The two main commodities Massimo Cellino will be looking to import into his new project, Leeds United, will come free of charge – but are nevertheless very difficult to obtain. Pride and Passion – anyone out there remember those two old friends? I do. Anybody old enough and fortunate enough to have seen Sergeant Wilko’s White Juggernaut blast its way out of the old second division in 1990 will also nod reminiscently, as the vision of those relentless troops is conjured up by their mind’s eye. The energy, the commitment, the refusal to give in. One game at Elland Road, Sunderland kicked off at the start and within five seconds, they had been dispossessed and were defending desperately as the white tide washed over them. Those were the days. This lot? There’s simply no comparison.
In 1990, Gordon Strachan was the jewel in the United crown. We have our jewel today in Ross McCormack, but it’s not set in a crown – more like a pile of the stuff well-fed pigs leave behind. Leeds have some good players, but team spirit seems non-existent and there appears to be no identifiable ethic of getting out there and getting stuck in for the shirt, the badge and the fans. In 1990, Strachan was ably supported by the likes of Vinnie Jones, Mel Sterland, Chris Fairclough and a pugnacious young midfield Rottweiler called David Batty, together with the nascent elegance of Gary Speed. McCormack in today’s shower has the air of a man who knows that, if the job’s going to get done, he’s going to have to do it largely by himself.
This latest United match at Vicarage Road marked the start of a new era, the beginning of a time when off-field worries, such as deferred wages and the lack of clarity over ownership, could be forgotten. What better time to roll up the sleeves and run out with a snarl on the lips and fire in the belly, determined to get some blood on their boots? But no. It was, if anything, an even more pallid performance than the ones United fans have witnessed and raged over at far too many points in the last few months. Leeds United are running out of time, running out of excuses (though they manage to recycle and re-use those) – and running out of the patience their sorely-tried yet still magnificent support is prepared to afford them.
The gap between Leeds and the relegation pack is now down to a mere eight points. Another win and maybe a draw should be enough to see them safe – and safety is clearly the upper limit of ambition for a team as devoid of application and bottle as this one. Where those points will come from is anyone’s guess – that’s assuming they come at all. Blackpool at home next weekend seems the best chance, but the Seasiders are also embroiled in the dog-eat-dog struggle at the bottom. Everybody is aware of the current malaise at Leeds and teams are facing us expecting to win. Blackpool will be disappointed with anything less than three points from their visit to LS11.
Barnsley away? Forget it. We always lose there, usually by a good few goals. Barnsley might be less than world-class, but they are fighters. Then it’s two home games against Forest and Derby, with an away date at Birmingham sandwiched in between. One point out of nine from those three, maybe. If Leeds do escape relegation, it will be by less than a comfortable margin, and we’ll have done the deed by virtue of performances prior to Christmas – before the wheels fell off.
Whatever the rest of the season holds for us, it’s impossible to be anything other than pessimistic. There is simply no reason for any belief that things might suddenly improve – and if the current attitude and form carries on, then our points total now may well not have changed by close of play on the first weekend in May. And if that’s the case, we’ll have to rely on three of the teams below us failing to overhaul our meagre points total. Dear me, I’m becoming rather depressed.
Still, tomorrow night it’s hopefully cheer-up time with Man U hosting an end of era party. I shall be watching and hoping that they crash out of Europe because that would restore my spirits considerably. But it’s a sad thing when Schadenfreude (no, that’s not a Bayern centre-back) is all that you have to rely on for your jollies, your own team being so utterly and lamentably crap. If Massimo Cellino is going to restore the good times to Elland Road – aided by those long-lost, much-missed allies Pride and Passion – well, it still promises to be a long and arduous, slow climb back up to the heights I remember Wilko’s Warriors attaining. Then again, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I wonder if that step might be taken sometime this week??
Buona fortuna, Massimo.