Sometimes, in sport as in life, a helping hand can come from the most unexpected source. In the sporting arena, that helpful gesture might occasionally even emanate from within the opposition camp, giving an unexpected boost ahead of a difficult task. You’ll have doubtless heard of the phenomenon whereby some Rentagob ex-player for this or that Rovers, City or United will unwisely open their piehole and give major and unintended motivation to the next opponents of that ex-player’s former employers.
One such instance of this occurred last night in the wake of Leeds United’s slightly unfortunate home defeat to Wolves. Former Aston Villa player Gabriel “Gobby” Agbonlahor, the proud owner of two losers’ medals as the fruits of his less than glittering career, seemingly couldn’t resist the opportunity to mock Leeds United, heedless of the fact that, for the Villans, providing an extra incentive for Leeds United ahead of Friday night’s Villa Park summit was possibly the very last thing Dean Smith’s charges would have wanted. But good old Gobby, showing the kind of intellect needed to work at TalkSport, went ahead anyway – and, should Villa lose their impressive 100% record at the hands of United, it could be that Mr. Agbonlahor will find the blame fairly and squarely laid upon himself.
It’s a strange situation just now with Leeds and Villa, with the Villa fans in particular seeming to wish to generate an unnatural rivalry between their own club and the Whites, who habitually look west to Trafford or south to Chelsea for their own bêtes noires. With United still acclimatising themselves to the Premier League, and with Villa putting last season’s narrow and distinctly dodgy escape from relegation behind them with four wins in four games this time around, you might suppose the fans of Agbonlahor’s former club would be looking elsewhere themselves for rivalry fodder. But there it is, and we can probably trace this odd situation back to Villa’s rather fortunate promotion season, when Leeds missed out on doing the double over them only because of Marcelo Bielsa’s FIFA Fair Play Award-winning gesture of allowing the Villans to walk the ball in for an equaliser at Elland Road.
The reverse fixture at Villa Park had ended up with Leeds triumphant, having come back from two down – but in truth, United were the better team throughout, something that had Smith grinding his teeth on the touchline before muttering ungraciously about the Whites celebrating as though they’d won the title itself. Whatever the roots of the situation, Villa fans – who may well have something of a chip on their collective shoulder about the media adulation of Bielsa – have lost no opportunity to gloat over the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs this season, with warnings of premature exultation falling on deaf ears. But that’s fans for you.
It’s different when ex-players join in. The comments circulate more widely, and with much more chance of being noted inside the dressing room of the club targeted for such unwise trolling. You can safely bet your mortgage on the fact that Liam Cooper & Co will be well aware of Gobby’s online ramblings, including the assertions that Leeds United are more myth than legend, as well as his notion that Bielsa gets too much credit, which should more properly be laid at the feet of Dean Smith. As I said, you can forgive blinkered fans for spouting that kind of rubbish – but when an ex-player of your next opponent does it, then it can make the troops thus slighted imitate the actions of the tiger. It’s certainly not the kind of thing Agbonlahor’s former employers would have wished him to do, as they will be uncomfortably aware that Friday night’s challenge may just have become even more difficult.
Obviously, as a United fan, I hope so. I hope that Leeds will hand Villa a right pasting to ruin their 100% start, and I hope that Gobby’s words will be rammed well and truly back down the orifice whence they originated, to emerge a day later, via a natural excretory process, in the form of a TalkSport match summary. Villa are a good team, so this desirable outcome is by no means guaranteed. But if it did happen, then this blogger would be well chuffed – along with, I suspect, those well-motivated men from Elland Road.
Marching On Together