Tag Archives: ambition

Radrizzani Honours Promise in Dramatic Break With Recent Leeds Utd Tradition – by Rob Atkinson

Elland-Road

Leeds: United and finally homeowners once more

New Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani has shown precious little respect for recent club traditions, blatantly keeping a promise to repurchase the Elland Road stadium despite recent precedents whereby owners have talked plenty about this issue – but have done, quite frankly, the square root of sod-all to make it reality.

In contrast to a certain lately-departed yachtsman, Radrizzani has said little, preferring to let his actions speak for themselves. Thus, we have today seen our spiritual home return to club ownership, relieving an annual rent burden and restoring the pride of thousands of Leeds United fans who had felt the shame of being long-term tenants at an historic venue synonymous with the club for almost a century.

This represents a stark contrast to the modus operandi of Radrizzani’s immediate predecessor, who talked of paying a visit to the nearest ATM and withdrawing the money needed to buy back the ground on Day One. A subsequent failure to honour that vow did not disturb the blind faith of a section of United’s support – but the shallowness of Il Loco‘s sincerity has been put into sharp focus by the decisive actions and intuitive feeling for what United’s fans really wanted, displayed in the short period of his sole ownership so far by Andrea Radrizzani. For this, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything salutes him – and at the same time acknowledges that the new owner’s intentions appear straightforward and highly laudable.

A week or so ago, I wrote a rather pessimistic piece, bemoaning what sounded like the same old line about wanting players who desired a Leeds United future rather than concentrating on money. I was horrified that so many agreed with the sentiments behind the article, having hoped that I’d be reassured by positive disagreement. And, to be fair, the “let’s look for players who want to be here” thing was a line we’d heard too often before – but in the days since, the attitude of the club towards recruitment has belied that old complacency and caution. Now, there is a real buzz about the place, with credible reports of ambition and investment. In just over a week, the atmosphere around Elland Road has regained its positivity.

So now we are owners of our own home turf and maybe even masters of our own destiny. There is real hope in the air, and some thrillingly eager anticipation of the approaching season. Leeds United, dare we suggest, might just be back.

I ended that last article expressing the earnest hope that I was wrong to be so pessimistic. Now, it seems that I may well have been, and nothing would give me greater pleasure. Keep up the good work, Mr Radrizzani. Keep the faith, meet our expectations, and we’ll back you all the way. That modern-day Leeds United tradition of flattering to deceive; promising much and doing nowt to bring those promises to fruition – well, it’s one we’d all be delighted to see cast out of the nearest window. In breaking that tradition, our new owner will lift the hearts of the Leeds legions around the globe.

And it might well be the start of a revival of that much older Leeds United tradition – Marching on Together towards glory and success. Surely, that’s something we can ALL unite behind – now that the club appears at long last to be in safe hands.

Advertisements

Ranieri Should Be Top Target for Leeds United After Monk Shock   –   by Rob Atkinson

Claudio Ranieri – is the Tinkerman next through the Elland Road revolving door?

In the light of Garry Monk‘s shock departure from Leeds, an intriguing name has cropped up as a possible candidate for the hotseat at Leeds United, and I make no apology for rehashing what was only a speculative article four weeks ago. 

The possibility of Claudio Ranieri fancying a crack at the Elland Road job was raised by a contributor to a recent article on this blog. NickB, 50 years a Leeds fan, ended a long and entertaining comment by asking “When does Ranieri’s gardening leave come to an end ?!” Another regular contributor, Leeds Mick, agreed with Nick, stating that Ranieri “would be a damn good appointment”. But what do other Leeds fans think?

Leaving aside the vexed question of whether Ranieri would touch us with the proverbial barge pole, the prospect of the Tinkerman would indeed be fascinating. With a recent Premier League title on his CV, Claudio is a very likeable man who seems to have a magic managerial touch in the right situation. It’s no exaggeration to say that what he pulled off at Leicester City qualifies as the biggest football miracle of all time, bar none. So, could Leeds United benefit from a touch of diddly-ding, diddly-dong?

