Kyle Bartley is the most under-appreciated name in Yorkshire football.
He is captain of Leeds United, he collects goals that count for more than just one in the grand scheme of a season, and he is part of a defensive marriage that has defined Garry Monk’s new side. Bartley is omnipresent in everything good currently happening at Elland Road, a feat which should be enough to garner attention all by itself.
To put this another way, let’s ask a different question:
Who is the biggest name in the Leeds United squad?
Pontus Jansson is the cult hero. Chris Wood is the goal scorer. Kemar Roofe is the new hope. Hadi Sacko is the speedster without a shot. Ronaldo Vieira is the future. Alex Mowatt is the forgotten man. Charlie Taylor is the one player who divides a fan base, despite oozing talent and potential.
They all combine to build the tasty cocktail that is Leeds United football in December 2016, but none can compare to the unnamed Bartley.
Bartley is the best and most important player in Leeds United’s squad. The towering defender is equal parts leader, skillful, influential and intelligent. Saturday’s dire victory over Brentford was the latest example of the Englishman’s prowess.
Bartley was United’s best player on the weekend. He controlled the match from the back and oversaw a stout defensive performance, one which has suddenly become the norm at Elland Road. All this applied even before Bartley’s match winning goal - he was one of the few United players who won his position. In a below average performance for his footballing club, Bartley led the way for 88 minutes. Then this happened.
Bartley’s second goal on the season stole an extra two points for United, making it eerily similar to his first against Blackburn.
Talk about déjà vu. Neither goal was anything overly technical, both finishes were rather benign really, but each carried impact beyond most others scored by any of Bartley’s team mates this season.
Against Blackburn, Bartley resuscitated a season and kept the chasing pack away from Monk. Remember that time back in August when people were one result away from calling for Monk’s head? Unbelievably enough, they did exist. Bartley’s goal was the beginning of the end for such reckless speculation.
As for Saturday’s effort, it kept United in the top 6 ahead of a hectic holiday period, another intangible boost to a growing side. That, really, is the perfect way to describe Bartley’s impact: it goes beyond a single act on the football pitch.
In the moments following his match winning goal on Saturday, there was no selfish overreaction to a job well done. Sure there was a moment of indulgement - he is human after all - but this was quickly replaced by a calm head instructing his team to refocus on the game’s dying moments.
Bartley noted in an interview after the victory at Cardiff that he didn’t notice Pablo Hernandez’s stunning strike. Instead, he was busy organising the defence in case Leeds lost possession. Such sublime attention to detail initially sounds mundane; right up until you recall the defensive miscues which have plagued this team for a decade.
Garry Monk was always a fan of Bartley; he had handed the Englishman a three year contract when managing Swansea City. It was little wonder the seventh manager of Massimo Cellino’s reign persuaded Bartley to sign on loan for the season. Thank goodness he did.
In a recent interview, Bartley named two of this century’s best central defenders as his inspiration.
“Rio Ferdinand was always the one for me. Overseas – Fabio Cannavaro was one I really looked up to. It was fantastic how he was only 5ft 10 and yet was still one of most dominant centre-halves.”
While Bartley still remains a level below his idols, he has quickly become as impactful as those he admired as teenager. Just like Cannavaro did for his Italian national side, and Ferdinand did once upon a time for United, Bartley is the driving force behind successful football. That is now Bartley’s role in Monk’s Leeds team.
Bartley is not the biggest name plying his trade at Elland Road, nor is he the most talented, but he is very much the critical factor holding this team together. He performs his role to perfection and leads a football club that he has only known for six months.
Finding another striker or bolstering the midfield are reputable causes, yet the most pressing piece of business should be to gain permanent control over the best player Leeds currently have.
A flashy striker may create a few more goals to sustain a top six spot. But signing Bartley? That will ensure Premier League football occurs in the coming years. People like Kyle Bartley should not be leaving your organisation.
Make it happen, Monk and Cellino. MOT