Monthly Archives: April 2018

Warnock’s 2006 Blades Provide Blueprint for Successful Leeds Promotion Bid – by Rob Atkinson

blades-2006.jpg

Neil Warnock celebrates in 2006 with his promotion-winning battlers

I was watching one of those Neil Warnock half-time rant videos on YouTube the other evening, and reflecting on his undoubted ability as a rabble-rousing motivator. There’s a couple of well-known examples of these online, one during his time at Huddersfield Town when he berated his team while talking passionately about the fans who had travelled miles in the rain to support the Terriers. This was the clip that initially got me enthusiastic when “Colin” was appointed to the Leeds job; in the end, for a variety of reasons, Warnock was the right man at the wrong time for Elland Road, something that is good cause for profound regret.

Because, like him or hate him, Warnock is a winner. In the right circumstances (note that phrase well), he will fulfil the brief of getting promotion; he might not win many friends on the way, but give him the tools and he’ll finish the job. He’s doing it right now at Cardiff City, of all places. Wherever he is, he’s totally committed to success – although a lifelong Blade, his efforts at Bramall Lane were no more fervent than anywhere else he has been successful. He’s fanatically focused on getting the job done, building a team ethic, fostering the right spirit. He’ll do it with the support of the club’s board if he can, without if he has to. Only when the situation at a club is really toxic has he really found a job impossible. Note that phrase, too.

It was impossible at Elland Road for Warnock to create what he eventually created at Sheffield United. Even so, several nominally superior clubs came to Leeds and were slain in one or other of the two Cup competitions, notably Tottenham Hotspur, Gareth Bale included, who succumbed 2-1 to exit the FA Cup five years ago. Warnock had an effect at Leeds, but was eventually stymied by the regime in control, as just about every coach since has been. It’s galling to think that, if he‘d had the cooperation of the people in charge at Elland Road, we might now be a Premier League club. But the evidence is irrefutable. Wherever he’s gone, and been allowed to create his vision, success has eventually followed.

It took him a while at Bramall Lane, but when he got it right, the look of his team at work reminded me irresistibly of Wilko’s 1990 promotion winners. Remember that game against Sunderland at home, when the Mackems kicked off and Leeds had won possession and mounted an attack in the first few seconds? That team hunted the opposition down, harried them, left them nowhere to go and, eventually, overran them, I think it ended 5-0. The 2006 vintage Blades were very similar. The initial clip I’d watched of Colin bollocking his troops at half time led me on to a review of Sheffield United’s promotion campaign. Ironically, that year, they could only muster two 1-1 draws against Leeds; the previous season, when they just missed out on the play-offs, they beat us 2-0 in Sheffield, and absolutely walloped us 4-0 at Elland Road on the 30th anniversary of my first ever game there.

It’s instructive to watch that 2005/06 Blades review video, if you get the chance and can bear it. That team was the very model of a promotion-winning outfit, always at it, giving the other side not a second’s rest. The contrast with what I’ve seen lately from Leeds is stark and horrifying. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to see a fully-committed team in action; even though I’ve got no time for either Sheffield club, this was inspiring stuff. The defenders were grisly hard and completely uncompromising, the midfield was ever-busy, chasing down every ball and tackling like tigers, always with an eye for a telling pass; and the attackers – sharp and decisive, pouncing on half-chances, making channel runs until their legs turned to water, challenging for everything. Home and away, the Blades tide was usually irresistible – and when they did suffer a setback, they invariably bounced back. What would I give to see a Leeds United team perform like that?

Well, I did see it, when I was 28 years younger and had suffered eight years of thinly-attended dross in the old Division Two. Wilko’s Warriors were a team in the Warnock idiom; all of the qualities I saw in that Blades video were there in abundance with White shirts on and, with Strachan, Batty and the dearly-missed Gary Speed, three quarters of one of the greatest midfield fours ever was already in place by the end of that campaign.

It’s fashionable to look back on the Warnock era at Elland Road and deride the man as a failure. But previous history, as well as his subsequent achievements, expose that as arrant rubbish. Make no mistake, if anybody could have succeeded at Leeds, Warnock was that man. He has a PhD in getting teams, some quite unlikely teams, up into the elite. There, it becomes a different ball game, but Colin’s your man to get you to that point – and to pretend otherwise is an exercise in futility. If we really want to see a relentless juggernaut of a Leeds United team – and I think we all do – then someone of the Colin ilk is needed, if not the man himself.