I still feel that Monk has acted precipitately. And I do also feel that chairman Andrea Radrizzani deserves the faith and belief of Leeds United fans in his hunt for a new man. 

Still – Ranieri. Likeable, credible, available Ranieri. It is interesting – isn’t it? Would it be feasible, a welcome sign of ambition – or aiming too high? Your thoughts, as ever, would be appreciated. 

Cellino Needs to Understand the Meaning of “We Are Leeds” – by Rob Atkinson

We Are Leeds

We Are Leeds

Massimo Cellino continues to divide opinion among fans of Leeds United as he goes about assessing the nature and extent of the undoubted mess behind the scenes at Elland Road.  He appears to be a decisive sort of bloke, to say the least.  Draconian, even – just how severe and ruthless he can be we will probably see in the not too distant future.

Right now, his work has hardly begun.  But, early days though these are, it’s proper and relevant to wonder about Cellino’s long-term aims.  Part of this longer-term view has to involve the question of whether or not the King of Corn knows exactly what he’s bought into.  What would constitute success for Leeds United?  After all, the club has been out of the spotlight for well over a decade.  Surely, expectations are on a whole different level from the days when the club was at the forefront of the game?

One school of thought is that for any owner to buy into a limited view of the potential of Leeds would be a big mistake.  After all, Cellino hasn’t acquired a Leicester City here, nor even a Newcastle United a West Ham or a Sheffield Wednesday. These are all clubs whose fans will happily accept membership of the Premier League, albeit two-thirds of the way or so down the modern pecking-order.  At Elland Road, the club anthem is “Marching On Together” – but a shorter, more tribally-assertive chant is heard with even greater regularity. “We Are Leeds”, it states – quite simply and without qualification.  In those three short words, the fans sum up the identity of a club that knows it’s out on a limb – and of those fans themselves, who expect such a massively loaded chant to be taken as confirmation, were any needed, that this is not just any club.

On the last two occasions that Leeds United has motored into the top flight, it has had a brief look around, settled in – and then taken over at the top.  It actually took longer for Revie’s troops to do this than it did for Wilko’s Warriors – but the Revie dynasty compensated by lasting longer.  In both cases though, there was a distinct lack of respect and trepidation as the Whites moved on up. There was no suggestion of timid apprehension. They came, they saw and, in due course, they conquered.

The top flight is, it almost goes without saying, a very different place these days – and not necessarily in a good way.  But the tradition of supporter expectation goes back a lot further at Leeds than it does at most other clubs. Some ostensibly big clubs have given up on the idea of ever being champions, and one allegedly massive outfit in the north-east has even acknowledged that winning trophies appears nowhere near the top of its agenda.  For that one-time giant, the balance sheet and the income that goes along with Premier League status is first, last and everything.  But what sort of message does that send out to the fans?  And could you see such a state of affairs being accepted at Leeds?

Whatever the contrast between the top-level environment now, as opposed to when Leeds United last breathed that rarefied air, the assumptions of the support upon attaining that level will be that the club will then set about finding the best and most effective way to the top.  It’s in the DNA of Leeds United fans to want to compete at the summit of things – and a dim view would be taken of any lowering of standards, any reduction of objectives. That begs the question of what is possible – and what kind of player will we be looking to attract?

At the top end of the Premier League, there now seems to be an acceptance that the player is King – and that those demanding egos will settle for nothing less than ever-increasing pampering and worship from clubs and fans alike. The ridiculous Yaya Touré “birthday” story is ample confirmation of that. Is that the kind of thing that Leeds United fans really want to see happening in the name of their club?  So the supplementary question to the main one of “What do we expect once promotion is achieved?” might well be: “Hang on – do we really want promotion at all??” Of course we bloody do!! – I hear you say, indignantly. And yet it would seem quite possible that, once promoted, our legacy of extravagant expectations could well be at odds with our characteristic, cynical suspicion of the kind of “flash” behaviour exhibited by Mr Touré – as well as by sundry other pampered, overpaid, out-of-touch egomaniacs in the self-proclaimed “Best League in the World”.

