Sometimes, you lose more than a useful squad member of talent and ability when a player moves on. The appeal of a certain type of player transcends their actual skill or other technical qualities. Sometimes it’s the uniqueness of the personality departing your club that you’ll miss, above and beyond a penchant for stinging volleys or crunching tackles. We’ve loved and lost a few of these mad, maverick types at Elland Road over the decades – Vinnie Jones springs to mind, for instance, as one of a special breed who “got” Leeds, seeming to absorb the singular personality of this uncommon club into their own DNA. When someone like that moves on, they leave a big hole behind them.
One such departure, regretfully anticipated for some time, but finally confirmed only now, is that of Gjanni Alioski, North Macedonian international, versatile left-sided performer, behind the scenes motivator and card-carrying nutter. Gjanni is one of those players in the famous colours of Leeds United whose loss will be felt for much more than his on-field contribution to United’s recent spectacular success. His ability to wind up opponents in the Leeds United cause is legendary enough, but it’s his episodes of pre-match tunnel-based insanity that I’ll most fondly recall in years to come. Gjanni may well be replaced by a player of superior ability, but surely it’s too much to expect a similarly vivid personality to take his place. Whatever the positives brought to the table by incoming players this window, I do feel we’ll have lost a certain je ne sais quoi with the departure of the Macedonian madman. No more will the corridors echo with “Peppa Peeeg!”, and that’s got to be a cause for some regret.
The really sad thing is that we didn’t even get to say “goodbye”. It seemed fairly clear in the final game of last season, as Leeds comfortably saw off West Brom, that this would be Alioski’s last hurrah – but it wasn’t confirmed at that point, so the farewells were for the certain departures, and Alioski seemed content to stay in the background while the spotlight played on Pablo and Gaetano in their final United appearances. That’s quite poignant, really, especially as Elland Road actually had a crowd inside for the first time in ages. It would have been nice to have been able to say farewell to Gjanni, alongside the other two heroes.
There are so many memories of Gjanni Alioski over his few years in United white, yellow and blue. Goals – my favourites are a blistering effort at Forest and that fulminating volley at Huddersfield. Assists, too, by the barrowload, and the boundless energy required by Bielsaball. Gjanni always put in a shift, and always had a terrific rapport with the fans. He even interacted with and acknowledged the cardboard cutouts on the Kop at the height of COVID, one of the myriad bizarre, off the wall memories associated with a player of whom you always expected the unexpected.
Goodbye then, Gjanni – or is it only au revoir? You never know with a guy like that and, though he’s heading for pastures new, he always seemed at home in LS11. He’ll be missed, of course, as we’ve missed so many crowd favourites before him. But Gjanni was that bit different, and replacing him will not just be a matter of importing an equal or superior talent. For the squad as a whole to retain its character and edge, we’re going to need to find another adorable madman, somebody with a screw just loose enough to merit the assumption of the Alioski mantle.
Let’s face it, that would be a remarkable feat. If Victor Orta can pull that one off, then we’re going to have to allocate space at Elland Road for his thoroughly deserved statue.
Marching On Together