the ball flew off his head and feet in all directions be it for a corner, to an opposing player, or to put a teammate under pressure. At other times he missed the ball altogether. I have seen Liam Cooper play far better than last night so hope his below par performance was down to as lack of recent first team action, but must confess to being surprised that some actually praised his display last night. Football is indeed a game of opinions.
    The suggestion that the hype regarding Jansson’s earlier performances​ might have “gone to his head” may have some credence and if so would be a worrying development, but I sincerely hope that Garry and his staff will nip the problem in the bud and get the lad once again playing with the same confidence and bravado that has become his trademark.


  9. enoughisenough

    Hi Rob, I think you’re spot on. Like everyone else, I’m a massive fan of Pontus for many reasons but mostly because he can bloody well defend but also because he became the link between the fans and the team at a time when no one else was reaching out to us. Garry Monk even had his doubters still and the enormity of “The Pontus Effect” cannot be underestimated.
    Like you, I’ve had concerns for a number of weeks and have seen elements of Bamba/Bellusci creeping into his game, over confidence leading to errors and reckless challenges to try and make up for a mistake resulting in the inevitable booking. He certainly hasn’t cost us goals in the same way as the aforementioned pairing but he still needs to learn and is still young.
    I think it’s tremendous man management from Garry which not only sends a message to Pontus but also to the rest of the squad and perhaps most importantly to Liam Cooper which says “I trust you”. We may have to rely on Cooper in more games to come and maybe even in the playoffs so this will be a tremendous boost to his confidence at a time when he will be only too aware of the fans nervousness regarding his selection.
    I cannot believe there is any more to the selection of Cooper than a very astute piece of man management which thankfully for us all including Garry Monk (the lucky b’stard) worked out against Brighton.
    Who knows what the reaction from Pontus will like from here on in but if he truly is one of us then he will take it on the chin, accept any constructive criticism and get back to being the colossus that we need at the heart of our defence.


  10. The consensus in Rob’s blog and on this thread is that Jansson’s form has dipped. Were any of you at Fulham, just three games back? He was immense that night, repeatedly putting his body and head in the way of danger. So at the risk of being the only one in step, I have to say I was surprised at the change. Cooper isn’t bad but his concentration often appears to go AWOL. I know which one I’d rather have playing for my life.


    • No-one’s saying his form has deserted him. He’s had a few dips and dodgy spells though, that weren’t apparent earlier. If nothing else, it’s shown him he can be dropped like anyone else if his levels go down.


  11. Hi Rob, There is no cut off date for 15 yellow cards like there is for 5 and 10. You can pick up a three match suspension for 15 bookings anytime between now and the play-offs.

    It is not the first time this season that rumours have started as to why Jansson hasn’t started for Leeds. I hope there is nothing in it but it seems a very strange game to leave out one of your main centre backs in preference for Liam Cooper, who a number of fans have vilified for some reason this season. Not by me I must add. Had the result gone against Leeds on Saturday, the comments from those fans lauding Garry Monk would have been far different. Thankfully, we produced a great performance and Cooper more than played his part in it.

    I really hope the international break will sort out the matter because the last thing we need at this moment is something off the field getting in the way of what is being done on it.


  12. A timely and necessary decision by Monk. I hope Jansson learns from it – and the co-participants in the cult, too. Good article Mr Rob.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Do excuse my intrusion on this love-in (I wont be offered a blogspot anytime soon) ha ha,but does anyone actually know the reason Pontus was on the bench yesterday? All I’ve read is speculation and guarded comments from GM. By the way,watch out for Fulham,I saw them destroy the Toon last week and if they finish in the top six they’ll be a problem.


    • No idea, hence the speculative tone of this article. I think I’m right though. Been waiting to hear from you Mick about Chris Wood. Do you still think you’re right? I’d offer you a blogspot to say why and how you misjudged the Championship’s top scorer 😉


      • Ha ha,pleasantly surprised with him although he does miss a load too. I seem to remember also “wanking on” (your words) bout how Steve Evans wasn’t the man for Leeds and you disagreed vehemently. That would be worthy of a blog.


      • We do have to keep an open mind about our views don’t we. But B McD is yesterday’s man whereas Chris Wood (whose shot conversion rate is actually phenomenal) is very much the man of the moment.


  14. ItSaulOrNothing

    I feel he might have been benched because of his national call-up. A reward from Monk to allow Jansson the chance to appear for Sweden fully fresh and able to stake a claim for a regular starting place. It seems far-fetched but given the way Monk works on the players psychology I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw an opportunity to give Jansson a boost and to give Cooper a chance. I don’t think it’s the first time this season Monk has rested someone before an international game.


    • Again, though – why Jansson’s noticeably pissed-off demeanour?


    • enoughisenough

      I can’t for a second believe it’s down to some kind of reward! Garry Monk would have to be possibly the first manager in history to put an International game before a club game if that was the case.
      Pontius was pissed off because he wasn’t playing, I hope all the squad that isn’t in the first 11 are pissed off when they aren’t selected. The bigger the personality and the desire to be involved on match day, the harder the fall when not selected.
      I’ll keep an open mind to the conspiracy theories because they are always fun, but I think it’s a pretty straightforward decision that gives both Pontus and Cooper a boost. One has been given a carrot the other a stick.
      I don’t see any particular issue unless Pontus wants to mime crossing his signature out to the fans.


  15. Brian McDermott? Who mentioned him? You’re right of course,we do need to keep open minds and Steve Evans and Brian Mcdermott are indeed yesterdays men (thank god). But I seem to remember your good self and a good few commenters clamouring for Evans to get a full season at leeds. I don’t mind being proven wrong or being corrected but lets just see where we end up in May. So far Wood has been “Johnny on the spot” as far as his goals record goes,thanks mainly to superb service too though. It wont mean a great deal if we don’t go up though.


    • Steve Evans, yes right – senior moment there. But the thing with Evans was he’d done OK and at the time, with no end in sight to the Massimo madness, he seemed like a safe pair of hands who could accomplish things given a pre-season and a fair crack of the whip. As for Wood, he’s showing he’s the best in the league


      • He is indeed and fair play to him for taking onboard my comments and raising his game. Ha ha. He’s even sprinting like an Olympian at times.


      • I think this is the thing, GM has been good for CW. He looks fitter, sharper and has more focus to his aggressive play. He’s working hard, making some great runs and reaping the rewards 👍


  16. Graham Cook

    Hope I’m wrong Rob but it seems as soon as somebody becomes to popular at Elland Road they’re shown the door


  17. belfastpete

    Pontus has given us a passion that we have not had for a long time BUT there is a reason he is playing in the Championship and not higher as he has to grow as a player and not be bigger than the team. I hope he stays and becomes a house hold name for us Leeds Fans for many years.


  18. It’s one thing for Pontus to celebrate with the fans when he’s played, but he shouldn’t be doing it when he hasn’t.

    If you think he was believing his own hype then you should be happy he wasn’t playing up to his own fans.

    He’s had one or two off games but I don’t think he’s completely gone off the boil in the way some people are making out.

    Remember when Tom Lees got sent off against Ipswich and Warnock criticised him and everyone jumped on it as if Warnock had ruined his career?

    Lees made a stupid tackle in front of everybody and Warnock called it as it was, no one was hung out to dry and he’d praised him enough when he’d played well.

    Jansson has been hung out to dry by Monk. He made a vague statement that suggested he’d done something wrong, but no one knows the full story.

    If there was an issue then why not claim a slight injury to avoid all this speculation?

    What good is this speculation doing anybody? It’s terrible management.

    When can I write a guest blog?


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