As you might have gathered, this blog finds itself in somewhat of a dilemma. The question of whether Cellino is sufficiently aware of the historical expectation levels associated with this club is one that has troubled me for a while.  It is quite possible that he might be looking at turning us into Premier League survivors-and-little-more, such as Newcastle.  That would be bad enough, at least on the face of it.  But what if he did then want to go the extra mile and get us up there into that top four?  It’s an almost impossible dream anyway; the competition would be hot and ludicrously expensive. But if we did make it – how would we, as fans, relate to the kind of players and egos that would inevitably then populate our first team squad?  Would we feel any connection with them at all?  Or would we long for the days of Jermaine Beckford (for the younger ones) or Gordon Strachan, or Billy Bremner (for the lucky and really lucky ones)?

Football is a competitive sport and, over time, you have to be aspirational; you have to be aiming higher.  In the case of Leeds United – whether Massimo Cellino is aware of this or not – you have to be aiming for the very top.  But now there is that baffling conundrum: in aiming for and reaching that summit -would we be mortgaging the very soul of the club?    Look at Manchester City – how on earth can the City fans, many of whom were visiting third tier outposts of the game not so long back, possibly relate to the fact that their best midfielder appears to have the mental processes of a four-year old?

Where Leeds United are right now – stuck in the league below the top one and about to embark, we must hope, on a rebuilding of the club – is a good place and the right time to be considering what we actually want for our club in the longer term.  It’s the right time and place, because what we demand now, in this comparatively normal and down-to-earth league, might just have an effect on where we end up in the next few years, depending upon the readiness of Cellino to listen.  And what this comes down to is that old saw “Be careful what you wish for – you might get it”.

Does Cellino really know what “We Are Leeds” means, and the pride and ambition behind that raucously-assertive statement?  If he does – is he game for trying to get the club eventually back up to that old, accustomed place near the top of the game?  And if he actually manages that – in these new days of footballers with world-class talent, massive egos and wage packets, but tiny brains – would we end up thanking him for it?  Or might we instead damn him?

Just what do we want?  I feel that the answer might eventually lie in a radical restructuring of the game in this country, possibly on the German model of fan-owned clubs and a more affordable product for all – and almost certainly a FIFA-ratified wage cap that escapes the beady eye of the European pay commissars. That could take years and would certainly meet with stiff opposition from the current interested parties.  But that sounds to me much more like the kind of environment I’d like to see Leeds United promoted into. The current set-up invites along those ambitious enough to want merely to be cannon-fodder for the “big” clubs – the likes of Southampton and Leicester. Try as I might – I can’t see Leeds United, the club or the fans, wanting to settle for that as a way of life.

It’s a conundrum alright – ambition versus dissatisfaction with what we’re shooting for. I’d love to know what Massimo thinks, and what his understanding really is of the Leeds United mentality.  And I’d love to know what you think – so your views are, as ever, most appreciated.

Leeds MUST Match Skipper McCormack’s Ambition – by Rob Atkinson

Ross the Boss

Ross the Boss

Conflicting, contradictory noises have been emerging from Elland Road this last week or so, ahead of what we must hope will be a busy and productive summer of change for Leeds United.  Some days provide cause for optimism – a “new Leeds” is spoken of, and one of the junior Cellinos makes himself busy on Twitter with all sorts of enticing hints and half-promises.  The boss, meanwhile – Massimo Himself – is occupying his time by metaphorically rending his garments, tearing his hair and gnashing his teeth at the chaos he has found since entering the sacred portals of the spiffy new East Stand façade.  We understand from the latest pronouncements that the club is haemorrhaging a cool £100k a day in operating costs, with losses of around £1m a month.  The closure of the training centre, Thorp Arch, until pre-season training begins is, perhaps, understandable in those parlous circumstances.  But what wider message does it send out?

