Leeds United Boosted by Hat-Trick of Victories and a New Hero   –   by Rob Atkinson

Chris Wood, much-maligned goal machine


The phenomenon of three wins on the bounce for Leeds United is not simply a welcome change for long-suffering Whites fans – it’s more like something approaching a state of nirvana. Free from the worries and stresses accompanying defeat after defeat, the average Elland Road regular can relax for once, spared the jibes of a hostile media and annoyingly gloating fans of lesser clubs. Three straight wins – it’s as near to bliss as we’re likely to get right now.

Of course, it can’t be denied that this minor miracle has been achieved without the pulling-up of too many trees. Our victory at Cardiff dumped the Bluebirds unceremoniously at the foot of the table, and the other two victories – one in the league, one in the EFL Cup, were narrow affairs against another club struggling in the Championship’s basement, Blackburn Rovers. So it might not be much to write home about, although I’m clearly intending to get a blog out of it. Still – three wins is three wins, and it might just turn out to be a platform for better things to come. A victory against Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Tractor Boys on Saturday, and we really would be on a roll.

The most notable factor in the trio of triumphs over the past week or so may well be the emergence of Swedish international centre back Pontus Jansson as the next Whites folk hero. Jansson’s performance at Cardiff was simply sublime; I’ve not seen a better defensive debut in many a moon. He’s the sort of colossus who you feel would head away anything fired at him, up to and including an intercontinental ballistic missile. And when he wasn’t wielding that impressive head, he was sliding into last ditch tackles or nipping in to make handy interceptions from frustrated Cardiff attackers. Wherever the ball entered our danger zone, there was Pontus to deal with it. The man was a revelation, a magnet for the ball, a man among men and one to hang on to if at all possible. Whoever the resident defenders are at Torino, his parent club, they must be a bit good to allow for the release of Jansson on a season’s loan. The Italians’ loss will, hopefully, be Leeds United’s gain.

Among other high points from the last few games was that Pablo Hernandez “worldy” strike to clinch the points at Cardiff. If he can start to put in more of a full shift, the ex-Swansea playmaker should be a real asset for United as the season goes on. And it’s good, also, to see Chris Wood scoring regularly. His winner against Blackburn in the EFL Cup was not a thing of beauty but, like Wood himself, it got the job done. And the boy takes a good, decisive penalty, putting them away hard and true with admirable cool as he did to open the scoring against our former nemesis Cardiff. Wood may have his detractors, but he’s undeniably effective.

Last, but not least, it’s lovely to see United make progress in a Cup. Norwich City are next up in a game at Elland Road that could see Leeds make a rare Quarter Final, and then – who knows? Maybe a big fish at home, like Manchester City, if they can overcome their own local minnows.

Now, that WOULD be bliss!

Pontus the Impassable Can Be the Leeds United Season Saviour – by Rob Atkinson

Football - EFL Cup - 2nd Round - Luton Town v Leeds United

Pontus Jansson – new United hero

Pontus Sven Gustav Jansson has made the kind of start to his Leeds United career that has you taking out and polishing a few superlatives, safe in the knowledge they’ll be well-used over the course of this season – if the giant Swedish international can maintain the form he’s shown so far. Jansson has brought a hitherto unknown solidity to the United back line these past couple of games, helped in no small part, it must be said, by the efforts of Kyle Bartley alongside him. But today, at Cardiff City, Jansson was the stand-out performer by a country mile, with headed clearances, last-ditch tackles, interceptions – you name it, Pontus accomplished it with consummate skill, utter commitment and precious little regard for his own safety.

A presence such as Jansson’s in defence will gradually spread confidence throughout the whole team, that growing assurance of any ball heading towards our area being summarily dealt with. It’s the sort of security that can and will reap its rewards further forward – a tighter defence will, ultimately, give the midfield less to worry about behind them, enabling a more positive influence in attack. Pontus Jansson, in a very real sense, is the foundation upon which the rest of Leeds United’s play can be built.

