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Leeds United v Bristol Rovers: Patrick Kisnorbo interview

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Published Date: 07 May 2010
Given his way, Patrick Kisnorbo would opt for solitary confinement at Elland Road tomorrow.
In the absence of any empty seats, the stadium's gantry will be the next best thing, far from the madding crowd beneath him.

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This, he admits, is what happens when a footballer with his appetite for competition is reduced to a view from the stands. Kisnorbo is like most in his profession: a terrible spectator and appalling company on the days when the implications of injury are most palpable. Tomorrow is such a day.

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"Watching football's a pretty grim experience," he says. "I've never been very good at it and I don't want to be very good at it.

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"Whenever I'm in the stands at Elland Road, I try to sit on my own. It's pretty anti-social but I don't like people talking to me. I don't think anyone would want to talk to me either. I'll probably head for the gantry tomorrow, just so I can be on my own and alone with my thoughts."

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Leeds United can forgive him that. Lord knows, they sympathise. Nothing demonstrates more aptly the injustice of the ruptured Achilles tendon sustained by Kisnorbo in March than the fact that the club's decisive game of the season will proceed without their most decisive player. It proves only that misfortune has a habit of snaring those who deserve it least.

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Before tomorrow's game against Bristol Rovers, the final leg of United's League One season and the key to their promotion, Kisnorbo will receive the Yorkshire Evening Post's player of the year award, nominated by the newspaper's readers in a poll held over seven days last month.

His receipt of the award became inevitable after 24 hours; of the 600-plus votes cast, he attracted almost 85 per cent of them, a landslide at a club where one of Kisnorbo's colleagues has scored 30 goals in the past nine months. Not for Leeds United a hung parliament.

Typically, awards of this nature mark near-perfect seasons. But his first year with Leeds has been the best of times and the worst of times: ecstatic at its best and soul-destroying at its worst. Only now is he able to be philosophical about an injury which cut him down two months before a summer which should have been the best of his life.

"I'm desperate for promotion, absolutely desperate," he says. "I'm probably the worst spectator in the world but the players know I'm with them.

"On one hand, I'm really sad and angry to be talking about the biggest game Leeds have had for three or four years and knowing that I won't play in it, but this is everything, for me and the club. It's agony but it matters to me, now more than ever. I'll hate watching the game and I'll love watching it, if that makes sense.

"If the players finish the job, I can go home to Australia for the summer with a spring in my step. I'll be able to tell myself that we're playing Championship football next year and that we delivered for the club and the city. It'll be a good season for me, I have to say that. Even after everything, it will have been a good year."

Everything is Kisnorbo's way of describing the night of March 22, the end of his season and the date when two attainable ambitions came down in flames.

On joining Leeds on a free transfer last summer, the centre-back did so with honest and transparent intentions: to play a complete part in winning promotion with his new club and to represent his home nation at this summer's World Cup. Both were at his fingertips as April came into view.

A week before United's game against Millwall at Elland Road, Kisnorbo received official confirmation of his inclusion in Australia's final World Cup squad. On the night of the fixture itself, Leeds lay second in the League One table, close enough to automatic promotion to begin imagining it. What he could not foresee was the Achilles tendon which gave way without warning in the fifth minute of the match. Kisnorbo left the field on a stretcher, taking his season with him.

"Football's funny," he says. "It lets you dream for a while and then brings you back to reality in an instant. I was in a great scenario – a week before the Millwall game I'd been told I was definitely in the World Cup squad. You feel elated and so up for a huge game at Elland Road. I haven't had too many weeks like that.

"But I knew as soon as my tendon ruptured that I was in big trouble. The pain was indescribable. You can't imagine it until you've experienced it. I've never been shot, thankfully, but it must feel something like that.

"My first thought was 'that's my season and that's my World Cup'. Everything went in those five minutes. I couldn't speak and afterwards all I did was cry. If you ask anyone what the pinnacle of football is, they'll say the World Cup. I was in the squad and basically on the plane. It's all come crashing down and that's very hard to take; hard to talk about. It's only when I watch the games on TV that it'll hit me properly, knowing that I should have been there.