Don’t get me wrong, on many levels I think the man is a disgrace, especially when he lets himself down as he did with the Wolves coach the other week. Although, apparently, he’s a nice enough bloke away from the football. But we don’t need nice, we desperately need some nasty son-of-a-bitch who’s going to motivate a squad of players to perform as a Leeds United side should perform. And for that to work, unfortunately, it’d probably need a sea-change in the way our club is run. How likely that is, I really wouldn’t like to ponder on too much, in case the answer should prove just too depressing.

If we want to see a difference next season – if we really yearn to see a new version of Wilko’s Warriors or even Colin’s Crusaders – then we should be wishing and agitating for change. Because, otherwise, all we’re likely to get is a further helping of the disgracefully dilettante and uncommitted poncing about that we’ve seen, and paid through the nose for, in the campaign now limping to a shameful conclusion.

In short, we need a hero. Maybe we’ll get one, some day. But just who will that man be?

Advertisements

Can Leeds United Afford to Miss Out on Big Mick McCarthy or Chris Coleman? – by Rob Atkinson

Coleman for Leeds – or maybe Big Mick McCarthy?

It’s a blogger’s prerogative to change his or her mind, and just about all of the optimism and positivity I felt over the appointment of Paul Heckingbottom has now drained away through my boots. The aftermath of the Norwich defeat was probably the last straw as Tom Pearce, a brilliant young prospect of vast potential who has performed creditably  for Leeds United when thrown in at the deep end, was hung out to dry by his coach, who pointed the finger at an inexperienced kid when several so-called seniors were far more culpable. Et tu, Hecky probably didn’t flash across young Pearce’s mind – but nobody would have blamed him if it had. This was a despicable low blow, from a man who seems set on shifting the blame wherever he can, just to keep it from his own guilty door.

So much for Hecky, as far as I’m concerned anyway. But, surely, it will be difficult for the owners to move out a man who was only appointed after the closure of the last transfer window, appalling as his record of results over the whole season at Oakwell and Elland Road has undeniably been? It would be a bold move, to say the least. But the question needs to be asked: on the available evidence, including that unwarranted attack on young Pearce, who do we want in charge of team affairs, and having an input into player recruitment, during the crucial summer window about to open? It’s a good question, probably easier to answer, with an accusing finger pointing at the current incumbent, in terms of who we don’t want.

So, assuming for the sake of argument that the board does the brave, right thing, in shipping Hecky out, where do we then look? There is the highly-respected, no-nonsense figure of Mick McCarthy, erstwhile Leeds fan and Irish World Cup legend, a man who faces all of his challenges head on, a warrior of stern aspect with a deeply impressive brow hammered flat by contact with thousands of footballs and the occasional opponent too. There’s a lot to be said for Mick, he’s the Leeds type and would possibly be keen to grasp the Elland Road nettle.

But another intriguing possibility has sprung up this weekend, with the laughably disgraceful sacking of former Wales boss Chris Coleman by League One newcomers Sunderland. It’s a situation that would read better in reverse, with Coleman tearing up his Mackems contract in disgust and hot footing it out of there. Either way, another high profile former international coach is on the market, and surely that should pique some interest in the troubled corridors of Elland Road.

For my money, it would be Coleman by a short head, if only because he’s nearer the right end of his managerial career. Both Mick and Chris have points to prove, having left their respective previous jobs under different types and shades of cloud. But perhaps Coleman’s motivation would be keener, his appetite greater. And, despite the Stadium of Light fiasco, there’s little room for doubt over his ability.

Opinions welcome, as ever. Please refrain from making easy jibes over my Heckingbottom disillusion. These things happen, to any fan. And that’s what I am, first and foremost, a Leeds United fanatic desperately keen to give anyone coming into my club unstinting support. It’s not pleasant to have to jump ship so early, but HMS Hecky is foundering on rocks of its own devising, and I honestly think the man needs to go.