Cardiff started out in resolute fashion after a dismal midweek defeat at Preston. Early on, they looked determined to exorcise that ghost, at the expense of a Leeds side fresh from a narrow victory over lowly Blackburn. But, as the game wore on, and despite various alarms arising out of the odd goalmouth scramble with Rob Green still looking less than settled, it became clear that, wherever Cardiff put the ball in and around Leeds’ defensive third, there would be Jansson to clear it. When he wasn’t clearing it, he was nipping in to steal possession, or sliding in to cut out possible half-chances. He was like a magnet for the ball – and you could see the Cardiff players wondering what they’d have to do to carve out anything approaching a clear cut chance, with this colossus marshaling things for the Whites.

So, as the story continued of Cardiff pressure being rebuffed by determined United resistance, the tide slowly turned. When Leeds were denied a penalty for holding in the area, manager Garry Monk was outraged – but, within a minute, a similar offence was punished with a spot-kick, calmly converted by Chris Wood. And then the pattern resumed of Cardiff banging their collective head hopelessly against the brick wall that is Pontus Jansson. The more they hammered it forward, the more he headed it away, and his proclamation as the latest Leeds legend is surely only a matter of time. Cardiff City, for sure, will be sick of the sight of him. It was difficult to argue with the impression that the Bluebirds could have pecked away at Leeds until the White Cliffs of Dover crumbled into the sea – and still, they wouldn’t have scored. When Pablo Hernandez, once more somewhat peripheral to the action, applied a truly world-class coup de grâce, bending a fine shot in off the far post, it was no more than a merciful release for the home side, put out of their misery at last.

It was that kind of day for Leeds United, one that could have gone against them had they not found a reliable hero to repel all attacks. Pontus Jansson was that man and he was just in that kind of mood where he wasn’t going to be beaten. It was an attitude that, in due course, inspired the whole team to raise their performance levels. Long may that continue, and may our Pontus have many, many more such days in the famous white shirt. He really does seem to be the real deal, with an attitude redolent of Elland Road‘s great days. He also seems to be an engaging sort of guy who “gets” what Leeds United is all about. A swift perusal of his post-match tweets is ample confirmation of that.

A Leeds United hero? It does seem quite possible. We’ll just have to hope that, if and when he pens a permanent deal, it isn’t the ruination of him as it has been for various of his predecessors. But that’s to be needlessly pessimistic. A 2-0 win at Cardiff, giving us back-to-back victories, should be cause for looking on the bright side. And with that in mind, this blog is ready to hail Pontus Jansson as the latest entry in the Leeds United pantheon of legends.  Well played, son – now, keep it up.

Cellino Supporters: Big Improvement On Last Season’s Leeds 1, Huddersfield 4 – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino sunshine

Cellino – 0-1 better than 1-4, yes?

Supporters of embattled Leeds United supremo Massimo Cellino were jubilant this evening as they celebrated a “massive improvement” over last season’s performance at Elland Road against Huddersfield Town. A mere one goal defeat has left United mired in the relegation zone, but fans of Cellino point out that, in the equivalent fixture last year, Leeds were zonked out of sight by a score of 4-1. Furthermore, as one grinning Cellinophile exulted, this defeat was against the table-topping team unbeaten all season. “Really, when you fink about it, it’s an ace result and we should all be proud. We wouldn’t of got a result like this without Massimo”, our man burbled happily.

Evidence for the unique nature of Cellino’s tenure at Leeds continues to mount. Having let a manager go in Steve Evans, who exceeded his brief last season, released one of the more prolific of last term’s strikers in Mirco Antenucci, released the club captain Sol Bamba the day after the transfer window shut without signing a replacement central defender, Cellino also failed to sign another striker and has left Leeds with three senior central defenders, two of whom are loanees. It’s probably fair to say that it’s a performance unparalleled elsewhere in professional football.

