It’s been a love affair like so many others, waxing hot with passion and mutual desire in that early, devoted phase – then cooling off, with indifference where once was there was adoration. Harsh words are spoken, third party interest rears its opportunist head, and whatever the formerly enamoured couple might say only serves to emphasise the widening gap between them.
This is how things are now developing for those two erstwhile paramours, Pontus Jansson and the massed support of Leeds United. In the beginning, it looked like true love, with frequent, heartfelt declarations on both sides. Pontus said and did the right things, and the besotted Leeds crowd swooned accordingly. Pontus headed away every threat on our goal, and occasionally sallied forth upfield for attacking set pieces, nutting spectacular goals that roused the support to a fever pitch of ecstasy and adoration.
Surely, this was a love affair that would stand the test of time, with Jansson living up to the lyrics of his love ballad by demonstrating his willingness to head away footballs, opposing attackers, bricks, meteorites if need be. Pontus did it all, and communed with the support after the final whistle sounded and battle was done. Great was the love that cascaded down from the stands for our Swedish hero. Pontus was Leeds, and Leeds loved Pontus.
When the rot started to set in, it seemed scarcely believable – but, in reality, it was that age-old story of love and then loss being retold in the football idiom. Leeds fans didn’t want to believe their idol had feet of clay, and spent months in denial as Jansson’s form faded and the occasional lapses of fidelity became more frequent. Pontus started to show a tendency to bail out when the going got tough; only a few brave souls, at first, invited charges of heresy by pointing this out. The support en masse waited for signs that the beloved Pontus still loved them and would return to his brick-heading ways of those passionate early stages of mutual devotion.
But a few – a significant few – feared that the magic had gone, that the magic hat no longer fitted a swollen head, that Pontus had lost his desire and dedication. Time and again, when things were going against the team, Pontus sought the sanctuary of the changing rooms, nursing some apparent injury that would miraculously clear up when easier opponents were in the offing. It seemed as though our hero had a streak of yellow in what had seemed to be a warrior’s persona, and his adoring fans fretted at this evidence of fallibility in a man who, not so long before, had seemed to epitomise all that was good and heroic about Leeds United and its fanatical following.
Alas, the evidence against Pontus continued to pile up last season. Despite the occasional signs of defiance in defence, and the even more occasional evidence of lethal intent in attack, Pontus was, overall, the merest shadow of the Pontus we’d known and hailed as a defining hero the season before. Slowly, the truth was dawning on the Pontus fan club: here, just possibly, was yet another apparent idol who had flattered, only to deceive. We’ve seen enough of those before – but, with Pontus, it was supposed to be different.
Now, with his substandard contribution to Leeds United’s substandard season behind him, Jansson is away at the World Cup with his national team, and he’s making noises about his future that will not sound like sweet nothings to those who have worshipped him since those hearts and flowers early days. He wants to stay in England, we hear, but – despite the fact that he has a contract running until 2022, he’s not going to commit himself to seeing it out. He wants to aim for the Premier League, but if you read between the lines of his public utterances, he might rather achieve this through a transfer out of Leeds than soil his hands, feet and head by battling through another Championship muck and bullets campaign.
Maybe I’m doing Pontus a disservice, but perhaps I can be forgiven a slight bitterness. I loved Pontus too, as much as anyone, when he was doing it for Leeds and everybody was raving about this new juggernaut at Elland Road. And I’ve seen central defenders arrive on loan before, performing excellently and then, as soon as a permanent deal is signed, fading away to be the merest shadow of their former selves. It’s become depressingly regular – but I would have laughed at any suggestion of it being a route our Pontus might go down. And yet here we are, watching with horror as Jansson morphs before our eyes into just another Lubo Michalik. It’s just so sad to see a loved one end up this way.
Still, other relationships have hit rocky patches and still come through. It’s still possible for the Leeds support and their Pontus to rekindle some measure of the rapport that seemed to exist until comparatively recently. But it’s not for the injured party in these cases to make special efforts or resolutions. That’s for the one who strays, by word or deed – they’re the guilty element in the equation. It’s for them to renew their vows and attempt to rebuild bridges. Pontus needs to clear his mind, stop chelping about his club career until the World Cup is done with, and then settle down to win his admirers back by recalling the Jansson we used to know, possibly even – who knows? – with his partner of those heady early days, Kyle Bartley, once more by his side.
One more season of that partnership, together with improvement elsewhere in the squad, might enable Jansson to recapture his mojo, stop blaming others for his own failings and generally get back on the horse again and start heading away those bricks, to the left and to the right. If all that comes to pass, maybe Jansson will finally secure his passage to the Premier League. And it would taste all the sweeter, because he would have earned it. Along with, not incidentally, the renewed and restored adoration of his Elland Road fan club.
Pontus, you know it makes sense, and you know you owe us this – so make it happen. After all, every one of us wants the traditional happy ending.