Norwich Blog “City of Yellows” Guest Previews Canaries v Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Hoolahan

Carrow Road bids farewell to Canaries legend Wes Hoolahan on Saturday v United

I’m very glad to publish an “opposition preview” of the coming weekend’s game at Carrow Road, as Leeds travel to meet the Canaries. In the reverse fixture, we managed a narrow 1-0 win over City via a Pontus Jansson first half header. Despite Saturday’s game being meaningless as far as the league season goes, you’d imagine that Norwich will be keen to end their home season on a high by gaining revenge, especially as they say farewell to a legendary performer (and someone I for one would have liked to have seen playing for United) in Wes Hoolahan. Thanks to Charlie, one of the editors at City of Yellows, for providing this insightful match preview. 

Recent defeats to high-flying Cardiff and Fulham forced Norwich City fans to reflect on what might have been, and how far we still have to go. Now, the final home game of the 2017/18 season will provide a different sort of reminder – a warning. Our opponents, Leeds United, represent what Norwich City must desperately avoid as old legends move on and the ‘Farke-life’ new era continues.

Formerly one of the greatest sides in English football, a couple of uninspiring seasons quickly turned into a stagnant decade of second and third division football for Leeds United. They are now one of the most experienced cellmates currently trapped in the Championship prison; past mistakes have left them tied to mid-table, with nothing to do but remember happier times. Wes Hoolahan’s final game for the Canaries symbolises Norwich leaving an exciting time in its own history behind; hopefully, we will not be punished for it as Leeds have been.

On Saturday, Carrow Road will play host to two teams sitting side-by-side in mid-table obscurity; two sets of players who have failed to fill the boots of their predecessors, and two sets of passionate fans who deserve better. Commentators and fans tried their best to put a positive spin on City’s previous 0-0 draw away at Preston, but it is one of countless score lines that reflect the Canaries’ lack of threat in attack. Leeds’ vulnerable defence, having conceded 62 goals this season, could be there for the taking – it is up to City to pleasantly surprise their fans by actually taking advantage.

Bolstered by their retention of tricky attacker Pablo Hernandez, Leeds will be determined to finish their own season on a high – if only to take their minds off a questionable upcoming post-season tour of Myanmar. With more action off the pitch than on it, you may think that Leeds fans see little promise in their future. Just one visit to Elland Road would prove you wrong: every time I have visited Elland Road, I have always admired the Leeds supporters’ refusal to have their spirit and passion quashed by boardroom shenanigans; the atmosphere they create is always palpable whatever dreadful circumstances their team find themselves in.

With Wessi waving his final goodbyes and the presentation of the Player of the Year trophy (can’t think who that’ll go to…), the match is bound to have an ‘end-of-season’ feel to it.

On paper, this result means nothing for either set of players, other than a step closer to their summer holidays. But football, of course, is not played on paper. Leeds will bring their usual spirit and grit to the game, challenging Norwich players to prove that they have the determination and passion that they claim to have whenever they are interviewed!

International Call Up for Leeds Striker Ekuban Proof of Quality – by Rob Atkinson

 

Ekuban

Caleb Ekuban shows striking potential for United

It must be a bit of a kick in the teeth for the self-proclaimed experts on the Leeds United #LUFC Twitter hashtag, or feed, or whatever these geeks call it, to see that Whites striker Caleb Ekuban has been called up by the Ghanaian national squad. It’s always a bit galling when mere football professionals dare to set up their opinions against the omniscience of the Twatterati, but there you go. Some people just haven’t got a clue.

In the real world, of course, those in charge of the Ghana squad have seen the potential in Ekuban; possibly, they even feel all that’s required is for the lad’s confidence to be given a timely boost. It’s the sharp edge of his game that needs honing to perfection, that ice-cold instant of detached judgement that makes the difference between a finish and a miss. Even Roy of the Rovers had similar issues at some stage, even Jimmy Greaves, Robbie Fowler – any striker worth the name. Any and all of them will tell you that most of the art or science of playing in attack is to be in the right place at the right time. For the most part, Ekuban has demonstrated this facility, together with an appetite for graft that has endeared him to those in the Leeds crowd who appreciate that sort of thing. “You’ve got to be there to miss the chances”, as old-school centre-forwards would tell you – getting into the positions, that’s the secret. The rest is down to that elusive quality of confidence, something that has been shouted out of Ekuban’s game by the clueless mob who pour scorn out of their idiot box keyboards.

The call up to the national squad could make a big difference to our Ekuban, and the team may well reap the benefit of that when it matters, next season. Alongside the expected renaissance of Samu Saiz, and given a season a little more blessed, with no niggling injuries for Caleb and no bloody silly suspensions for Samu, there’s a formidable attacking partnership ready to blossom. Mark my words.