Whether Cellino will be in control much longer, so as to make us all marvel anew at his incredible grasp of how to run a football club, has to be open to question. Rumour is rife that a deal is all but done to sell a majority stake in the club to a group of Far East investors. For Cellino fans, drunk on the achievement of holding Huddersfield to a mere one goal victory, this will probably come as a tragedy. But, to those Leeds United fans not suffering from cataclysmic delusions and a stubborn determination to ignore reality, a change of ownership could hardly be more welcome.

Meanwhile, the Cellinophiles will tenaciously be frolicking away as the club takes another step towards plummeting through the League One trapdoor. At the end of the day, it’s the simple things in life that appeal most to the simpler people in life. They say that ignorance is bliss. So at least, unlike most Leeds United fans, the supporters of Massimo Cellino will remain blissfully happy – until and unless their hero is replaced by someone who has a clue what he’s about.

Cellino OUT. Let it be.

 

Lost: Teddy (Thrown Out of Cot). Leeds Utd Colours. Please Return to Garry Monk   –   by Rob Atkinson

Monk: my teddy went thataway


Professional football is a game of lines. Touchlines, goal-lines, defensive lines. Add to that: lines you do not cross. Mark that last one well, especially if you are a Leeds United manager under pressure (and is there any other sort?)

There are also things you can afford to lose, within reason. Football matches. Arguments with the owner (that’s probably the tactful thing to do). And there are things you cannot afford to lose, at any price. The respect and support of the fans. The respect and support of the local press who cover all aspects of the club.

In a car-crash of a radio interview with Adam Pope after today’s 0-1 home defeat to Huddersfield, Leeds manager Garry Monk crossed the line that separates professionalism from imprudent petulance. He is now in perilous territory, in danger of being turned upon by local press and fans alike. After what was really an abysmal interview performance, Garry Monk is bang to rights on a charge of lacking respect and professional calm. It’s a mistake that will not soon be forgotten, and one that will bear no repetition.

It’s easy to point at the fact that Monk is under pressure. But he is well paid to cope with that – and, not incidentally, to produce performances many times more convincing than his Leeds United team has been serving up. You can understand some early teething troubles from a new group of players. But to dismiss so contemptuously the worries and concerns outside the professional bubble of the football club – that passes understanding. It’s neither reasonable nor acceptable. 

With Cellino’s criminal record of revolving-door recruitment, the last thing I want to do is advocate hasty change. But when your manager loses the plot like that, with a respected local journalist too, then you scratch your head and wonder how Steve Evans might do with this squad. On the basis of today’s post-match demeanour, I’m really not sure that Monk is fit for purpose. I’d be delighted to be proved wrong, naturally. 

Things have to change at Elland Road, or another bleak – possibly disastrous – season beckons. At this juncture, the question is not whether there be change, but how far-reaching that change should be. On the evidence of today, as well as the obvious need to get rid of and replace the owner, there may also be a need to review the coaching situation. 

Being Leeds United manager is a tough ask. Many are found wanting. It may be that Garry Monk is showing signs that he’ll be just another who can’t cut it at Elland Road. 

Cellino to Sell Majority Stake in Leeds United   –   by Rob Atkinson


It is understood that a deal has been agreed in principle for the sale of a majority stake in Leeds United, with the buyers, or at least the money, tipped to be of Far East origin – possibly China. Massimo Cellino would apparently retain a small stake in the club, but would relinquish control. 

Sources agree that this is a done deal, with only legal formalities to be completed. Doubtless there will be much more on this story over the coming days, but what seems certain is that we are seeing the end of an era at Elland Road, with new owners and new ideas.

It’s going to be an interesting time ahead at Leeds United. 

GFH Exit Sees Cellino Move Into Leeds United Departure Lounge   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino sunshine

Cellino – beginning of the end of the road?

Leeds United versus Huddersfield Town doesn’t kick off until 3:00 pm on Saturday – but already, many Leeds United fans are proclaiming the most significant victory of the season. It’s a result that owes nothing to last-ditch defending, brilliant midfield play or clinical finishing. This vital win has been fashioned, not on the hallowed turf of Elland Road, but in the more subdued atmosphere of a boardroom or lawyer’s office. Because at last, or so it certainly seems, Leeds United is back under 100% ownership, instead of being shared, argued about and fought over by unequal partners. Minority holders GFH, it appears, have relinquished their stake in United, leaving Massimo Cellino as sole owner of the whole shooting match.

