Cast your mind back to the genesis of Leeds United’s last promotion charge out of the second tier and back into the Promised Land. In Sergeant Wilko, we had the man to lay down the rules and ensure that the work ethic was in place. Howard Wilkinson had turned up at Elland Road to be interviewed for the vacant managerial post at Leeds – and had ended up turning the tables on the bemused board members when he started interviewing them. The upshot was that he not only got the job, but also a cast-iron commitment to doing that job the way he wanted to, as opposed to the shoestring budget poor Billy Bremner had been stuck with. It’s safe to say that the Leeds bosses were impressed by their new man, and they supported him accordingly.
The master-stroke came early. Wilkinson beat off interest from Ron Atkinson at his old club Sheffield Wednesday to sign Man U’s mercurial play-maker Gordon Strachan. This was some coup; not only were the Wendies still in the top flight, but Big Ron had been Strachan’s mentor from their days at the Theatre of Hollow Myths. But Strachan was the right man at the right time in the right circumstances for Leeds; the battle ahead was tailor-made for his combative style and world-class ability, leadership and dedication. The rest is history – we thought we might get a good year or two out of Strachan, yet we ended up with arguably the best eight years of his career, harvesting the Championships of the top two divisions in a three-season spell and establishing United as a top-flight power for fifteen years.
Wind forward over a quarter of a century from the capture of wee Gordon, and we find Leeds marooned once again in the shadowy hinterland of second-tier football. Morale is low, relegation to a humiliating second spell of League One football remains a faint but nightmarish possibility, the club has just been shaken up with yet another change of ownership and – just to put the tin lid on it – we have a sulky Football League, licking their QC-inflicted wounds and wondering how best to stitch us up in the weeks and months ahead. What we need right now is inspiration on a par with that provided by our second-greatest ginger Scottish captain way back in the late 80’s.
This blog is open to suggestions here, but it’s difficult to think of a more likely candidate to play the elder statesman role so badly needed in an ineffective and inexperienced midfield than Frank Lampard of Chelsea. The man is a legend, but his ongoing career at Stamford Bridge must surely be in doubt as this season reaches a climax. He might, of course, feel that he can stay on and fight for a continued place with Mourinho’s winning combination. He may well end up with a double of League and Champions League this season, after all. But if he were to decide that he wanted one last challenge – could his mind possibly be led in the same direction as Strachan’s was in 1989? Could he decide that he wants to be instrumental in reviving the fortunes of a veritable sleeping giant?
Lampard would bring goals, class and composure to our midfield and – while he’d hardly cost the earth in a transfer fee – he would justify what would doubtless be high wages by forming a statement of intent as regards Leeds United’s transfer and team-building plans. That was exactly the effect the Strachan coup had, back in the day. Suddenly, Leeds was a possible destination for players of class and ambition. That one signing made us high-profile again. Lampard – or someone in his mould – would be the ideal “statement” signing for the summer of 2014. If Frank doesn’t make the plane to Brazil, it’s more than likely that his England career would be over. The legs aren’t quite what they used to be, but as part of a midfield which includes younger players to do his running for him, Lampard could be a major success in the Championship.
It remains to be seen, of course, what the summer will bring for Leeds – assuming that we do stay up. There will be other issues to resolve – will Cellino still be in danger from the more detailed judgement in the Nélie case – or indeed from other cases yet pending? Will the implications of Financial Fair Play on the back of a year or so’s mismanagement by GFH lead to a cautious transfer policy, despite the fact that Massimo is minted? It all remains to be seen.
For the time being, though – with the Football League temporarily at least chained up and impotent – we can indulge ourselves in a little daring to dream. The next transfer window should be a lot more interesting than the last few, when the only real debating point was how many lies we were going to be told to flog a few more season tickets. The signs are that Cellino will not be treading the path of deception, valuing the biggest asset of Leeds United as he does. “Fans are not for sale, they have feeling and you don’t buy feeling,” he has said. “You can buy a bitch for one night, but you don’t buy the love my friend.” The man has the soul and spirit of a poet, his fluency of expression promises to be a highlight of the Leeds United soap opera for as long as we’re allowed to keep him. Perhaps such a poet, someone who thinks so clearly and expresses himself so fluently, can look back at history for inspiration and then act on it to provide Elland Road with a new talisman.
If he does, he’s odds-on to have ideas of his own – and who knows, perhaps even Brian will get a say in the matter. But just while we are daring to dream, my ideal situation would be for the name of Lampard to crop up, and then for Leeds to be audacious enough to ask the question. Stranger things have happened – two months before Strachan arrived in LS11, any suggestion of that calibre of recruit for Leeds would have led you to a sojourn in a rubber room with the old back-to-front jacket on. Wind back a further thirty years, and the signing of Bobby Collins from Everton would have appeared equally as outlandish a possibility.
Lampard for Leeds as the latest springboard to success and renaissance? Unlikely perhaps. But, where Leeds United and Massimo Cellino are concerned, never say never.