Exclusive: Nigel Martyn picks his most-improved Leeds player of 2020-21, as Stuart Dallas racks up awards at end-of-season do

Stuart Dallas picked up three awards after a stellar campaign for Leeds United in what was our first season back in the Premier League after 16 years. He won Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season, and Goal of the Season. But asked for his most-improved Player of the Season, Nigel Martyn has told Leeds United.News he would pick a defender instead.

Dallas netted eight goals for Leeds during the 2020-21 season, starting at left-back and eventually moving into midfield. He has also played at right-back, right wing, left wing, and at times, a number 10. Of all of our best performers, Dallas was consistently good – but that means he is not a contender for most-improved. Indeed, they have needed to have got better.

Plenty of contenders are in for this award. Illan Meslier was still a rookie when he first came in, but the French goalkeeper has broken records – winning the most clean sheets under the age of 21. It saw him beat Joe Hart’s record, and then becoming the youngest to reach 10 in history.

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Patrick Bamford is also a viable contender. Scoring 16 Championship goals but missing a hatful last season, there were pre-season concerns regarding Bamford – and whether he could hack it in the top tier of English football. But he has scored 17 goals and laid on seven assists. A spectacular return.

Other options include Jack Harrison. After just five goals in the Championship during his first season at Leeds, he has since had a hand in 16 goals in the Premier League this term. Luke Ayling continues to improve, but was excellent to begin with. Indeed, none of these names were Leeds legend Martyn’s pick.

Instead, the Whites icon went with defender Pascal Struijk. Having only played four times at senior level before this season, Struijk has clocked up 30 outings. Injuries to Liam Cooper, Robin Koch and Diego Llorente meant Struijk was thrusted into the side – and he has grown with every minute of Premier League action. Martyn paid tribute to the Leeds powerhouse.

“Struijk I think,” Martyn said – when asked about the defender. “When he first came in, his level has gone up and as the season has gone on. Meslier, Harrison – they’ve had a good season. But as a wider player it is hard [for Harrison] to constantly shine – you’re going to have games where you look a world beater and others where you work hard. But I probably would go Struijk as most improved. At the start he was on the bench and coming on if needed, but he got better every time he came on. I’d go for Struijk.”

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