The reason this is so significant has more to do with future possibilities than current ownership. Some Leeds fans will be glad to see Cellino in outright control – others would prefer to see him 100% uninvolved, with a new Sheriff in town. But the fact remains that, with the minority partners off the scene, everything now looks a lot more neat and tidy as interested parties consider bids for the football club. Up to now, the continuing presence of GFH has been a complicating factor that has made any successful takeover bid – or even majority investment – much less likely actually to succeed. For this reason alone, farewell and good riddance, GFH.

So the eventual impact of Cellino’s total ownership of Leeds might be to see in new owners, rather than simply cementing the controversial Italian’s position as Leeds United supremo. And many, particularly among certain hard-bitten ex-pros who actually wore the famous white shirt, would see that as a good thing – if it could bring to an end the dizzying turnover of coaches at Leeds, as well as securing some actual net investment.

The fact that current manager Garry Monk is widely seen as being “under pressure to save his job” just a few games into his United tenure is symptomatic of the less than stable situation at Elland Road. Yet another transfer window without spending more than player sales brought in is one more sign that squad development is not an upward trend. Leeds sold Lewis Cook to Bournemouth for £6m plus add-ons – and replaced him with a man in Eunan O’Kane ousted by Cook from the Bournemouth first team. And for the usual “undisclosed fee”, too. The critics would tell you that this does not represent investment in the team, and it’s a point of view hard to dispute.

The case for a new regime at Elland Road, with a much-needed injection of capital, has long seemed quite convincing. Now, with the departure of GFH meaning a much less complex scenario for would-be buyers, it may be that things really will start to happen – off the field, at least. Which is why so many United fans are singing victory songs well in advance of a ball being kicked this coming weekend.

Now, all we have to do is beat unlikely League leaders Huddersfield Town on Saturday, to confirm the natural West Yorkshire pecking order and get this second chunk of the season off to the ideal start. And then, with three derby-day points under our belts, we’d be savouring the taste of home victory for the first time this campaign as we try to re-establish Fortress Elland Road. Could things really be brightening up for Leeds, at long last?

Leeds United In Double Swoop on Free Agent Market – by Rob Atkinson

Trab

Essaid Belkalem – bargain?

Now that the option of emergency loans after the transfer window closure is no longer available, Leeds United will have to look elsewhere to make up for their shortcomings in the regular market. The squad as it stands is neither strong nor deep enough to inspire confidence in the club’s ability to be competitive towards the top end of the Championship between now and the January transfer window – so, without the option of loaning contracted players, United will be forced to scrape the very bottom of the barrel: those players that, up until now, have been unable for whatever reason to secure a professional playing contract for this season.

Leeds have been accused often enough in the past of shopping at Lidl instead of Waitrose, looking to spend as little as possible whilst capitalising on their own home-produced young talent. It’s an accusation that stands up quite well to an examination of the evidence; of all the current Championship clubs, the Whites have been the most niggardly net spenders over the greater part of this century. But it seems that things are getting worse; having failed to secure even a bargain buy in areas where the team needs strengthening (I submit attack AND defence, m’Lud), United somehow contrived to release their club captain Sol Bamba the day after the transfer market closed down. Bamba had been in appalling form, and personal reasons were cited; still, it seems rather careless when you consider that our senior central defensive section now comprises Liam Cooper and two loanees.

Obviously, we did sign one player on deadline day – Eunan O’Kane from Bournemouth was welcomed to the club, where he becomes our 17th or 18th central midfielder – frankly, I’ve lost count. The club also failed to offload any deadwood in that engine room part of the squad – you might say that we now possess an embarrassment of poverty there.

