Daily Archives: 26/10/2013

Disappointment at Huddersfield – Can Marius Zaliukas Steady the Ship for Leeds? – by Rob Atkinson

New Boy Marius Zaliukas

New Boy Marius Zaliukas

Another derby day defeat, another three goals conceded, this time against a team shorn of their top scorer due to suspension.  There were some crumbs of comfort: Matt Smith scored again, and could prove to be a handful for Championship defences as the season goes on.  Dexter Blackstock came on from the bench for his United debut, and he scored too, which is a great way to start with a new club.  We probably should have had a penalty, we scored one of their goals for them – and last but not least, we’ve signed an international central defender who captained Hearts to a Scottish Cup win.

Marius Zaliukas has been without a club since the summer, but played for his country only last week.  He was wanted by ‘Arry at QPR and nobody has had anything worse to say about the lad than that he’s got a bit of a temper on him.  At 29, he’s in his prime as a defender, and we’ve got him initially till the end of the season.  Yay.

It’s looking likely that Marius will have an active role to play at Elland Road sooner rather than later.  Our defence didn’t look exactly comfortable at times in the second half against Birmingham, even though we recorded a clean sheet in a 4-0 win.  Three at the back, if that’s how we’re to continue, will demand a decent pool of centre backs to allow for inconveniences such as suspensions and injuries.  It seems that Messrs Pearce and Lees were culpable in at least two of the three we let in from our chip-on-the-shoulder bearing neighbours down the road, so maybe an injection of international know-how and experience is just what the doctor ordered.

From all accounts, the boy might be a tiny bit aggressive, but again that’s more virtue than vice down Elland Road way.  Since the days of Norman the Great – in fact tracing our illustrious club’s history back as far as Wilf Copping – we’ve always appreciated a lad who understands the tactical subtleties of “getting stuck in” and “getting rid”. Marius Zaliukas sounds like he might be just our cup of Yorkshire Tea and it goes without saying that we wish him well.

If we can get the defence sorted out, and if we can convert a few more of the chances that we again created in reasonably great number today, maybe things can still look up in time for this season to mean something.  Well, anyway, that’s the positive spin on another disappointing day for Leeds United Football Club and its devoted army of fans.

It’s Yeovil next, and they beat Forest today.  Bring it on.

Loyalty Is a One-Way Street in Alex Ferguson’s World – by Rob Atkinson

Taggart:  Why I Was Always Right, by the waaaaaaaayy.

Taggart: Why I Was Always Right, by the waaaaaaaayy

After nearly half a season of relative silence from their much-missed guru, hero, source of inspiration and occasional bête-noire, the media breathed a collective sigh of relief last week. The Ego Had Landed. Fergie was back, at least in print, and those fangs were still bared and ready. The latest autobiography of Alex Ferguson has shown the old curmudgeon has lost none of his ability to dispense vitriol, none of his elephantine memory for anyone who has ever annoyed him – and certainly none of his oddly unilateral approach to the issue of loyalty.

Apparently, during Fergie’s tenure, loyalty was a word much bandied-about behind the scenes at the Theatre of Hollow Myths. That it was evidently used to specify the absolute need for a slavish adherence to the Govan Guv’nor’s every wish goes almost without saying. This requirement extended beyond the confines of Man U. Should a rival manager ever have the brass neck and utter nerve to question or criticise the great man, a familiar growl would issue from his lair along the lines of “After all I’ve done fae him…”

Fergie was not a man to be crossed, not by subordinates, not by rivals, not even by his nominal superiors. Criticism was not to be tolerated. Resistance was futile. His was as near to an absolute rule as existed at any football club anywhere, certainly in the 21st century. Fergie’s Man U was the last autocracy in the professional game – a factor upon which, extending as it did to terrified administrators and wary match officials, was founded their unprecedented success.

The latest in a series of literary self-portraits has, in the august opinion of respected sportswriter Patrick Barclay, little new to offer in terms of revelation – the longed-for “blowing the lid off” the game, or portions thereof. What we do get is a series of little packages of poison as Alexander the Great reviews the vast canvas of his career and delivers his venom to those he believes were found wanting. The loyalty so prized by SAF in his managerial career is evidently a currency he does not feel it necessary to repay. This will come as no surprise to the likes of Brian Kidd, now the Manchester City assistant boss, or Gordon Strachan, now manager of Scotland. Each of them have had both barrels between the shoulder blades in the past, and to their credit they’ve largely maintained a dignified silence. But Fergie was in his Man U job then, and there were certain perceived perils associated with biting back at a figure who had managed to create for himself a tyrannical position whereby he held sway over most of football. Will he benefit from such forbearance after this latest raft of assassinations?

