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Pontus Jansson is a Leeds favourite but began as a striker at Malmo
Last Updated: 28/11/16 7:15pm
Leeds defender Pontus Jansson is earning rave reviews for his efforts at the Championship club, but he began life as a striker. Adam Bate caught up with Roland Nilsson, the man who gave Jansson his debut, to find out more about the new Leeds favourite…
They are selling t-shirts. The Janssonator. He's both a hashtag and verb - to be janssoned - and a must-follow for Leeds fans on Twitter. Club legend Peter Lorimer likes him. First-team coach James Beattie admits he's "a bit of a cult hero already". Not bad for a loan signing.
A summer arrival from Serie A side Torino, Pontus Jansson has made quite an impact at Elland Road. His tough-tackling approach has endeared him to supporters and his all-round ability has helped propel Leeds into the play-off positions under Garry Monk.
"He is very aggressive and very good with the ball," says the manager of a player he first spotted when Swansea played Malmo in a Europa League game three years ago, and that assessment is backed up by some impressive statistics.
Jansson's Championship record
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The 25-year-old Swede ranks among the top defenders in the Sky Bet Championship for both clearances and blocks, but he's also in the top four centre-backs in terms of passing accuracy too. It's a combination that's indicative of quality.
For Roland Nilsson, a popular figure in Yorkshire himself having spent five years as a player at Sheffield Wednesday, it's also vindication. Nilsson was not only the Malmo coach who gave Jansson his debut but also the man who transformed him from a forward into a defender.
"He was quite good as a striker because of his skill with his feet and his aerial threat," Nilsson tells Sky Sports. "But I saw that he had all the potential that you need to have if you want to be a good centre-back. He's tall, good in the air and on the ball. He's a good passer.
"The only thing I didn't know until I tried him out in a few training sessions was his pace. I let him play up against Daniel Larsson, one of the quickest players that we had, and he managed that very well. That decided it for me. So I started to use him as a centre-back."
A period of adjustment was required. Defending is as much art as science and Jansson had to learn the position. "I can see in the years since I had him under my wing he's progressed with his decisions defensively because that was a problem in the beginning," adds Nilsson.
"He didn't take the best positions all the time. When you go from being a striker to a defender, that's the key thing. It takes time and you need to get the experience of when to go forward and when not to go forward, when to go right and when to go left."
But he always had his tackling. "You can't go much further than Pontus," says Beattie and Nilsson agrees. "He likes to tackle and he likes the physical side as well as his skills," he laughs. "He always gives you 100 per cent, putting his head in and putting his foot in."
Jansson himself cites a friendly against AC Milan that pitted him against now international team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the key moment when "everything changed" - a 50-50 tackle with the powerful forward that left only one man standing. It was the young Jansson.
That day in 2011 gave him the belief to go with the tools. Having bested his hero - "I always liked Zlatan because when I was young I played as a striker, a bit crazy in the head like him" - he would go on to get his move to Italy. But only now is he truly flourishing.
Much credit must go to Monk. Jansson has talked of the big hug he received from his new manager on his first day at the club. Having felt at home right away, he's responding with performances on the pitch. This 'crazy' character is channelling his energy in the right way.
The Jansson effect?
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"He is very competitive and whether it is in training or in matches he wants to win," says Nilsson. "That's what I like about him the most. He wants to become a better player. His character is very good and it's great to see him starting to really show his potential.
"I definitely think he can play in the Premier League because he works hard and he wants to get better. He's shown everyone at Leeds he can do it there and I think he can do it in the Premier League." If Jansson maintains this form, he might just do that in a Leeds shirt too.