Daily Archives: 24/02/2019

Chelsea Need Some Leeds Style On-field Leadership, but Sarri Should Hold His Head High – by Rob Atkinson

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Today isn’t the first time I’ve felt a bit sorry for Chelsea, even though as a Leeds United fan, it’s in my DNA to despise them, and I normally manage that quite well. But I sympathised when they lost a Champions League Final on penalties to you-know-who, after outplaying them during the game itself. As loud as were the celebrations the length and breadth of Devon that night, I was gutted for the Bluescum. It was a question of which is the greater evil – no contest.

Today, though, I felt sorry for them at Wembley in defeat to Man City, even though I wanted City to win, naturally. I think everyone knows what happened, with the Chelsea goalkeeper, whose name I can’t be bothered to look up, refusing to come off when his number went up for substitution near the end of extra time. The lad put himself first and his manager Maurizio Sarri nowhere, showing a total lack of respect for his team-mates in the process. The outcome seemed incredible, but the player remained on the field, and his team duly went on to lose to City, with the young lad (Kepa Arrizabalaga, that’s his name) diving over one he should have saved. Coach Sarri cut a forlorn figure as he followed his defeated team up the Wembley steps, and it’s difficult to say what his future now holds. But it seems fair to say, despite his post-match attempts at smoothing things over, that he was hung out to dry by a young lad who needs to learn, and learn fast, that what the boss says, goes.

A lot of what was missing today at Wembley for Chelsea, quite apart from that vital element of respect for the coach, was a bit of on-field leadership. Now my club, Leeds United – although our squad is infinitely less costly and talented than Chelsea’s – has that quality of leadership in spades, both on and off the field. In the first place, none of our players would even think of defying coach Marcelo Bielsa – and in the second, there’d be no shortage of volunteers to point out, not so gently, the error of his ways to any player daft enough to try it. In today’s game, only David Luiz made some sort of half-hearted attempt to set a young player back onto the straight and narrow, and it wasn’t nearly enough.

A great example of what I’m talking about occurred during yesterday’s win over Bolton. Leeds were awarded a penalty during the first half (check the records if you don’t believe me) and, in the absence of regular spot kick taker Kemar Roofe, there were three contenders to grab the ball. Patrick Bamford was the man who got to it first, but Pablo Hernandez was quite interested, and tyro Tyler Roberts was positively insistent. Roberts was prepared to make an issue of it when, from the back, Luke Ayling came steaming into the area and grabbed Tyler by the scruff of the neck to usher him away and let Bamford get on with it. I’m sure that Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper et al would have intervened if necessary, but Roberts wisely yielded before things got that serious. The penalty was converted, and they all lived happily ever after.

That Elland Road penalty incident didn’t directly involve the coach, but it does demonstrate the importance of players showing some leadership and solidarity on the pitch, when all the manager can do is holler from a hundred yards away above the noise of a 35,000 crowd. On-field leadership is the eleventh commandment as far as football is concerned, and Chelsea grievously lacked it today. The rest of the team, faced with such blatant defiance of the manager, should have been frogmarching their arrogant young keeper off – because once the boss’s authority is compromised, it’s a slippery slope downwards. Luiz apart, the Chelsea players simply stood by and watched. Clearly, some sort of damage limitation script was agreed for the eager Sky interviewers afterwards, but the fact remains that there are big problems at Chelsea, problems that they seem to lack the essential character to deal with.

In the circumstances, I fear for Sarri, whose authority now appears to be shot through. But, for me, he can hold his head up high; the fault lies with a young professional who has set himself in defiance of his boss, as well as the senior professionals, Luiz apart, who failed to enforce their manager’s will on the field. To me, going into a penalty shoot-out just minutes after that scene of disgrace and confusion, Chelsea were certs to lose, and it was no surprise that they did, missing their first penalty and then seeing their rebellious keeper dive over one that he should have saved. Justice was served, it seemed, for everyone except poor Sarri.

