By common consent, the main difference between Leeds United and high-flying Middlesbrough at the weekend was the less-than-helpful presence in the Whites back line of one Giuseppe Bellusci, a man to whom the intricacies of central defending appear to be what Rugby League is to Julian Clary.
Bellusci’s laughably weak attempt at a clearance, making barely any contact with a cross-ball well within his reach, led directly to David Nugent‘s opening goal. The Italian then compounded that error by heading past his own keeper under no particular pressure, to double the hosts’ advantage. The game was already as good as over at this relatively early stage, even with Middlesbrough looking rather less than dominant. Leeds – or, more specifically, Bellusci – had thrown it away, far more then Boro having had to earn their decisive lead.
Support for that point of view came from United pundit, ex-striker for the Whites and passionate Leeds fan Noel Whelan, who was particularly scathing in his summing-up, both of the “shambolic” defender’s performance and, more generally, his suitability to represent Leeds United. Annoyingly for many, the team selection was made in spite of the availability of Liam Cooper, who had been in possession of the shirt, and had hardly disgraced himself. Some pretty fair judges feel that “disgracing himself” just about nails it as far as Bellusci’s performance on Sunday at The Riverside is concerned.
Even Head Coach Uwe Rösler has been somewhat equivocal in the matter, falling some way short of backing a player under heavy fire in the press. “I think it would be unfair after losing 3-0 to go into details of any individual player,” Rosler said, when asked about Bellusci. “I saw the game, you saw the game and that is where we should leave it.” Hardly a ringing endorsement of a squad member Rösler had – apparently – preferred to the evidently steadier and more reliable Cooper.
Or did he?
It does rather beg the question of where the final say rests in team selection matters. Rösler can sometimes appear rather uncomfortable when quizzed about certain decisions, and it’s a matter for some concern as to exactly how far he’s able to go in defending his own picks – or maybe excusing those of people above him in the United hierarchy. In short, many outside the club are concerned that, since the departure of Adam Pearson – who had gently ushered owner Massimo Cellino safely into the background – the Captain may now be back on the bridge again, and chucking his weight about to the detriment of the ship’s safety and smooth passage.
It will be very interesting to see exactly what the shape of the team will be for Leeds’ next game, especially the make-up of the defence. After such a very damning reaction from both press and public to Giuseppe Bellusci’s disastrous showing at Middlesbrough, you feel that some pointed questions will be asked if he survives the chop and keeps his place against Birmingham City. Those questions would almost certainly include loud voices demanding to know who exactly does pick the team, and why certain individuals are selected despite, rather than because of, current form.
Rösler is a professional and, reading between the lines of his comments about what went wrong at The Riverside, it’s clear he wasn’t exactly happy with the showing of a man who gave away Boro’s first goal and scored their second himself. It’s fair enough for us to be asking – will he be allowed to drop Bellusci, if he sees fit so to do? And, if he’s not allowed to make such a decision, with his managerial neck on the line and relying for his continued employment on getting results – then is his position as United’s Head Coach even tenable?
This blog believes that, no, it wouldn’t be. If Rösler doesn’t have full control of team selection – and there are sound reasons for believing that this may be the case – then, quite frankly, he should jump before he’s pushed. Then, clearly, the solids would hit the air-conditioning. But maybe that’s what needs to happen for some clarity to emerge in the vexed question of who really calls the shots in Leeds United’s match-day team selection.