Daily Archives: 19/03/2015

Football League to Dish the Dirt on “Impatient” Russell Crowe   –   by Rob Atkinson

Russell Crowe - bloodless coup?

Russell Crowe – bloodless coup?

The Football League‘s clandestine “Stop Leeds United Getting Serious Investment” Task Force was swinging into action yet again yesterday amid some alarm at FLHQ that Hollywood A-lister Russell Crowe might possibly be contemplating getting financially involved in the club he has long supported. A League spokesman confirmed “Our special anti Leeds United people are looking into this. And there will doubtless be something we can – ahem – stone the Crowe with, never fear! (chortle)”

As a first step, the League have consulted the Forbes “Rich List” and it is understood that they were perturbed by what was revealed about the actor’s heavy-duty financial clout. A senior figure in the FL structure –  who refused to be named, but admitted that his initials were Shaun Harvey – also expressed “concern” that Crowe is already involved in part-ownership with a highly successful Australian Rugby League club, showing no signs of leading them into administration. The League are understood to be taking the threat of good news for Leeds extremely seriously.

Russell Crowe is playing his cards close to his chest – having previously asked his near 1.7 million Twitter followers if purchasing a stake in Leeds would be “a good idea”, he now says he is “impatient” to see Leeds achieving success. He has also been in tweeting dialogue with a Leeds fan group, discussing ways and means. The League position on consultation with fans is unequivocally clear. “We don’t like it,” stated our incognito contact, “Once you start involving riff-raff like fans, you’re on the slippery slope to some sort of new-age, new-fangled, hippy, pinko liberal “democracy” thing. We really don’t go for that at all. Give us a good old-fashioned familiar, honest, fit and proper rapist or money-launderer – they’re the sort of people that we really can do business with. You know where you are with them.”

United’s currently suspended owner Massimo Cellino, meanwhile, has confirmed that he does not intend “immediately” to return as Leeds President when his disqualification lapses. Instead, he will pursue remedial avenues of his own, as an individual, with no formal connection to Leeds United AFC. “Is better this way,” the Italian insisted. “Now, when horse’s head found in bed with a one-a these guys scare half to death, like-a that brutto figlio di puttana bastardo, Signor Shaun, no need to worry about sanction for club. I will take care of business in my own special way, my friend.”

Russell Crowe himself had nothing specific to say about any potential League investigation, but confirmed through a spokesman that he would give the signal to “unleash hell”, should circumstances indicate that such a course of action is necessary. The veteran actor dropped a further hint as to his likely attitude, cryptically proclaiming: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next. We are Leeds.”

The officials of the Board of the Football League, both individually and collectively, are understood to be “cacking themselves” after seeing the Cellino and Crowe quotes. A senior figure has sent out for clean underwear three times today alone, and evidence has been shown to us of a bulk order of “Nicky” quilted toilet roll as well as some Far-Eastern “herbal relaxation infusions”. It appears that the investigation into Mr. Crowe will proceed – but preparations are also well advanced for a sudden retreat, if and when necessary. “If hell is unleashed, we shall all be leaving the country the same day,” our source confirmed, pale of face and wringing palsied hands. “This really is becoming a bit too dodgy, even for seasoned duckers and divers such as us. Whether we’re dealing with Crowe or Cellino, or even waking one fine morning with some severed item of equine anatomy, it’s a distinctly worrying picture. A mad Italian and an erstwhile Hollywood hell-unleasher. Jesus. Those are two seriously intimidating mothers, though – aren’t they?? Criminy.”

Shaun Harvey, 94, is incontinently scared. 

 

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Scintillating Arsenal So Nearly “Do a Leeds” (In a Good Way)   –   by Rob Atkinson

Özil - weakest link

Mesut Özil – weakest link in Monaco

In 1995, Leeds United were ‘The Team That Broke the Hearts in Monte Carlo’, courtesy of an unanswered hat-trick from the mighty Anthony Yeboah, striker extraordinaire. United cruised to a 3-0 win at the Stade Louis II, home of AS Monaco – and nothing like that has happened to the Ligue 1 giants again in the almost two decades since. But on Tuesday evening, a massively dominant Arsenal side came so agonisingly close to emulating Wilko’s Warriors and creating history for their club with the biggest Champions League comeback since Leeds themselves recovered from 3-0 down to VfB Stuttgart.