And, if you don’t believe me, put your faith in the judgement of the Ghana national tam selectors – they should know a decent striker when they see one. I’m not saying that Ekuban is another Yeboah. Then again, I’m not saying he doesn’t have the potential. All I want is for the lad to be given a fair chance, without a bunch of clueless yahoos just waiting to pounce on any missed chance and jump on an easy bandwagon. Yep, that’d be nice.

I won’t hold my breath, though. Good luck, Caleb Ekuban – and I hope you ram the flawed judgement of our resident online idiots right back down their throats.

Can Celtic’s Tom Rogic Make the Step Up to Succeed With Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

Tom-Rogic-Leeds-United-Transfer-News-648714

Rogic – Elland Road bound?

If Celtic’s Tom Rogic is indeed fed up with coming first in a one-horse race, as the Bhoys continue to dominate their pitifully substandard league, then he could do a lot worse than throw in his lot with a massive, but massively underachieving club in the far more competitive environment of the English Championship. Swapping Celtic for Leeds United would make perfect sense for a dissatisfied player seeking legend status and an enormous challenge.

Rogic is a good player, there’s no doubt about that. With 35 caps for the Australian national team, his credentials are beyond doubt. But creditable performers from north of the border have trodden the path southwards to Elland Road many a time before, and it’s a sad fact that relatively few of these imports have flourished on Yorkshire soil. It’s a step up in terms of the ferocity of competition and also bearing in mind the pressure that comes with playing for a club like Leeds.

Rogic, though, is the type of player United should be looking to sign ahead of what will be a crucial season next time around. The campaign now fizzling out started in a veritable blaze of glory as Leeds stormed to the top of the table, and things looked extremely promising. But a combination of a lack of timely investment and a severe loss of form saw Yorkshire‘s top club plummet from that early high, and the sad fact is that we’ve witnessed another wasted season of crushing disappointment. The owners will know that it’s not been good enough, and a marker must now be put down ahead of the resumption of hostilities in August. The one undoubted high spot this term has been the fantastic support Leeds have enjoyed, if not exactly deserved. Crowds averaging well over 30,000 have been served up some dreadfully bleak fare, and the powers that be at Elland Road must surely be sharply aware that the fans’ patience, always thin, must be on the point of wearing out.

The club’s production line of young talent appears to be in solid working order again, with the likes of Tom Pearce and Bailey Peacock-Farrell staking their claims lately. More is to come from the youth levels of the club, with the likes of Jack Clarke likely to be pushing for recognition sooner rather than later. A few quality signings of the Rogic ilk, together with players like Yosuke Ideguchi and Tyler Roberts fit and raring to go – added to a few judiciously selected departures – would give the squad a leaner, hungrier look for what needs to be a determined tilt at promotion, via the play offs at the very least.

Of course, it’s all been said before, with disappointment ensuing as night follows day. But we have to maintain the hope that, next time, things just might be different. A statement of intent on the part of the club’s board will be required early in the summer transfer window. A player like Tom Rogic might just be the sort of signing that would make that positive intent amply clear.

Leeds Utd’s Clueless Keyboard Army Don’t Know the Meaning of the Word “Support” – by Rob Atkinson

shame-on-you

You know who you are…

When Caleb Ekuban was denied an equaliser by a fine save from the Fulham ‘keeper, who then saw his side sweep downfield to seal the match 2-0, I held my head in my hands. Not just through frustration or the pain of defeat – but because I knew there would be an immediate explosion of clueless criticism from Leeds United‘s dismal army of Twitter followers, people who seem to be perpetually ready willing and all too able to pounce on any mistake or missed chance, desperately eager to unleash their own brand of unhelpful negativity. And so it came to pass, as the LUFC hashtag was swiftly beset with a barrage of destructive tweets, from football fandom’s very own versions of Leonard Cohen and the Smiths, each of them vying to see who could be the most soul-destroyingly defeatist and treacherous.