So now, we’re reduced to looking among the players nobody else wants. From shopping at Harrods around the turn of the century, we’ve lowered our sights continually, down through Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, the basic own-brand of Asda, the bargain aisles of Aldi, right down to the dubious delights of Lidl. And now – well, it has to be the rubbish bins behind B&M and Home Bargains, doesn’t it? How very depressing.

Then again, it’s quite surprising what you might find when rummaging about in this professional footballer detritus. The name of Kieran Richardson has cropped up, released at the end of last season by Aston Villa, and with some half-decent clubs on his CV, as well as manchester united. I’ve put the case myself for giving Luciano Becchio a crack at being striker cover in case Marcus Antonsson gets injured or Chris Wood grinds to a complete halt. And the wild card among current rumours has to be Essaid Belkalem, late of Trabzonspor in the Turkish league among others. Belkalem is an Algerian international who was on Watford‘s books last season, and he’s said to be looking for regular football to push his claims for further representative honours.

Something clearly has to be done, though, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a couple of deals being sealed in the not too distant future, with Richardson and Belkalem the likely names on the contracts. That would shore up the defence somewhat – but we’d still be short, in this blog’s opinion, of sufficient strength in depth up front. Then again – you can’t have everything.

Particularly not when you’re rooting through the refuse bins at the bargain end of the market.

Could Becchio Recapture Some Elland Road Magic With a Leeds Return?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Becchio: will the prodigal return?


The story of Luciano Becchio and Leeds United is the classic example of that old proverb about the grass not necessarily being greener on the other side of the fence. Becchio had become a hero at Elland Road with his hard-working approach, his productive scoring record and, not least, his fantastic rapport with the United fans. It was a mutual adoration society: Whites on the terraces compared Becchio favourably to the likes of Berbatov at the Pride of Devon. He cost less and scored more, they exulted, noisily – and Becchio proved them right on a regular basis, making the most of a richly fruitful period of his career.

Sadly, it all went sour when Becchio, lured by the prospect of more money and higher grade football, trod a well-worn path from Leeds to Norwich City. Rob Snodgrass and Jonny Howson made the same move, and it worked out for them. But for Becchio, the shift to Carrow Road was an unmitigated disaster. He couldn’t score when he played and, soon enough, he wasn’t getting any game time. Spells at Rotherham followed his Norwich nightmare, together with a period back home in Argentina. Nowhere did he look remotely as comfortable and happy as he had done at Leeds United. That vital spark was missing, and Becchio’s career has waned, on the point of fizzling out. 

Now, we have a situation whereby Leeds, having failed abysmally to sign an additional striker within the transfer window, are rather light up front. It’s an odd situation for the club to find itself in; having let a reasonable performer in Antenucci leave in summer, they have been negligent in omitting to replace him. 

Becchio, for his part, is a free agent after his recent career calamities. So he now forms part of a small pool of potential recruits still available to interested employers after the window has slammed shut. 

Could Becchio recapture his mojo with a return to Leeds? Would it be an option that United might feel obliged to consider, having been so careless as to end up short of attacking options? Stranger things have happened. This blog subscribes to the view that good players remain good players and some just need the right environment to bring the best out of them. We’ve seen that over and over again down the years; it could be that, in Becchio, we have a square peg just waiting to be inserted into a square hole down Elland Road way.

At the very least, it would excite some interest and maybe a bit of optimism around LS11. Becchio would be the prodigal returned – maybe we should just kill the fatted calf and get on with it. 

Bony to Stoke City Equals Peter Crouch to Leeds United?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Peter-Crouch-and-Abbey-Clancy-wedding

Leeds United, Abbey Clancy and Peter Crouch – a threesome made in heaven

It would seem that, after the signing of Bournemouth midfielder Eunan O’Kane, efforts are still being made behind the scenes at Elland Road to add another striker – probably a loan deal – to the Leeds United squad.

