The usual pre-season mood around Leeds United over the past few years has been an unlovely mixture of frustration and pessimism, both usually to be justified by subsequent events. Squad investment, the close-season preoccupation of the serious promotion contenders, was noticeable only by its relative absence down at Elland Road. Pre-season programmes were put together hurriedly if at all, the club more often than not being engaged in the search for another doomed occupant of the United managerial hot-seat. The fans looked on aghast, as the recipe for mediocrity was written anew each season before their horrified eyes. It was depressing, it was annoying – it was getting properly boring.
How things have changed since the recent shift of power at the helm of this famous old football club. The new owner, Andrea Radrizzani, seems able and determined to engage with the supporters, impishly keeping us in the loop as he sets about a recruitment spree the like of which we’ve not seen since the second millennium was brand new. All of a sudden, after the thin gruel of recent years, we’re being fed a solid diet of proper signings, players for whom a fee has been demanded, players we’ve had to compete for against other clubs of equal or even higher rank, players of pedigree who should be able to handle the pressure that comes with the famous white United shirt. It’s all most novel and unaccustomed but, by gum, it makes a very welcome change.
Now, Twitter is abuzz with incredulous Leeds fans rapidly running out of fingers to tally up the roster of new additions. The mood is bordering upon happy hysteria all over the vast world of Leeds United social media, fans are getting ecstatically greedy, wanting more presents from Santa Andrea before they’ve even unwrapped the latest quality playmaker with a distant but enthralling Real Madrid connection. It’s heady stuff. Not all United fans are easily pleased, of course. Many, having watched on breathless as the attacking options have multiplied, are urging Radrizzani to make the case for the defence. But you sense that the Italian has it in hand; his responses are urbanely tantalising, but the intent and ambition behind those responses are palpable.
Here is a guy who has no intention of pulling the wool over our eyes, nor yet of leading us up the garden path. His promises have been terse, almost – but then swiftly fulfilled. To say that it’s been refreshing is hopelessly inadequate; single-handedly, Radrizzani has galvanised a massive body of support, with the effect of a powerful stimulant running through the veins of a formerly moribund subject. The followers of sleeping giant Leeds United have been administered a welcome shot in the arm; eyes are sparkling and sinews are stiffened for the challenge ahead. The general mood after so many seasons of “meh” is a decidedly positive “bring it on”.
Stern tests await in the remainder of the pre-season programme and, of course, in the campaign itself. More recruitment is necessary in the defensive third, especially in the likely and regrettable absence of Kyle Bartley, sadly confined to barracks in Swansea. Matthew Pennington‘s season-long loan arrival from Everton won’t be the end of that process, as at least one more experienced head will be required. But you have the feeling in any case that all areas of the club are relishing those tests, ready for the challenge, welcoming the task ahead. The attitude and morale of the whole place is radically different from the gloominess of other pre-seasons, and the old Leeds United fighting spirit seems to be reasserting itself. And not before time, with a historic moment fast approaching.
In two years time, Leeds United FC celebrates its centenary, a watershed in the existence of any football club. Where will we be in the game, when those three numerals tick over? I know what I wish for this great club, and I’m sure thousands upon thousands feel the same way. Let’s celebrate that centenary where we belong, marching on together in the top flight. That fervent hope might just have become a lot nearer being realised.