Massimo the Concerned

Massimo the Concerned

Cellino had spoken earlier of a season ahead which will primarily be about ensuring that the boat is fit to float, with any ambitions of sailing to the Promised Land of the FA Premier League to be deferred until 2015/16.  Again, there are at least two ways of looking at this.  It might be seen as sober pragmatism from a man horrified at the scale of what he has taken on, hamstrung by the restrictions of so-called “Financial Fair Play” regulations and determined to get his priorities right.

And yet a professional football club runs on aspiration and ambition – especially one with the size, history and expectations of Leeds United.  This is adequately reflected by the very public stance of the club’s skipper, Ross McCormack – who is firmly of the opinion that Leeds has to be up there at the sharp end next season, competing for elevation to the top flight at the earliest opportunity.  His message is: I’m willing to stay and fight – as long as the club as a whole will be fighting alongside me. This attitude is understandable in a professional footballer approaching that watershed age of thirty.  Ross is saying that he cannot afford to hang around waiting for ambition to kick in – he needs to consider what’s left of his career and, as a Scottish international and a family man, where and at what level he wants to be playing his football.

For once, it’s possible to be less than cynical about a footballer’s motivations. We know that most of them are preoccupied with the bottom line; the net amount on their payslips.  But McCormack has shown an unswerving devotion to the Leeds cause – apart maybe from an attack of doubt on that confusing night when McDermott was sacked and Sky TV mounted an unprecedented and disgraceful campaign to flog him off to any and every interested party.  McCormack though has never made any secret of the fact that he is happy and settled at Elland Road – but he wants success, and in that he is fully in step with the voraciously hungry and cruelly deprived fans.  It’s possible to divine also that Captain Ross is less than impressed by the closure of Thorp Arch; one barbed tweet asked plaintively for training facilities ahead of his next Scotland call-up, with a pointed reference to the locked and gated Leeds training ground.

Clearly, then, there is the potential for some conflict of interests in the summer ahead.  If it were down to the fans, there is little doubt as to who would be accorded overwhelming support.  McCormack is all for ambition and investment, with a concerted push for promotion at the top of his agenda.  It is abundantly clear that, if Leeds United fail to deliver a strong challenge next season, McCormack will consider his position at the end of it.  He would have little choice and none should really criticise him.  Time and tide waits for no man and, especially, for no footballer.  The Leeds United support will feel that McCormack speaks for them, and they will be solidly behind him in the urgent desire for a squad that can deliver next time around.

Cellino’s horror-struck attitude may not, after all, be a total impediment to the emergence of this required ambition from United next season – but clearly we are going to have to wait and see what moves are made in the transfer market before we can judge exactly what the on-field aims are for 2014-15.  Rumours abound about who will stay and who will go – indeed, as I write, manager Brian McDermott himself is heavily backed to take the reins at The Hawthorns for West Brom’s next relegation battle.  There’s no doubt that a hell of a mess needs clearing up at Elland Road, despite the plaintive denials of 10% shareholders and 100% parasites GFH.  Whether the club can emerge from this difficult summer as a fighting-fit unit next season must be open to severe doubt.

At some point, there is going to have to be some accord between the leading players in this Elland Road drama/farce.  Those leading players should include the Cellinos, the manager – whoever that might be – and leading footballer Ross McCormack.  The minimum requirement, as things start to get sorted out, is that all of these principal characters should – as far as possible – be singing from the same hymn-sheet.  If that’s not possible, then it’s hardly the work of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that trouble lies ahead.

As for the fans – we’ve had enough of trouble.  We’ve had enough of seeing the name of Leeds United making headlines for every reason under the sun – except for positive football reasons.  One straw to clutch at is the recent exchange of courtesies and opinions between Gary Cooper, representing LUST, and Massimo Cellino – who was able to provide assurances of “sensible” investment to improve the squad.  It sounds as though there is now a line of communication open between Mr Cooper and Signor Cellino, and that’s surely something to be glad and relieved about.  LUST have always seemed to me to have the potential to be honest brokers.

