These are confusing times, even for supporters of such a very baffling football club as Leeds United. In the last few days, the owner and the manager have been singing from radically different hymn sheets, giving your average fan in the street very little chance of divining just what the hell is going on as regards squad strengthening during this transfer window.
If this is just another attempt on the part of the club to “manage fans’ expectations”, it would be disappointing – but hardly surprising. Over the past few years, the standard modus operandi for Yorkshire‘s top club has been to encourage a froth of speculation at these troublesome times of the year, continually talking up the chances of, at first, “getting our business done early” – and then, as the days pass with very little of note happening, turning to coy references to the goodies we might expect to snap up in the emergency loans market, once that bothersome window finally slams shut (sighs of relief from the purse-string holders at Elland Road).
This time around, the story has been quite familiar – names are dropped for speculation purposes and, one by one, these names find comfortable billets at other club. Some incoming business is completed (loan for a winger, loan extension for a midfield enforcer – and even a permanent deal for the boy Dave from Brentford FC), all more than offset by the departure of one of our own (Sam Byram to Eastenders) – said departure having been made inevitable by an insulting contract renewal offer for a young man of high potential who will inevitably play for England.
The new and somewhat disturbing ingredient in this January’s melange of diversion and deception is the sharp variance in the public statements of owner and manager. In the past few days, we’ve had excited positivity from Steve Evans, talk of “going in heavy” for targets unspecified, assurances that no-one is anywhere near the mark speculation-wise – all generally exciting stuff.
Il Duce Cellino, on the other hand, has come out and said that it’s now “unlikely” Leeds will be making any further signings. This is despite another worrying injury to Chris Wood, casting doubt over our already dubious striking options, and well-documented areas of concern in the squad, notably central defenders and attacking midfielders. The thing is that Cellino said something similarly negative just before Leeds moved for Toumani Diagouraga. So who do you believe?
The lesson of recent history is that the answer to that question is “not Cellino”, given his track record for broken promises and a generally dodgy relationship with the truth. This season alone, we’ve heard that he’s selling up and shipping out – a promise that has so far, sadly, failed to come to fruition – although there are fresh rumours of Mr. Parkin circling like a shark around an illegally-imported yacht. The overall effect is that, if you adopt a standard approach of disregarding or disbelieving il Presidente‘s public utterances, you’ll probably end up nearer to the truth than if you naively give him the benefit of any remaining doubt.
This blog, then, having listened to and digested both versions of the current Leeds United stance, will choose to take the glass-half-full approach, eagerly anticipating at least one further arrival before February dawns to banish the last realistic bit of excitement in yet another dreadfully frustrating, disappointing and bleak season (remember, Massimo promised “beautiful football and a season to remember). It’s all been dreadfully forgettable, yet again – another reminder that, if Cellino tells you it’s sunny, you only need to look out of the window to see the rain lashing down like stair-rods.
But the bottom line here is that Leeds United do need to add to the squad in this window – and not, as the popular fiction has gone, to keep alive faint hopes of participation in the play-offs. The reality is that we have lost a top performer in Byram, and the squad as it stands cannot absolutely guarantee safety from relegation, much less any starry-eyed notions of back-door promotion. Last season, we flirted with demotion – and the same uncomfortable scenario could still revisit us, make no mistake. There’s absolutely no point in being complacent on that score.
Besides which, the fans deserve to see better players – and better football. It’s been far too many years of mediocrity now and it’s way overdue that things started to improve around LS11. For this reason above all, and bearing in mind those nagging doubts over Championship security, let’s all hope that Mr. Evans is the one speaking the truth here – and that our less-than-entirely-believable owner is yet again indulging his passion for telling porkies.
The next four days will leave us all that bit more well-informed as to exactly who is on the up and up at Elland Road.