Former Leeds United striker Jermaine Beckford has issued a passionate plea for Javi Gracia to see what Willy Gnonto can offer his team after the young attacker was overlooked again.
Leeds drew 1-1 with Leicester on Tuesday night in a match between two sides battling against relegation. The hosts took the lead via Luis Sinisterra, but were pegged back fairly late on after a Jamie Vardy equaliser.
Patrick Bamford missed a huge chance for Leeds to get a second goal, so they had to settle for a draw.
One man who was watching on from the bench was Gnonto. After signing for the club last summer, the Italy international has impressed. But his gametime since Gracia replaced Jesse Marsch as manager has been limited.
Gnonto has only started two Premier League matches under Gracia. Against Leicester, he didn’t even make it on as a substitute.
According to Beckford, Leeds could make more use of Gnonto’s ‘direct’ approach – and it is ‘bizarre’ that Gracia isn’t doing so.
Beckford told BT Sport: “As soon as Luis Sinisterra got injured, you could hear the whole stadium just erupting with Willy Gnonto, they started singing his song.
“There’s no doubting he’s a fans’ favourite. He’s a fantastic football player. He’s one of those players that as soon as he picks the ball up, he’s so direct, but he’s got such close control, such focus, such drive and passion.
“And the fans buzz off that sort of stuff. That’s what you need, especially when you’re at home.
“He was on the bench. I don’t know [why] if I’m brutally honest, I don’t know.
“There was another opportunity to bring him on as well, which is when Brenden Aaronson came on. There were only two substitutions today and one of them was forced.
“And that’s bizarre, especially when you can clearly see the players are getting a little bit tired, a little bit leggy, Leicester are starting to dominate the game. I don’t know, if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t know.”
Beckford denies Willy Gnonto is luxury player
In response, fellow pundit Michael Owen suggested Gracia might view Gnonto as a luxury player.
Owen claimed: “Certain managers are like that, though, aren’t they? With that type of player, certain managers love them. They just think right, they can be a game changer.
“But I think you look a quite a lot of managers about. Those luxury players, dare I say it, especially in a relegation [battle], they’ve got a blind spot to them.”
However, Beckford rejected Owen’s claims, insisting Gnonto is a worker as well as a talent on the ball.
Beckford replied: “The thing is, he works hard. So when we speak about luxury players, we don’t talk about the work ethic of the luxury players, we talk about how neat and tidy they are on the ball.
“Whereas he’s got the other side of the game to him as well. He’s got a naughty little streak in him if need be. He grinds, he works his socks off to get back and defend. He’s also fantastic in attack, so I don’t understand it.”
Gnonto has been linked with a transfer to either Juventus or Inter Milan back in his native Italy. Leeds look unlikely to keep him if they suffer relegation to the Championship.
Other Premier League clubs have been taking a look at the 19-year-old as well – including Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.
Since joining Leeds from FC Zurich, Gnonto has scored four goals from 23 appearances, also providing three assists. He is under contract at Elland Road until 2027.