Back in those carefree, pre-meltdown days, Leeds United – three years or so after becoming The Last Champions – still had comfortably enough shots in their locker to give most teams a pretty tough time. A Yeboah-inspired blistering start to that season provided no hint of a clue as to the disappointment that lay ahead, with a pallid Wembley League Cup Final surrender to Aston Villa – where the seeds of Sergeant Wilko’s demise were sown. But in this early season purple patch, United were laying about them to devastating effect, with Masterblaster Yeboah scoring goal after rocket goal. Tony scored more goals of the season in that two or three months than most strikers could dream of in a career.

The assortment against the hapless Monégasques included his usual worldy, sandwiched between two more mortal efforts. That second goal was so typically Tony, instant control in the inside right channel, a sinuous turn past his marker as he progressed to the edge of the area, and a wonderful, curling finish at pace into the far top rigging. Sublime. Things looked really good for Leeds – and just around the corner lay the transfer coup of the year as world superstar Tomas Brolin signed for the Whites from Italian club Parma. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. 

Arsenal’s challenge on Tuesday night was precisely the emulation of that Leeds feat all but twenty years ago. The Gooners had to score three, or they were out of the Champions League – it was as simple as that. In the end, they fell just short – fatally damaged by a clueless performance in defeat at The Emirates – but they could take a lot of pride and encouragement from an utterly dominant return display that, in truth, should have seen the Pride of North London progress, against long, long odds. Little was lacking in a performance better even than the one that ejected Man U from the FA Cup days prior to this Riviera trip. Perhaps the weakest link on the night was Mesut Özil, as quite frankly he has been too often this season. A tendency towards misplacing final balls and running into instead of past defenders in one-on-one situations, may well have been the difference between narrow failure and spectacular success. Perhaps Özil can fill his boots in what remains of the Arse’s bid to retain the FA Cup. On this evidence, he owes his club and fans that much at least. 

The comparison between two European matches, twenty years apart, featuring my beloved Leeds and my much-admired Arsenal, reminds me that one of the young subs for Monaco that night in 1995 was a pre-Juventus youth by the name of Thierry Henry. He went on to do reasonably well for the Gooners and indeed played his part in the Premier League demise of Leeds by blasting several goals past us at Highbury in the early noughties. Henry’s loyalties were probably with Arsenal the other night in Monaco, as were the loyalties of this Leeds United fan, despite my love for and fond memories of the principality of Monaco. 

In the end, though, all of us who were hoping against hope for a Gunners recovery from that pallid home leg defeat, ended up disappointed – and yet thrilled by what had been a fantastic game with a real edge-of-the-seat climax to it. And – cold comfort though this would be to dedicated Arsenal fans – it was a match that revived memories of a golden night long ago when the Whites invaded France and prevailed through the sublime performance of a Ghanaian genius. 

It’s always futile to wish for the impossible – and anyway, while he lasted in England, he was ours – but how Arsenal could have done with Tony Yeboah, as he was in his prime, on Tuesday night.

Fulham 0, Leeds United 3; The Worries Behind the Win   –   by Rob Atkinson

Three kinds of lies

Three kinds of lies

A wise man once told us: “There are three kinds of lies. There are lies; there are damned lies – and there are statistics.

The point he was making, of course, was that the bare numbers rarely tell the whole tale; they can be twisted and manipulated to support a variety of points of view, depending upon the user’s level of dishonesty. Ask George Osborne about that – but don’t expect anything like the truth…

It was Mark Twain who popularised the quote; the identity of the originator is sadly lost to us. But, whoever it was, if he had been present at Craven Cottage last night to watch Leeds United seemingly cruise to a routine 3-0 victory over Fulham, then he might have found reasons both to praise and damn those pesky stats.

The main statistic of course, as Sky TV hacks are always expressing it, is “that little one in the top left hand corner of your screen”. The scoreline is the Alpha & Omega of statistics; a 3-0 win is a 3-0 win, decisive and indisputable. So mote it be. And yet, the other statistics in a game of football frequently bear critical examination. This is particularly so when that bare scoreline on its own might just lead us to false assumptions about form and performance. And the human element can also act so as to skew the outcome against all the logic provided by the facts and figures of a match. Last night at Fulham, if it hadn’t been for the frankly superhuman performance of Leeds keeper Marco Silvestri in all its elastically bendy brilliance, then the trend of the game’s shots on goal figures may well radically have changed the final scoreline.