I sometimes wonder what these people get out of it. It can’t just be the lols, likes and retweets garnered from those of a similarly pathetic outlook, can it? Perhaps they just want to provoke a reaction, in which case I’m playing into their hands. So be it, then. Certain things need pointing out, after all. One of these is the damage being done to the reputation of the Leeds United support, which has always been famous, or at least notorious, for the raucously partisan nature of its expressed fanaticism. In this digital age, though, the support base of any club will be divided – on a match day at least – into those who go along to support the lads, and those who sit at home, ensconced behind their keyboards, safely anonymous, many of them just waiting to inflict what passes for their wit and wisdom upon the rest of us, whenever things on the field start going wrong. This sort of thing is noticed in various quarters. Fans of other clubs are saying, this famous Leeds United support is nothing special, look at all those idiots on Twitter. And, tragically, they’re bang on the money.

Take the Fulham game. Ekuban was denied by a good save when he was one on one. This is a lad who has had an injury-affected season, and he’s a lad from whom you can see desire and the wish to succeed coming out of every pore. Now, this lad has been working his nuts off every chance he gets, yet feeling the pressure growing for some time. He scored last weekend, and you thought “watch him go now”. But all the talk was of another couple of chances, one on one again, which he sadly didn’t take. And so, instead of the pressure being dissipated, or even relieved a little, it continues to grow. And, lo and behold, the poor lad misses another one on one, the ball goes down the other end, and it’s in our net. How does he feel? And how will he feel if he sees the myriad tweets in response to this unfortunate event, from the army of utterly clueless and unsupportive Leeds “fans” on Twitter? Most of them don’t know one end of a football from another, and yet they’re there in their hundreds, criticising a pro’s technique. It’s ludicrous. Make no mistake, this is not support – it’s death by a thousand tweets, and it’s shameful in the extreme.

And look at Jay Roy Grot. He misses an easy header – and straight away, you get “My grandma would have put that away and she’s been dead twenty years, haw haw haw”. Well done, you Twitter morons, how very original and helpful, I must say. Think of what goes through Grot’s mind as he goes to finish the chance. Half a second is a long time – and when you’ve had a destructive Twitter campaign shooting great ragged holes through your confidence all season, it must seem like an eternity. So maybe there’s a bit of tension in the nerves and muscles as Grot attacks a ball he’d put away 99 times out of a hundred. And the ball goes narrowly over instead of in. Grot’s bang to rights, he’s missed a sitter – but those negative, clueless, lazy and destructive Leeds “fans” are just as culpable.

It’s so annoying, and it’ll likely get worse, with predictably negative results on the team’s morale, and on the confidence of those players not exactly brimming with that valuable commodity in the first place. And it’s particularly nauseating, because you absolutely know that those doling out out the abuse, just to satisfy their own delusions of expertise and knowledge of the game, will change their tune extremely quickly, once the targets of their amateur criticism find some form and start producing. It’s happened so often before, from Ray Hankin, when at least there was no Twitter, through to Jermaine Beckford. As sickening as the stupidity of these people might be, their rank hypocrisy is even more stomach-churning.

Like the thousands of Leeds fans who don’t indulge in this narcissistic “look at me” barrage of bandwagon-jumping criticism, I can see the potential, particularly in Caleb Ekuban. And, far more importantly, so can the football professionals. You’ve got to get in the positions to miss the chances, and that’s the hard part, so the old pros will murmur. Give it time, the lad will come good. I believe they’re right – they were about Beckford, who did so well he now has a stand named after him at Manchester United.

If I were in a position of authority at Elland Road, and not being able to ban these idiots from Twitter, I’d ban my playing staff from having Twitter accounts and from accessing the LUFC hashtag. I’d be that worried about the negative impact of all the criticism, stupid and ill-informed though it undoubtedly is. These so-called Leeds fans are doing the opposition’s job for them, which is treachery in anyone’s book. There’s enough pressure on any young player, just making their way in the game, simply from playing for Leeds United – without a crew of hapless amateurs chelping away in the ether. It doesn’t help, it’s positively harmful. If I were involved in player welfare, I’d look to shield them from that.

It’s pointless highlighting this, of course, except insofar as it gets it all off my chest. The guilty parties will be only too glad of whatever attention their idiocy gains for them; that’s part of the condition that afflicts them. And, even if they all shut up at once, I’d have the likes of Donald Trump and Alan Sugar polluting the virtual environment with their own brand of stupidity. Just at the moment though, I’d take those two morons over the army of dickheads out there infesting the LUFC hashtag. At least they’re not directly harming the football club I’ve loved for almost 50 years.

Rant over. For now.