In this latest addition to the former manager’s stable of autobiographies (the whole possibly to be known as “Why I Was Always Right, Vols. 1-5”), the less-than-likeable Alex has turned his baleful gaze on, among others: David Beckham (the football boot in the eye incident, marrying a pop star and wanting to move to a bigger club); Arsene Wenger (Pizzagate and being offensively intelligent); Roberto Mancini (failing to sell Tevez when Fergie thought he should and then going on to win the Title with malice aforethought and a 6-1 tonking of Man U on their own manor); Rafa Benitez (for having the sheer bad taste to tell it like it was and also, with no evident irony, for being a “control freak”); then, last but not least here, the Rio Ferdinand drug-testers whose fault it apparently was that the former defender “forgot” to provide a sample when required. It’s an impressive list, but not exhaustive.

At least one other target, casually denigrated in the course of this epic litany of nasties, wants to have a word in Fergie’s ear. Ex-goalkeeper Marc Bosnich, described as a “terrible professional” by the man who nevertheless signed him twice, is putting a fairly stoical face on it, but appears not to be best-pleased and has hinted that he’d appreciate a frank discussion face to face.

The over-riding impression, delivered with all the subtlety of a Royston Keane tackle, is that anyone in his club who fancied himself bigger than the boss would have to either learn the error of his ways and that right swiftly – or get out. Keane himself is one who was moved on, in some haste, after “disagreements” with Ferguson. Keane it is now who remarks that his ex-manager, for all his preaching about loyalty, doesn’t know the meaning of the word, a sentiment which will be echoed by many of the men who served Ferguson well and have now been left bullet-riddled by the former chief’s paranoid rhetoric. The latest proof of this anomaly runs to many thousands of words, is available from this week, imaginatively titled “My Autobiography” and will cost you a decidedly prettier penny if you want your copy signed by lifelong socialist and latter day profiteer Sir Fergie himself.

It seems likely that the Ferguson Factor is what is missing from this season’s pallid Man U; the fear that gave them that edge seemingly gone with the wind. But on this most recent evidence of the choleric and treacherous nature of the man, who – other than the many millions of Man U fans from Torquay to Jakarta and back again, plus a few sensation-staved tabloid hacks – just who will really miss him now he’s gone?

World Football Must “Do a Leeds” – and Banish the Evil of Racism – by Rob Atkinson

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Yaya Toure – racially abused

Eyebrows tend to be raised, lips are apt to be pursed and there is a general air of bemused surprise when any Leeds United fan (this blogger, for instance) condemns racism.  Those who will throw their hands up in horror – rightly so – whenever they encounter a racial stereotype, seem rather less scrupulous about imposing stereotypes of their own when their cosy perceptions about United fans are challenged.  Hang on a minute, they demur – Leeds supporters are about the most racist around, aren’t they?  Well, perhaps they were, once upon a time.  But times change and the Leeds United fan culture of today is a vastly different thing to the bleak days of the early eighties.  More of which later.

The events of last week have brought the whole foul problem back into sharp focus. During Manchester City’s away Champion’s League tie against CSKA Moscow, midfielder Yaya Toure was subjected to monkey chants from the grinning morons among the home support. It’s a real problem in many parts of Europe and the one thing that’s tolerably certain is that it’s not going to go away on its own.  What’s normally needed to remedy such matters is supporter organisation into a strong anti-racism movement – which was, not incidentally, the Leeds United experience – or tough sanctions from some higher authority with something approximating to a backbone.

Toure may not have been alone in suffering this awful, unjustifiable and humiliating abuse – some sources report that team-mate Fernandinho may also have been targeted. Toure was understandably disgusted and has demanded action.  He has even gone so far as to suggest that the 2018 World Cup, scheduled to be hosted by Russia, could be hit by a black players’ boycott.  I only hope that he’s serious about that, and that he can count on the support of other black players, as this would be a shattering blow to the tournament – much, much greater today than it would have been in the eighties.  A far higher proportion of the world’s best players are black today than back then, such has been the explosive development of the game in Africa, a continent where many nations are emerging as serious football powers.  A black players’ boycott of the tournament, then, could be a way to apply irresistible pressure to fans and ruling bodies alike.  A World Cup without many of its most mesmerising stars would be unthinkable; even if it went ahead it would be so devalued as to be hardly worth winning.

Jose Mourinho has a view on the issue of a possible boycott, as he does on so many issues.  He expressed “sympathy” for Toure, but said he did not support the City player’s comments afterwards.

“I respect his opinion, but I disagree,” said Mourinho. “I disagree because the history of football was made equally by many races, and the black players have fantastic contribution to what football is.

“Who is more important: the billions of people in love with the game around the world, or a few thousand that go to football stadia and have a disgraceful behaviour in relation to the black players?

“If I was a black player, I would say the other billions are much more important. Let’s fight the thousands but give to the billions what they want: the best football. Football without black players is not the best football.”