Incidentally, this sort of thing has happened before, and in circumstances surprising to those who were so quick to claim that what happened to Sarri would never have happened to Alex Ferguson. Because Ferguson was the Man U manager in 1991, when they faced Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley in the League Cup Final. Les Sealey, since sadly deceased, was the Red Devils keeper, and he sustained a deep knee gash for which they wanted to sub him – but the hotheaded Sealey refused to be subbed, getting almost violent with the member of the coaching staff trying to see him off the pitch. Wednesday went on to win 1-0 with a goal from John Sheridan.

It’s not often that I look at a major final, and at the situation of a major and majorly rich, honour-laden club like Chelsea, and end up with my appreciation of the way my own club is run so greatly enhanced. But it happened today. Chelsea could learn a lot from the way things are done at Leeds – but I wish only the best for their beleaguered coach Maurizio Sarri, whatever fate now has in store for him.

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Bolton Coach Who Mocked Leeds Boss Bielsa Gets Just Deserts – by Rob Atkinson

Specialist in playground mickey-taking, Bolton’s Lee Butler

It should probably be a convention in football, rather than just common sense, to do your best to refrain from taking the mick out of the opposing team boss – especially if there’s a snooping TV camera in the vicinity. The trouble with getting caught doing this, even though it might be good for a giggle at the time if you’re sufficiently immature, is that you end up looking a prat to hundreds of thousands of unsympathetic types like opposing fans. And you look even more of a prat if your team loses the game as well as coming off second best in a touchline bench fracas.

Such was the fate that befell the Bolton Wanderers goalkeeping coach Lee Butler at the Elland Road meeting of Leeds United and the Trotters on Saturday. The pre-match courtesies were under way and Leeds Boss Marcelo Bielsa, with characteristic Latin politeness, walked over to his Bolton counterpart for the traditional handshake.

Doubtless it’s a cultural thing, much like paying close attention to rival clubs’ preparation, but the Bielsa handshake is something above and beyond the restrained English version, as it incorporates a little bow into the gesture of offering the hand to shake. All very dignified and stately, you might think, and you’d surely be right. But apparently, in Bolton at least, it’s regarded as funny and something to mock. As Bielsa turned and headed for his upturned bucket, the silver-haired Mr Butler, resplendent in a red tracksuit that emphasised his less than athletic paunch, clearly mimicked and then mocked the Bielsa handshake, before having a good old laugh about it with one of his Wanderers chums, as can clearly be seen in this tweet from Leeds fan Gibbo.

Now, I’m sure that Marcelo himself, being above such schoolboy antics, would dismiss it as simply one more of those inexplicable English quirks, or more accurately, that classic contradiction in terms Lancastrian manners – and nothing to shake him out of his polite inscrutability. But I can testify, having seen the moment live, that it annoyed me and made me even more keen to see Bolton depart with nowt. Thankfully, after a bit of a struggle, the lads saw to it that this was so.

It wasn’t just me getting a bit offended though. Quite a few of the Leeds Twitter community were somewhat less than pleased too, and understandably so. Possibly certain members of the Leeds United staff, who perhaps are blessed with slightly less of the sang froid that Bielsa enjoys, might also have been annoyed, had they seen what Butler obviously hoped was a private moment. A bit daft then, really, to have it in front of the camera and 35,000 fans.

Later in the match, things kicked off in front of the West Stand dugouts; Gjanni Alioski, who was down injured, got some unasked for and unwelcome help from a Bolton player, and his Leeds team-mates took exception; Mateusz Klich saw fit to cool down an over-excited opponent by squirting water down his collar, Bolton coach Phil Parkinson unwisely squared up to Pontus Jansson and got sent off for his troubles – things were becoming very unfriendly on and off the pich. But it would be fair to say that the Trotters got the worst of it, as they did with the match itself, departing back over to the wrong side of the Pennines hurt and pointless.

Really, it served them right. You reap what you sow and, with that casual moment of pre-match disrespect, Lee Butler ensured that his club secured the moral low ground and got exactly what they deserved – nothing. I don’t know what the Football League would make of such a blatant display of rudeness and mockery – would they decide it’s a shining example of “acting in utmost good faith”?

You know what – I think they probably would.