Whether the ambition and investment that can be spared for next season will be enough to see Leeds make enough of a show to satisfy the burning desire and ambition of Ross McCormack – that’s another matter.  But the skipper has vehemently made his point and has placed on the table the not inconsiderable stake of his immense footballing talent, goalscoring record and leadership ability. In many ways this “skipper’s stand” is the single most positive thing about Leeds United here and now.  If there’s one thing above all the Elland Road crowd has always loved and taken to its collective heart, it’s a trier, a battler, someone whose every fibre is straining for success and the pride of wearing the shirt and the badge.  When an individual like that puts his cards on the table as Ross has, he’s well on the way to legend status – no small matter in the context of Leeds United’s star-studded history.

One last, positive note.  In another of his regular tweets, and in among the usual rumours that he’ll be leaving for Cardiff, West Ham, Newcastle etc etc – McCormack has given us a cheery “see you pre-season!”  That’s a half-decent straw to be clutching at amid the current doom and confusion.  Let’s just hope it comes true – and that we can March On Together from there.

Financial Fair Play Rules Will Be Anything But Fair – by Rob Atkinson

Image

FFP – In aid of The Cartel

With the news that QPR are in line for a massive fine – reportedly a possible £62 million – for incurring heavy losses in their vain attempt to retain top-flight status, it’s time to pause, scratch our heads and reflect: just who ARE going to be the beneficiaries of the Financial Fair Play rules?

Firstly, what is “Fair Play”?  Doesn’t it imply a leveling of the playing field so that true competition might be a feature of our national game – instead of an all-powerful cartel at the top of the Premier League, carving up the goodies between them?  One of the worrying aspects of the Fair Play rules appears to be their scornful attitude to inward investment. Suddenly, this has become a grubby, slightly indecent concept, the clubs trying to invest their way towards parity with the Big Boys are looked upon as upstarts, unwelcome parvenus  The idea of slapping a massive fine on top of a big operating loss is likewise perplexing – somewhat akin to seeing a dangerous blaze which threatens loss of life and property, then trying to put it out by spraying petrol lavishly all over it.  We are in danger here of applying a cure that is worse than the disease.

As a Leeds fan, I suppose I should be leaning towards rules like this.  Leeds are a big club, and success would multiply their potential to succeed commercially by a factor of many. Presumably, this sort of self-generated wealth would meet with the approval of the minds behind Financial Fair Play – although, given the fact that it’s Leeds, we’re just as likely to get hit with a 15 point deduction.  But the whole thing stinks to me; I am cynical as to the thinking behind it – and even more so, I am cynical as to the interests of those who are behind the thinking.

Financial Fair Play appears to my non-financially-wired mind to want to put more power and financial muscle into the hands of those who already have the most power and financial muscle.  It will benefit, surely, those who have tapped successfully into vast overseas markets, those with massive supporter bases consisting of millions of people, most of whom will not necessarily have even visited the country wherein resides their team of choice.  The more tacky memorabilia and replica merchandise such a club can sell, to the biggest market possible, the more the new regime of Financial Fair Play will approve and enable that club.  Who on earth COULD they be thinking about here?

I’m even more worried, having heard about the bleak situation facing QPR, about the direction in which our game is heading.  It seems to be all about empowering the powerful, and rendering those who want to rise and compete incapable of doing just that. The legends that have been built up in the game over the past century or so are now in a position to benefit enormously from rules that reflect today’s “Devil take the hindmost” philosophy.  That might thrill the capitalist souls of many, but it doesn’t do much for the guy who likes the idea that, every now and again, some hitherto unregarded club will ascend through the levels and leave the Goliaths with a bloody nose. That sort of scenario, to me, is what sport is all about – and if you legislate against clubs trying to better themselves in what is increasingly a money-dominated game, then you’re cutting off a hell of a lot of the appeal of the game.

Or am I just being hopelessly naive?

Leeds United: Mixed Messages and Fading Ambition. What IS Going on at Elland Road? – by Rob Atkinson

a shirt

These are strange days at Leeds United.  The football club is well-managed; by common consent we have the right man in Brian McDermott.  The people that matter certainly think so, for the most part. Let’s all hope the Board still agree.

