The basic reason that Leeds United, from a position of apparent strength within the play-off zone, tonight find themselves outside those play-offs, can be summed up in six simple words. The squad is not good enough. Elements of a successful force can be found within that squad. Certain players would be a shoe-in for just about any other side in the Championship. That’s as far as it goes on the positive side.
But the whole is lacking; there are massive gaps in the first eleven picture and the shadow squad lacks any real strength in depth. There is little by way of a creative, guileful alternative to Pablo Hernandez, little by way of attacking support for the reliably prolific Chris Wood, little consistency out wide despite forays into the loan market – and the centre-half berths may yet be our undoing, in or out of the play-offs. That our major shining star other than Wood lately has been over-worked keeper Rob Green, tells its own depressing tale. Set against various other squads in the league, including those of clubs currently below us, our “group” is just not adequate. It’s not fit for purpose, if that purpose really was promotion. It can’t be. Other clubs have invested as proper clubs at this level ought. We haven’t.
And it’s no mere assertion that the squad is not good enough; it is simply a glaring fact. If we do scrape into the play-offs, there is not one potential opponent I’d be confident of us seeing off over two legs. It would perhaps be best if we stayed outside – do we really need more end of season knockout heartbreak? The fact is that we’ve tried to fulfill the former outright owner’s foolhardy pledge to make the play-offs on the cheap – and it’s beginning to look very much as though we’re doomed to fail.
You don’t have to look too far into the finances, and you don’t have to be an accountant, to see the reasons behind the inadequacy of the squad and the pending failure of our season-long quest for the play-offs. Ironically, the most telling fact to be gleaned from the recently released financial information is that Leeds United has devoted the lowest amount, as a proportion of turnover, on player-related expenditure – in the whole league. That was hailed in certain quarters as a model of prudence and good business; another point of view might well include the words “you have to speculate to accumulate”.
While money has been frittered away on ego projects and the expensive pursuit of satisfaction in the courts, not enough has been invested, for a club of Leeds United’s size, to propel it to a higher level via achievements on the field. Clubs with smaller budgets, smaller crowds but seemingly bigger ambitions have out-played us on the field and out-performed us over the season. The abilities of Garry Monk and his staff, together with the few diamonds we do possess on the playing strength, have enabled the squad as a whole to over-achieve notably through much of the campaign. But you can’t fool all the people all the time, and United are now getting found out.
One man is to blame for the way this season is likely to collapse, and that man is Massimo Cellino. It is devoutly to be hoped that this summer will see the end of his Elland Road tenure, with a fresh start possible and ambitions to match the fantastic support. At this particular juncture, following the brittle euphoria of nicking a point at Newcastle after being soundly thrashed for the majority of that game, and in the immediate aftermath of an appalling and depressing defeat at home to Wolves, this blogger would take a guarantee of a new beginning, under new 100% ownership, in next season’s Championship.
Personally, I don’t need the play-offs. They’ve been nothing but heartache in the past, and the kind of luck and breaks you need to go up via that route just doesn’t visit LS11. I’d be all for re-grouping, getting rid of the deadwood at the top of the tree, and having a real go at winning this league next season. Let’s get back to the Promised Land in a fit state to stay there, and in time for this great club’s Centenary. By that time, Cellino should be nothing more than a distant, unpleasant memory. We have the leader we need in the dugout, we just need him to be backed properly now. That will not happen while Cellino hangs around.
Those are the facts, as I see them. I’d be very surprised to be proved wrong about the prospects for the remainder of this season and, sadly, I don’t think I will be.