While all the wrangling over “fit and proper” tests is going on, while we’re all earnestly debating the future in-post of the current Leeds United manager (be it long or short) – while we’re all tearing our hair and rending our clothes at the media pantomime our club has become, enabling even Sun readers to essay a disdainful look down the nose at us – what should we really, actually be thinking about? What burning issue deserves our closest attention? What crucial conundrum should we be looking to resolve for ourselves which, once settled and decided, will colour our approach to all of the other, allied issues??
The answer, surely has to be (and the title of this article has probably already given you a clue to this) – what do we actually want for next season? Where do we want to be, how do we want our campaign to go? Assuming that by then the club is on an even keel – and I know that’s a fair old dangerous assumption – what would be the best way of celebrating this, of marking our return to sanity and being a football club again, instead of a three-ring circus? I have a theory.
To me, there are two main possibilities. For both of them, let’s assume that the Cellino takeover is complete, that Elland Road is Leeds United property again, and that there is some financial & managerial stability at the club with clear signs of a competitive transfer and wages budget. I know that’s all a bit of a difficult proposition to swallow, but bear with me here. Right then – one real possibility is that this current season has fizzled out into a mid-table anti-climax, as has been our usual recent experience. It’s summer and we have the World Cup to suffer through, with some Test Cricket as a subsidiary diversion, and holidays and other lovely things that come with slightly warmer weather. One of those lovely things could be a close-season of heavy recruitment involving quality players at Championship level, preparing our squad for a serious assault on this division next time around. Nice.
The other feasible possibility is that, aided perhaps by some Cellino-financed muscle in the loan window, we’ve put together a run in the remainder of this season, and blagged ourselves a late play-off spot. Riding the crest of a wave, we cruise into the Wembley final and a 4-0 thrashing of – ooh, let’s say Nottingham Forest, just for the karmic pay-back from 2008 – to finally make it back to the Premier League after all these years. Also nice.
Incidentally, there is the faint third possibility, i.e. that we completely implode after a Football League refusal to sanction our Shady Italian. In this scenario, Shaun Harvey wakes up with a horse’s head next to him, Brian McDermott resigns and Michael Brown takes over as head coach, leading us to ten consecutive defeats and relegation to League One with the fire-sale of any remaining half-decent players we have. Not nice at all, and hopefully not all that likely either. Let’s just ignore that one, then.
So of the two scenarios that could play out – failure again this season but an all-out assault on the Championship Title next year, or struggling to glory via the lottery of the play-offs – which would we actually prefer? Many will be seduced by the vision of being back in the big-time as early as next August. Those people might also be hoping for an unlikely England World Cup victory, possibly with Jamie Milner scoring the decisive winner against Germany in the Final. Optimism is an attractive trait – but the pay-off can be cruel.
Promotion this year would most likely see a season of grim struggle next time around, unless we were prepared and able to invest much more heavily than would be wise, or even legal under Financial Fair Play. A season-long relegation battle might be the stuff of dreams for some clubs – but Leeds United aren’t a Norwich or a Cardiff. Last time we went up to the top-flight, twenty-four years ago, we swaggered in for a year-long look around, during which we battered a fair percentage of the established opposition, before winning the bloody thing second year up. The sheer cheek of it took everyone’s breath away. Now that’s the way to do it, if you’re a Leeds United. But it’s so unlikely as to be next to impossible, that we could go up and stomp around like that next season. Quite frankly, if all the effort of securing promotion is going to see us in a dog-eat-dog relegation fight with the dregs of the Premier League, I’d just as soon not bother, thanks.
On the other hand, if we are in a position to rebuild this summer for a Blitzkrieg approach to the second tier in 2014-15, then that could well lead to us blasting our way through the division and hurtling into the Premier League rather than scraping our way there by the fingernails. Promotion achieved thus carries its own momentum – you’re building for the top flight on more solid foundations, as compared to our current footings of sand. And the fun! Imagine a season next year to compare to the promotion campaign of 1989-90. Those old enough to have witnessed it will know exactly what I mean. After a slow start, we conducted ourselves like a Panzer tank for much of the league programme, the skill, commitment and aggression of our football blowing most opposition into tiny smithereens. We had a rough patch, and it was a bit close for comfort in the end – but, still. What a season that was. Something along those lines, possibly an improvement in some aspects – that would do me, and I suspect many others too. It’s certainly preferable to a Premier League season of grim, defensive, survival football. So, tempting as the notion is of play-offs this season, with the incentive of rubbing somebody else’s nose in it as we’ve had our noses rubbed in it on showpiece occasions past – it really won’t do. We’re useless at play-offs anyway, so if we made it, there’d probably only be misery for us.
So my conclusion is: let’s not waste our time with fast-fading hopes of promotion this year. Let’s abandon such thoughts, unless the team suddenly gels, goes on a run and absolutely forces us to contemplate success. On current form, let’s be realistic – that’s unlikely to happen. Let’s instead wait this season out, hope and pray that the various suits in the club and at the League sort themselves out and get their act together, and let’s hope that this summer sees an exciting reconstruction programme ahead of an all-out attack on the summit of the Championship next time around. Because, to me, when Leeds United arrive back in the top-flight, they should do so as Champions – not as winners of some tagged-on mini-tournament. Let’s do it in style, as we did in 1964 and in 1990, taking such power and momentum along with us that we immediately became competitive in the higher sphere. Let’s have our rivals wary of us. I remember a fanzine article in the summer of ’90, a Liverpool fanzine I think it was. The title was “Bloody hell – they’re back!”, and it was all about Leeds United and how we’d probably seize the top-flight by the nuts and shake it up good and proper. And we really did.
That’s what I really want for Leeds United. I want us to do it in proper Leeds style, I want us to burst into that elite group like a torpedo, creating chaos everywhere. I want them all to hate and fear us again – I definitely don’t want to read fans of other clubs saying, “Ah – look at once-mighty Leeds – finally managed to get back up and now see how they struggle”. No, thank you. Let’s do it the right way, the Leeds way. Let’s make Vinnie and Howard and wee Gordon and Batts and the rest of them proud. Let’s see Big Jack and Eddie Gray smiling at a revival of the Revie spirit, with “Keep Fighting” on the dressing-room wall and with our departed heroes approving, from wherever they are now. Let’s March On Together – not limp apologetically into an exclusive club that doesn’t really want us. Let’s get in there, and fuck ’em up. To me, another year is a time well worth waiting – to make sure that we get where we want to be – by doing things the way we want to do them.