"A month ago, I was in a really bad state. All I did was go over the incident in my head. You ask yourself what would have happened if Casper (Ankergren, United's goalkeeper) had cleared the ball to the other side of the pitch or if my positioning had been different. It's a pointless exercise and it drives you mad.

"The simple fact is that I'm not going to South Africa and that's the end of it. I haven't been able to see promotion through either. People say 'chin up' to me all the time and I really appreciate their support, but it's not that simple. They can't really understand how this feels."

The strength of support for Kisnorbo at Thorp Arch is in no small part down to the high esteem in which he is held by United's players and staff.

Simon Grayson, the manager who twisted the Australian's arm while other English clubs chased his signature last summer, was among the first to console him in the aftermath of Leeds' 2-0 defeat to Millwall.

Michael Doyle, United's on-loan midfielder, said the dressing room was "devastated". Beyond Kisnorbo's personal losses, Leeds were deeply upset to lose a talismanic defender whose performances invigorated his reputation after a meek end to his career with Leicester.

His fashion as a footballer was made clear on the first day of the season when he sustained a cut to his forehead in Leeds' 2-1 win over Exeter City. The wound was severe enough for medical staff to recommend that he undergo plastic surgery, a procedure which Kisnorbo had no intention of considering with the season in its infancy and the World Cup on the horizon. He wore bandages around his skull instead.

Through 29 league appearances, Grayson's description of Kisnorbo's signing as a "big coup" grew ever more valid, vindicated by a defender who sustained a sublime level of consistency. Kisnorbo has the genuine consolation of knowing that he has been integral to the season and, potentially, promotion; the likes of Ben Parker, another player beset by injury, would love to be able to say the same.

"Coming here was a choice I had to make," Kisnorbo says. "I had a long meeting with the gaffer and he basically twisted my arm.

"League One football didn't appeal to me at all and I was very honest about that. But when I started to think about the move and think about it properly, it became more and more attractive.

"I made my decision because I started to realise that this club could potentially do anything – and I mean anything. It's not guaranteed to be successful but you know that realistically there's no upper limit for Leeds. It makes you wonder what you could go on to do with them if you commit to the club and stick around.

"At Leicester, I had a manager (Nigel Pearson) who didn't seem to like my style of play. I don't think it was anything personal, just his decision. But I wasn't playing and football for me is all about the games. Players who complain about being tired are crazy. If I could play every day then I would, especially at the moment.

"I'm flattered if people think I've done well but in my opinion I've never had a good game. There are always things I do wrong and things I can do better. But parts of this season have been brilliant. The FA Cup win over Manchester United stands out as a highlight, a real day for the underdogs. Our 4-0 win at Bristol Rovers in October was as good as it got in terms of league games. That was probably the performance of the year. If only that could happen again tomorrow."

For the sanity of Grayson's players and a capacity crowd at Elland Road, it must. The road ahead of Kisnorbo, meanwhile, will be taken in patient steps. Promotion tomorrow would soothe his mind; on Tuesday, the cast on his left leg is due to be removed, allowing him to return to some form of normality. "I'll actually be able to wear a pair of shoes again," he says, "I haven't done that for six weeks."

More significant is the prediction that he will begin light training in July and full training in October. They are distant targets but meaningful ones, close enough to work towards. It would aid Kisnorbo's enthusiasm during a reflective summer to know that the Championship awaits him next season.

"I'm only 29 so I could still play in a World Cup," he says. "The Asian Cup is coming up for Australia in January and that's the next competition to think about but I don't see much point in looking towards it now.

"It's day by day for me and for the club. Tomorrow's the be-all and end-all. You can dream about anything but sometimes its healthier to be realistic. If we get into the Championship then I can look at the grand scheme and say it's been a good season for me. A frustrating one, yes, but a good one as well. I guess you can't have it all."

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  • Last Updated: 07 May 2010 7:57 AM
  • Source: n/a
  • Location: Leeds
 
 
 


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