Brian has said it himself: promotion next season is the expectation – nothing less will be good enough. So how should he set about realising this desirable outcome?
Recruitment with a view to moulding a competitive and combative squad goes without saying. We will all have our ideas about who needs to come in – from those who wish to see us reclaim our lost boys from the likes of Norwich and Leicester to the more forward-looking who would prefer hungry players, new to Leeds but maybe familiar to McDermott, your le Fondres and your Robson-Kanus and so on.
How else can Brian make a difference? What have the problems been in the past? One major drawback for a less-than-excellent United squad has been the difficulty of coping with the massive anti-Leeds chip on the collective shoulder of our rivals: the so-called “46 Cup Finals Syndrome”. This is a crucial factor, but it is one that can be exploited by a real leader. A certain charmless Scottish git over the Pennines in Salford is well-known for his preference for fostering what is known as a “siege complex” among the various teams he’s had There over the years. He’s generally had a squad to compare with the best anyway, but there’s been that undeniable edge provided by the attitude of “They all hate us, lads, so let’s get stuck in and ram it back down their throats”. The fact that Brian appears to be a mild and likeable guy, as opposed to the bile-choked monster in charge at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, is no impediment to the fostering of a “them against us” mindset. It’s just good psychology, good man-management, and most of all, good for cohesion and team spirit. There hasn’t been enough of that at Elland Road lately.
The hate comes mainly from opposition fans, particularly in Yorkshire where we will again play quite a few “Derbies” next season after Huddersfield’s and Barnsley’s mutually-collusive escape from relegation. This fever of hate, eclipsing all other emotions, was adequately demonstrated when the cameras focused on a rabble of Barnsley fans in the very moment of relief after their last-ditch reprieve. Were they applauding their team, or proclaiming their barely-salvaged Championship status? No, their tiny, obsessed minds could find no room for anything but a tuneless chorus of “We All Hate Leeds Scum”, with the similarly brainless Huddersfield fans happily joining in. Clearly, fellow Whites, we are not famous any more. If Brian does choose to utilise the hate of Leeds for positive gains in terms of team bonding and incentive to win, he will not find it in short supply.
Beyond this, we the fans have a massively important part to play. But Leeds have usually been helped by terrific support; given the least encouragement, the fans will be like a 12th man out there. We know from awed testimony in the past that playing at Elland Road can be an intimidating experience for the very best. McDermott’s fostering of an atmosphere and team ethic comparable to that at Reading last season, where a squad not over-packed with stars pulled back an 18 point deficit to pip Southampton for the Championship Title, would not go amiss. The fans would respond to the effort and togetherness of such a team, there is a parallel there with Wilko’s promotion side of 1990, who used to set about the opposition with voracious hunger and would usually wear them down before over-running them. That kind of thing would certainly do; I remember Wilko’s Warriors very fondly, and they’re just the kind of team we all love down in LS11.
Once the business of Summer is done – and you sense that Brian wants to do his shopping early so that he can put his print on a super-fit squad – then the fine-tuning can start towards next season. We hear that improvements are afoot at Thorp Arch – training pitches to match Elland Road dimensions, with equivalent watering systems; squad-numbered reserved parking spaces for the players. Small enough improvements, but brought about in the name of increased professionalism. It’s all good.
Give Brian the squad he wants, and let him turn them into lean, mean, motivated machines, ready to feed on hate and use it as fuel for a tank of a team which will grind the opposition into the turf, and we could be all set for a memorable season with the reward we all crave waiting at the end of it.