In the light of Stoke City‘s loan acquisition of Manchester City’s under-employed forward Wilfred Bony, it does seem that gangly veteran Peter Crouch has been pushed even further down the Potters pecking order. But here is a striker, admittedly no longer in the first flush of youth, who is still very much able to do it. Obviously a threat in the air, Crouch is also surprisingly effective with the ball nearer to Mother Earth. He also scored a hat-trick recently in a rare first team outing for Stoke, in an EFL Cup victory – could this have been his last contribution for City, at least for this season?

A loan move to Leeds for Crouch would, on the face of it, suit all parties. Stoke, with Bony on board, are unlikely to be able to give ex-England striker Crouch much, if any, playing time. At this veteran stage of his career, first team football is a must for a striker who still has a lot to offer. And Leeds, with their striking options depleted compared to last year, despite the addition of Marcus Antonsson, badly need a proven performer up front. Peter Crouch would fit the bill admirably.

Will it happen? It’s probably a thing too good to be true. But it’s something those men in suits at Elland Road certainly should be trying their level best to make happen. As a rest-of-the-season striking solution, it’s a complete no-brainer. 

And it would also add the delectable Abbey Clancy to the current list of LS11 attractions. Really – who could possibly argue that that would not be A Very Good Thing?

Only Believable At Leeds: Fan PAID to Support Cellino??   –   by Rob Atkinson

MASSIMO-CELLINO

Cellino: paying for the love after all?

In the latest twist to Massimo Cellino‘s Machiavellian tenure at Leeds United, Whites fan Scott Gutteridge has claimed that he was paid an average of £500 per month to talk up il Duce on social media. Specifically, the Facebook group Cellino In, later renamed In Massimo We Trust was a vehicle for pro-Cellino propaganda, bought and paid for by Leeds United, alleges Mr. Gutteridge. It’s a story that goes back to February, but it’s resurfacing now, with a vengeance. Names are being named and the whole thing begins to smell like a giant Italian rat.

The tragic part of the accusation is that, with many clubs, you’d laugh it off as nothing more than ludicrous fabrication. Even at Leeds, a club Gutteridge now describes as “rotten to the core”, it stretches the limits of credibility somewhat. But, in the end, if you’ve any more than a passing acquaintance with what’s gone on at Elland Road over the past few years, then yes. You can believe it. In fact, looking at the way our club has been mismanaged, with lack of proper investment and a ridiculous turnover of management staff, not to mention money wasted in various humiliating court cases – the notion that a club owner would actually pay for good press seems horribly likely. 

The irony for me personally is that, in Cellino’s early days at Leeds, I was an enthusiastic supporter. I even had a selfie with him, for God’s sake. Many were the thousands of words I penned in his cause, and against what I saw as the persecution of our saviour by the Football League. And I did it all for free. Laugh? I almost feel like putting in for back pay.

The scales fell from my eyes in due course, and I’ve made myself deeply unpopular with many Cellino acolytes by relentlessly attacking their hero for his dragging down of the football club I love. To me, he’s an inept, dishonest, egomaniac who shouldn’t be allowed near a club like Leeds United, the focus of adoration for thousands of fans worldwide. I’ve long been convinced that United will only prosper once more when Cellino is nothing more than a particularly unpleasant memory. 

Many will still support him. Leeds fans, after all, are stubborn folk. And I’ll get more stick for this and subsequent articles. But I care not a jot. Cellino is receipted and filed as a crook and a charlatan – and if he doesn’t like that, let him sue me. The classical libel defence of “the truth” would see me through.

Is it really possible that even a Music Hall act like Cellino would actually pay a fan to say nice things about him – and then get caught out doing so? This man who once famously and drunkenly said “You can buy a bitch for a night – but you can’t buy the love, my friend”. Could he really be hoist so royally with his own petard?

Knowing the man’s character as I’m confident I do, with the testimony of many wise people, who know him better than I do, ringing in my ears – I have to say, it’s not only possible, it’s more than probable, it’s entirely bloody likely. 

Yes, I believe it. And it’s just one more reason why any Leeds United fan with his or her head screwed on should be saying long, loud and often:

Time to go, Massimo. Cellino must go!