Certain things in life just aren’t done, usually for very good reasons. “Never draw to an inside straight” is an old poker aphorism which has entered the wider language with the approximate meaning of “don’t take unnecessary or unwise risks”. Away from the gaming table and into polite society, etiquette demands (inter alia) that port should only be passed to the left, and the fellow who has the bad breeding to do otherwise is marked down as a low cad. These are situations to be avoided; common sense in the former case and fine table manners in the latter mean there is no other choice, if you wish to be accepted as a person who knows what’s what.
Similarly, in other walks of life, behaviour is dictated by what can be accepted as exemplary upbringing, good sense, respect for your elders and betters and – by no means least – tact. Tact is extraordinarily important, for anybody who wishes to get ahead without ruffling too many feathers along the way, always bearing in mind the need to be nice to people on the way up, lest you meet them in a vengeful mood on the way back down again.
It will be a good few years before Brighton’s promising young defender Ben White has to worry about what will happen to him when he’s over the hill and on the slippery downhill slope that awaits us all. Ben’s best years are ahead of him, years in which he will wish to realise his massive potential and maximise the rewards he can hope to gain from what should be a stellar career. In order to do that, White must surely realise the importance of getting the best he possibly can in terms of education and experience in the formative phase of his football life. His magnificent season as a loan star in the colours of Leeds United will have brought it home to Ben that what he can gain under at least one more year of Marcelo Bielsa’s tutelage, combined with the guarantee of playing time that would not apply at a “top six club”, is highly unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. In short, right now, Ben White needs Bielsa’s Leeds just as much as Bielsa’s Leeds needs Ben White. But, sadly, it is impossible, for reasons of tact, to put out of joint the nose of Graham Potter, the coach at White’s parent club Brighton.
Egos, self image, prickly sensitivity and envy – all of these play a part in any competitive environment, professional football more than most. The last thing Mr. Potter will wish to hear from young Ben is that he feels his professional development will be better served under Bielsa at Leeds than in his current situation in Sussex. As admirable a club as Brighton undoubtedly are, and whatever the merits of the manager who has seen fit to put a price tag of £40 million on the head of a young lad he deems unworthy of a top contract “until he sees him in training”, you can’t blame Ben White for identifying Bielsa and the culture he’s nurtured at Elland Road as the prime mover behind what has been a meteoric rise to prominence since his United debut at Bristol just over a year ago. Clearly, Ben wants to prolong the experience, that’s utterly understandable. But how do you go about explaining this to current employers who have you in a contractual bind? Tact forbids being too pointed about such a business, and that’s the dilemma facing Ben White.
Those of us with the best interests of Leeds United and Ben White at heart – and those interests are arguably identical – will hope that a way can be found through this maze of conventions and manners, tactfully of course, towards a solution acceptable to all parties. And Graham Potter’s feelings needn’t end up too bruised, it’s just a matter of him being able to accept that, whatever his talents, he’s no Marcelo Bielsa. After all, who is? Perhaps White’s agent can find some tactful way of making the situation as perceived by his client crystal clear – without ruffling those seagulls’ feathers too much.
Marching On Together