Slaven Bilic helping to keep Jonathan Leko’s West Brom spirits high
Jonathan Leko is keeping his spirits up and focusing on making an impact at Albion as he continues to battle his way back from a serious knee injury.
Having been advised by head coach Slaven Bilic to go out and gain some valuable experience last summer, the 2019/20 campaign looked to be going to plan for Leko following a successful loan stint at Charlton.
The forward had made 20 Championship appearances and had been a regular in Lee Bowyer’s side as Christmas approached.
But a regulation challenge against QPR saw the youngster injure the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
It meant, in the blink of an eye, Leko went from being a first-team regular to facing surgery and 10 months on the sidelines.
And he revealed Bilic has regularly been giving him pep talks since he returned to The Hawthorns for treatment.
“Slaven has had a chat with me a few times since I’ve been back,” Leko said.
“He’s just told me to get my mind right and focus on getting back and obviously once I’ve recovered, I look forward to pushing to get back in the team.
“When I start going back in the gym and running about, then maybe I can start thinking about the possibility of getting back a bit earlier than expected.
“But I’ve only just started walking so we’ll see how it goes.
“I was close to a couple of the physios before but I am a lot closer to them now and I’ll be getting to know them a lot better.”
Leko revealed when his injury first happened he didn’t think it was too serious. Very quickly, though, the forward was relying on his parents for help for the most basic of tasks.
“I went up for a header and ad I’ve landed I’ve heard my knee click,” Leko continued. “I was in a lot of pain. But I got up, walked around and thought ‘okay, it might hurt for a couple of weeks or months but nothing more.’
“It wasn’t until the doctor at Charlton started talking to me that I knew it was bad. It started swelling up and that’s when it became a worry.
“Then I couldn’t walk, go up the stairs or put my socks on.
“My mum and dad needed to help me in the shower. I literally had to stay in my bed for two weeks – I couldn’t move.”
Back in the 2017/18 season, Leko had a loan spell at Bristol City but only made six starts for Lee Johnson’s side.
But while he didn’t feature as much as he would have liked, he feels that move gave him the foundations to then flourish at Charlton under Bowyer.
“Lee played me virtually every game so I want to thank him for the faith he placed in me, starting me week in, week out,” the forward added.
“From my first loan at Bristol, I noticed the difference in physicality but at Charlton I already knew what it was going to be like from my time at City and I went in straight away knowing what I needed to do and what to expect.
“Going out on loan helped so much and I appreciate the opportunity a lot.
“It’s helped me boost my game and become an all-round better player.”