As a football man on football matters, Mourinho’s is a voice to be respected – but in the last nine words of that quote, he basically makes the case for, not against, a boycott by black players of Russia 2018.  Just imagine if you will a tournament blighted by the kind of sickening filth Toure and possibly Fernandinho had to suffer last Wednesday night. It’s too horrible to contemplate – and what message would it send out to the billions worldwide that Jose is seeking to protect from a World Cup bereft of black talent? Endemic racism is OK as long as we’re being entertained by the football? That’s not the way to go and it’s not the example to set to the world’s children.

Mourinho then is surely wrong to suggest that those billions would rather witness a tournament dragged down to gutter level by cretins whose idea of fun is to abuse a world star by making crude monkey noises.  The best thing an organised movement of black players could possibly do is to show FIFA that the situation is intolerable by refusing to have anything to do with such a toxic affair.  Perhaps then even FIFA – a body which inspires little confidence, led by a man in Sepp Blatter who is little better than a bad joke – might consider its options, faced as they would be with a sanction of such potentially seismic effect.  They certainly should consider those options, which are practically limitless.

It’s certainly pointless to wait around hoping that UEFA might put their own house in order, something they’ve proved themselves singularly incapable of doing.  Instead, FIFA should act, and act decisively.  They should advise Russia that, unless this problem can be addressed and eliminated by 2015, an alternative host nation will be found for the 2018 World Cup – it’s that serious.  They should monitor the situation, act as advised and they should then stick to their guns.  They won’t, of course, because they are truly spineless and complacent – which is why the likes of Yaya Toure and the others like him who are subjected to this evil baiting, really have no choice but to rally together and organise themselves to take their own action.  Good luck to them if that’s the path they take.

In the early eighties the experience of being a match-going, non-racist Leeds United fan was lonely and disgusting.  The atmosphere was rancid with bigotry, skin-headed, bone-headed racists sold “The Flag”, a right-wing snot-rag, outside the ground.  It was done openly, brazenly.  Dissenting voices, when raised, brought upon their owners the risk of violence.  The club was inert and complacent.  The police sat by and watched.  It was depressingly, shamefully awful.  And then, things started to change.

Civilised, intelligent Leeds United supporters, unable and unwilling to accept the evil being dispensed in the name of their beloved club, organised themselves into Leeds United Fans Against Racism & Fascism.  Fanzines were sold expounding the voice of reason against the bigoted filth being peddled by the racists.  More decent supporters woke up to what had been going on, joined the anti-racist movement, bought the fanzines, started to raise the voice of protest against the ignorance and malice of the terrace chants against visiting black players.

Even the slumbering Leeds United itself reacted positively to the changes afoot.  Black players were signed, the first since the brief but bright Leeds career of Terry Connor. Noel Blake, affectionately nicknamed “Bruno”, loved by the Kop.  Vince Hilaire, quicksilver winger reviving memories of Albert Johanneson in the sixties, the first black player to play in the Cup Final and a Leeds hero when the Revie revolution was still new.  It was a painfully long, slow job – but Leeds United finally managed to rid itself of one of the most degradingly awful reputations for racism and bigotry, and they largely did it as an institution, by the efforts of enlightened fans supplemented by the club’s more enlightened transfer policy at a time when there was still an unofficial bar observed by the likes of Everton FC.

I’m extremely proud of the way my club tackled its problems.  The Leeds United of today bears no resemblance at all to the sick club being brought to its knees 30 years ago, dying of the cancer of racism.  The whole world has moved on, though pockets of the disease still exist at home, yet far more significantly abroad.  We now live in a time when these manifestations of hate and ignorance are a palpable shock to the system – and that in itself is a massive change for the better.  Such inhuman behaviour has never ever been acceptable, but now it’s seen to be completely unacceptable, and FIFA above all must face up to the reality of this.

FIFA simply have to act, and they have to act now.  Despite CSKA Moscow’s revolting stance whereby they’re claiming this simply didn’t take place – the club’s deputy media manager, Michael Sanadze, told Sky Sports News that “nothing special happened” – they have been charged by UEFA with “racist behaviour”. UEFA though are an organisation clearly lacking in the backbone to apply sanctions and see them through, Lazio having been punished for comparable transgressions in the past, the stadium closure subsequently being reduced to a mere slap on the wrist.

The message from FIFA has to be clear and unequivocal.  Stop the racist abuse – or lose the World Cup in 2018.  Failing that, Yaya Toure and his black colleagues – and how good it would be to think that non-black players might also support such a move – should carry with them the good wishes and backing of every decent-minded person as they seek to reduce the tournament in Russia to the well-merited status of farce.  It would be no more than FIFA deserve for what would amount to tacit support of the racist minority whose venom threatens to poison the whole football world.