By common consent, one vital ingredient missing from the Leeds United recipe over recent years has been a class act on the wing. Somebody exciting, with the gift of pace and the trickery to go past people as if they were not there. Somebody with a goal or two in him; someone to terrify the opposition. Such a man was and is Mad Maxi Gradel, a raw talent when he was foolishly discarded by Leicester City, but a talent that blossomed – and how – at Elland Road.
Now, even after a few years away from Leeds, Mad Max is demonstrating that he still has deep feelings for the club where he strutted his stuff briefly, but to such effect. The Ivorian international, it’s been revealed, texted his countryman Sol Bamba – another former Leicester man – and recommended the Leeds move to the huge defender. “He text me two days ago and said he’d heard about my move and he was happy,” said Bamba. “He said I will love it here. He said the fans will be good with me if I do the business. He told me all the good things about the club and that gives me even more positive things about the club. He said only good things. I’m happy to be here and I cannot wait to get started.”
Could such enthusiasm for our beloved Leeds hold out any hope that we may yet see Gradel himself back in a United shirt? Maxi’s return to LS11 has been mooted many a time and oft, but for various reasons it’s never quite happened up to press. That’s surely not to say that the player wouldn’t be up for it, though. The feeling during Maxi’s too-brief time at Leeds was that he formed a strong attachment to the club and to the fans. This was despite his occasional red-mist moments – notably of course the one that so nearly upset United’s promotion clincher at home to Bristol Rovers back in 2010. Leeds fans have always been partial to the presence of a certifiable nutter in the team – but it’s probable that tolerance would have snapped had Gradel’s insane reaction and sending-off cost his team dear that day. Happily, as we know, it all came right – and Max survived to demonstrate that he was a force in the Championship during Leeds’ first season back, when we briefly threatened to charge through the second tier and into the top flight at the first time of asking.
Sadly, the executive management of the club was deeply flawed at that time, and a succession of managers found themselves hamstrung by the dodgy policies of the bearded menace in the boardroom. Gradel was one casualty of a bizarre transfer ethos which seemed to identify any player with real potential to take the club forward as a priority sale item. We lost a lot of good players, and the best we have done since, really, is tread water in the Championship – nowhere near good enough for a club like Leeds.
Now, current crises notwithstanding, there may be a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel – certainly as far as player recruitment goes. The club has managed to secure the services of some genuinely exciting players, without (so far) revisiting the past – although there have always been calls for the likes of Beckford, Snoddy and even Howson to return and fulfil their destiny at Elland Road. The Cellino policy (when he has been allowed to get on with his running of the club) has been to seek out good prospects at the right price, supplementing the signings with an injection of talent from the youth and development squads. Against this background, the re-signing of Gradel would buck the trend somewhat – then again, trends are there to be bucked.
The difference with Gradel is that you feel he needs to be at a club where he’s loved and believed in; he seemed a player who would give of his best most reliably with a vociferous crowd behind him to light the blue touch paper. For this reason above all, the feeling at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is that – if there is just one past player Leeds should be looking at re-engaging, then Mad Max Gradel is that man. His ability and pace out wide – something still notably absent in this group – could open up new dimensions for the likes of Sharp, Antenucci, even Doukara and – as we fondly remember – he had a hell of a finish on him as and when he got a sight of the target. His goals against Notts Forest in a pulsating victory at Elland Road (the one where TV commentators tried to excuse a two-footed challenge by a Florist player to claim he shouldn’t have been sent off) will stay long in the memory. The feeling was that Max loved Leeds and that Leeds loved Max – why shouldn’t such a reciprocal passion be re-ignited?
Allowing for whatever may yet happen in the remainder of this window, a move for Gradel could kick-start a survival push this season. It’s a season that few really expected to bring concrete rewards – although you had hopes. But even as part of a rescue mission for a squad that could challenge more confidently next time around, the addition of Max would be an exciting and potentially productive development. As far as this blog is concerned, he would be the top choice should Leeds after all look to bring back just one old favourite.
Maxi for Leeds – yes please. Let’s have a bit of Gradel madness for the rest of this turbulent season.