I don’t know what ‘broadcasting restrictions’ kept Leeds United’s Under-23s trip to Liverpool off our screens, but in these days when there’s always a screen, the smuggled footage of what Joffy Gelhardt got up to emboldened his myth and made one thing certain: we need to get this exciting little scouse scoundrel into Leeds United’s first team immediately, and I don’t mean the Carabao Cup.

People will tell you Gelhardt scored two goals in the game, but his first — a lob over the goalkeeper from just inside the half — is like Diego Maradona’s handball against England at the 1986 World Cup. Why bother about a genius player outsmarting some dimwit short-armed goalkeeper, when his second goal is a work of art?

Look at that goal. The power, the dip, the swerve. Even Joffy seems shocked by what his foot has done, running for the comforting arms of Pascal Struijk as if for protection from what his own boot has wrought. Not since Alex Mowatt scored twice in his week of netbusters against Cardiff and Huddersfield have I seen a Leeds player so drunk on his own shooting power.

There’s a little secret about Leeds under Bielsa and it’s that spectacular goals like this one are rare. Luke Ayling at Old Trafford? But we don’t want to think about that. Or Stuart Dallas’ brilliant strike there the time before. Dallas won goal of the season for his winner at Manchester City more for circumstances than beauty, and he tried to brush off the praise. “I probably would have given it to Rodrigo for his goal at Burnley,” he said. That was a good goal, but it was a delicate flick inside the box, no how, no itzer, no hum, no dinger. Maybe Jackie Harrison against Newcastle, then? That was a great one. Or Raphinha’s free-kick. But going back further I’m thinking Pablo Hernandez against West Brom, from outside the box, and Ayling against Huddersfield, van Bastening inside it.

Distance isn’t the only measure of a great goal but it’s the easiest one to look at on a Sunday afternoon, so here’s a stat: last season Leeds had the second lowest average shot distance in the Premier League, level with Liverpool and above West Ham. What do you think about that? This was despite overall shots per 90 being 4th best, behind Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, indicating that we love to shoot, but from close in where we can be sure. Well, kinda sure. We were 6th on goals per shot, which isn’t bad.

Joffy Gelhardt in a snood
Photograph by Pro Sports Images

We know from watching, anyway, that Bielsa’s Leeds are all about the wingers and the wide overloads, crossing from bylines and scuffing it in or letting our dear friend own goal do their thing. That said, the small sample size of this season so far is pushing us up the table to 2nd behind Norwich for average shooting distance, exactly two yards further out per shot than last season, at 18.2 yards, a full seven inches further than last season’s top Premier League number. Is this a change in tactic, or is it Mateusz Klich? By the by, I also just noticed he’s already hit seven out of ten shots on target, after doing ten out of 34 in all of the last campaign, averaging about 21 inches more distance this season and frickin’ just loads of per cent more accuracy. Raphinha is way up too, from 16.3 yards last season to 20.6 yards this, but this is when we realise that the cross Rodrigo dummied at Newcastle is being counted as a 38 yard Raphinha shot and most of these stats are actually unhelpful unless we watch all the shots as well, one by one. And I’m not doing that when I could be watching Joffy’s goal over and over again. Here it is in case you’re missing it already:

Besides, stats don’t measure the wow. That’s what impresses about Joffy’s strike. He’s moving inside and you’d expect him to pass the ball wide. The wingers might expect it. Mark Jackson might expect it. Maybe Marcelo Bielsa insists on it. Liverpool’s keeper is an eighteen year old Brazilian named Marcelo, so maybe shooting from here really was a little Joffy rebellion against El Loco’s style. With no warning and hardly any backlift, Gelhardt smacked that ball swervefully up and around flabbergasted Marcelo, giving it ample delve for getting under the bar, and how else can you measure all that but wow? And when it comes to wow, this goal delivers. A goal struck from there is always going to be good — I reckon you’d expect 0.72 of one full wow if a player hits the net from there. But the way Joffy hit the ball, the trajectory, the speed and swoop, you’d have to measure that beyond the known limits of a wow, obliterating 0.72 expected wow on its way to probably like 1.18 actual wow.

I’d love that much wow from our first team. Not just because we’re winless after five, but because even when we score, Bielsa’s football can feel like a tease. When Peter Lorimer died, I wrote about how his 90mph shots from long distance were a kind of destructive football, because they put the ball out of play, sometimes in the stands or the goalie’s hands but usually in the net. Wherever, the game had to stop because Lorimer decided he wouldn’t pass to any of the wonderful talents around him, not Gray or Clarke or Jones or Giles, he’d just shoot. We loved Lorimer for it, but as Bielsa counts out the minutes lost to throw-ins against Burnley, decries the shrinking of time left for playing, I don’t know if he’d have cared to have it happening, this one player booting the ball out of play, even if it kept going into the goal.

We don’t see much of it from his current Leeds team. The door is always open for individual creativity and skill, but often that means dribbling in the service of the greater plan. But look at the online reaction to one shot from a teenager in an Under-23s game nobody could watch. Everyone goes on about expected goals but that’s a codification of frustration: I should have seen a goal, my arbitrary chart here says so, and now I feel let down by seeing a miss. Gelhardt didn’t let us down. Unexpected goals are simply more fun. ◉

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