We have a half-decent team and lately the emergence of another highly promising youngster in Alex Mowatt has been a real boost, offering the possibility of allowing Ross McCormack to play as a striker where he’s most comfortable.  More on that later.

We even have a personable and likeable chairman in Salah Nooruddin, who has lately been trying to issue comforting noises about investment and the further enhancement of the squad.  Salah has a couple of very important things going for him: he has a nice, friendly smile – and he’s Not Ken Bates.  This latter one really sums up his appeal for most Leeds fans after the last few years – but does Mr. Nooruddin have more positive attributes to offer even than the quality of Not Being Ken?

Well, we can but hope so.  But when he’s been a bit more vocal, as lately – coinciding with a run of four defeats – Salah’s tended to send out some pretty mixed messages. That’s worrying enough in a businessman/banker type who should really worship at the twin altars of “Inspiring Confidence in the Marketplace” and a “Having a Strategic Plan”.

The trouble is, Salah’s got recent form for appearing to heap pressure on the manager after a couple of losses – tweeting that the “existing squad” should be winning – and now he’s been and gone and said that promotion would be “a very harsh target” for this season, which some have read as a hasty attempt to take that perceived pressure back off.

All well and good, but this papering over the cracks approach just leads to more trouble, because those who are paying through the nose do want a definite idea of where the club is heading; so when people blow hot and cold like this – well, it’s disconcerting…

Any football club’s fans surely want to believe that their hard-earned cash is being used to fuel ambition, Leeds fans perhaps more than most.  So what do they think – what do WE think – when the chairman states that we can pretty much forget about promotion for the time being?  What message does it send out to the existing squad?  To potential signings who may, even now, be weighing up the club’s potential and – that word again – ambition? It’s all quite perplexing to us mere turnstile fodder – so how does it appear to a professional making a hard-nosed decision about which shop window he wishes to be displayed in as a result of any move on loan?

As I’ve said elsewhere, it might be that bit less confusing if the football people spoke on football matters, and the businessmen dealt with business.  When Nooruddin says that “promotion is a harsh target”, is he speaking from a business or a football point of view? If the former, then all well and good – get on with sorting out that investment “to take us to the next level”, which is allegedly so close.  If he’s speaking from a football point of view though, the only possible question is “Why?”  He’s not remotely qualified, after all.

If Brian McDermott feels that promotion may be a harsh target, then presumably he’s saying that in the full knowledge of exactly how much he has to play with in the transfer market.  Presumably also, he’s some idea of when any further investment might reasonably be expected.  Brian is taking his time in the market, having apparently been mandated to recruit loanees – but again, that may be because other options have presented themselves from within the club.  Ross McCormack played up front the other night and he’s been vocal since in saying that’s where he’s best deployed.  If McDermott feels he can now do that because of the emergence of young midfield prodigies from the Academy, then fine.  It would be nice to know these things, and from the horse’s mouth. We’ll listen to a football man talk football all day long.

But that’s the point – let people work to their strengths.  Let Nooruddin and Co seek to improve the financial infrastructure.  Let Brian get on with managing the team and making pronouncements about their prospects based on his professional knowledge.  Let RossCo get on with scoring some goals instead of trying to be something he’s not.  Let all that happen – and maybe the messages wouldn’t be as mixed; maybe we wouldn’t now be all a-twitter – and we ARE, many of us – about what seems like a club about to give up on the season.  That is such a terrible message to send out when people are having to scrimp and save for expensive tickets, travel, programmes and all the related shelling-out that goes on each match-day.

It’s just been such a mess in the media this week, and the win over Bournemouth has almost disappeared in the middle of it.  It shouldn’t have to be this way.  These people are professionals, all of them.  The least they can do is to try and sing from the same hymn-sheet (with due respect to the representatives of different religions involved).  But you get my meaning.  Let’s have a unified message, something we can all understand.  “We are Leeds” would be a good start.  “Onwards and upwards” is encouraging too.  But it all needs to be underpinned by the best rallying-call of all.

Marching on Together“.

Come on, Leeds!