Those damned match stats

Those damned match stats (Thanks to BBC Sport)

So, to get to the meat of the matter, the fact is that watching last night’s highlights is a fairly sobering experience for any Leeds fan, and tends to cure even those glass-half-full types of any excessive post-victory euphoria. The evidence of your eyes is that Leeds United were under considerable pressure for much of the evening; this continued to be the case even after Fulham defender Kostas Stafylidis‘ two mad moments which saw him dismissed for back-to-back yellow cards. There were too many times when Leeds were cut apart; too many occasions on which heroic custodian Silvestri had to fling himself into the breach. He had a very successful evening, our Marco – but it’s fair to say that you don’t ideally want to see your ‘keeper given quite so many chances to shine. Those statistics confirm for us what we could quite plainly see; Fulham’s creation of clear-cut opportunities was right up there and on another night might well have been reflected in a different result. A combination of poor finishing (a nervous and too-eager-to-succeed Matt Smith must hold his hand up here), excellent shot-stopping and the kindness of the woodwork saw Fulham fail to score, when they could easily have had half a dozen. That’s really no exaggeration.

After the match, United coach Neil Redfearn was understandably keen to highlight the fact that Leeds could have had half a dozen of their own. And it’s fair to say that it’s not Redders’ job to spread alarm and despondency among the troops. But equally it’s important that the weaknesses inherent in a performance that afforded the opposition so many chances, should be recognised and addressed. This is the big worry that the scoreline, excellent though it undoubtedly is, tends to conceal.

The fact of the matter is that, in the medium to long term – or perhaps as soon as the next game – we will get found out if these kind of statistics keep cropping up. Numbers can be interpreted or manipulated or crunched until the cows come home – but in their raw form, they still have their own undeniable message. Conceding a large majority of possession is a worry; it’s tiring to play and chase without the ball. Shots both on and off target against your own goal – that’s another worry. If you buy enough tickets, you’re going to win a raffle sooner or later; the woodwork and an inspired goalkeeper can only do so much. The numbers suggest that Leeds were cut open by an average Championship attack on far too many occasions. The conclusion has to be that Silvestri is insufficiently protected, and that can have only one outcome over time – we’ll be conceding too many again, and results will suffer accordingly.

This is not intended to be a whinge, or in any way to detract from yet another good result on the road. We should rejoice in that; the recent run has hauled us well clear of danger at the bottom and we now have the breathing space to think about next season – a significant luxury before we’ve even reached Easter. But the planning for a new campaign in August must surely address the concerns revealed by last night’s lop-sided possession and attempts on goal stats – otherwise, eventually, we’ll pay for soft-centred characteristics.

Perhaps the root of the problem is a lack of bite in midfield when Rudy Austin isn’t present. On the other side last night, Scott Parker gave an object lesson, even in defeat, of the difference an all-action, tigerish midfield presence can make. A lot of Fulham’s good stuff came through him, and – let’s not forget – there was plenty of good stuff from them last night. That we didn’t suffer by it was an eccentricity of the occasion, with so many chances fluffed, wasted or thwarted by Silvestri. But we can’t rely upon there being too many nights or days like that.

Fulham may yet fall through the trapdoor into League One, just a season after sinking out of the Premier League. If that were to happen then – once we had dried the tears of mirth from our eyes at the way Ross McCormack‘s dream had gone sour on him – we might well wish to look at the availability of Mr Parker who, on last night’s evidence, would be an asset to many a Championship team. I’m sure we could get him for a lot less than £11 million, just to pluck a figure out of thin air. Scott Parker was, more than anyone else in a Fulham shirt, rather unlucky to be on the losing side last night, and it’s clear as day to me that he would improve our midfield options.

Pie in the sky, of course – there are currently far too many variables, including the distinct possibility of yet another TOMA scenario this summer, to speculate on the direction of Leeds’ recruitment policy. That’s even assuming that we’re going to be out of embargo. But if there was even a chance of securing a Scott Parker type for the White shirt, then surely we’d reap massive benefit from that kind of all-action, committed presence. And, maybe then, we’d see a few of those damned statistics turning the way of our beloved Damned United.