Tag Archives: crisis

Emergency! Leeds Need a Tony Pulis Type as MANAGER, Not Coach – by Rob Atkinson

Pulis: Wilko Mk II?

Pulis: Wilko Mk II?

The current situation at Leeds rather speaks for itself in the wake of a numbing defeat at the hands of Derby. We are one point above the relegation zone. We persist with the midfield diamond and we notoriously lack width as well as, it seems, desire, fight and leadership on the park. However much endeavour and work rate there might occasionally be, we always seem to be one disastrous mistake away from conceding yet another goal – and up front, there is little supply; some decent strikers are starving on an insufficient diet of crumbs. We seem always to be one decisive step away from an end product. Now, even Robbie Savage is saying that we are hopeless. Pot, kettle, black, you might say – but it does rather show that we’re in the clarts here. I firmly believe that the squad is not a bad one at all; but the whole is currently rather less than the sum of its parts.

Recent history makes for grim reading. After defeating Derby only a month or so back, we entered what could fairly be described as a tailspin. We haven’t scored at Elland Road since that day, losing to Fulham and Wigan. In the away game immediately after the Derby win, Antenucci – the man who had seen off County – scored after three minutes. But Leeds collapsed and lost 4-1 at Ipswich. Since then, our only goal has been a penalty at Nottingham Forest, producing the only point we have gained since that last win on the 29th of November.

All of this adds up to one thing: a re-think is needed.  As a Cellino supporter, it pains me to say it – but his hands-on model, whereby he deems it necessary simply to have a coach under his managership, has signally failed to work. Cellino has been responsible for recruiting a series of coaches who have in common the fact that they are patently not up to the demands of first team football at Championship level. We are being out-thought, out-fought and out-played in almost every game. Such victories as have come along have been made possible by the poverty of the opposition (Huddersfield and, to some extent, Derby at home) or a lot of luck in the face of opposition who should comfortably have beaten us (Bournemouth).

I remain a Cellino supporter. He’s what Leeds should be all about; maverick, full of charisma and possessed of a laconic wit which is unanswerable even in a language not his own. The guy knows how to spin a phrase and he is clearly passionate about his club and his football. He’s different, just like Leeds United. I do not subscribe to fanciful notions that he’s a crook intent on destroying the club – save all that for the restless and malevolent spectre of Ken Bates, still drifting about nastily on the wrong side of Elland Road. But I do think that Cellino is palpably wrong to take so much upon himself. He needs a football man with whom he can work, but to whom he would defer in football matters. That is the only way a true football man, a football manager, could work with Cellino. We have to be professional about this, because the current plan isn’t working.

The situation is grave and could swiftly become desperate. The Redfearn experiment certainly seems to be failing, and the loud voices of those who wished to see him permanently appointed post-Hockaday have fallen largely silent. In retrospect, it’s quite clear that his lack of managerial experience above a certain level ranks him alongside Hockaday, and maybe even Milanic, whose track record was in a brand of football utterly different to that played on the battlefields of the Championship.

PulisThose who point to our glaring defensive frailties might possibly agree with me then, when I say that the stand-out candidate for Leeds right now is Tony Pulis, who did such a fine job establishing Stoke in the Premier League, and then pulled off an incredible rescue act at Crystal Palace. Pulis is steeped in the top two leagues of English football; he is a football man through and through, someone who believes in building solidly from the back and does things his own, distinctive way. That is the main reason why, sadly, this has very little chance of happening – not as long as Massimo remains determined to be IT. But Pulis is the ideal man for Leeds, especially in this situation, especially at this time. Leeds United in turn would be a feather in the Pulis cap, the biggest club of his career. It could become the jewel in his crown. There are irresistible echoes of the advent of Sergeant Wilko a quarter of a century ago. How much would we all like that history to repeat itself?

Cellino needs to consider this situation very carefully indeed.  A continuation of his “rough diamond” policy is likely to see this slide continue. And yet, to be horribly blunt, the only people willing to work under the Italian right now, with the lapdog conditions that currently apply, appear to be those without much prospect of this type of employment elsewhere. We have in Redfearn an honest and capable football man, totally inexperienced in this sphere of management – a man who has left his first, best vocation behind him in order to fly, like Icarus, too close to the sun. He is now starting to talk a bit too much about luck and the rub of the green. It’s not a refrain you associate with winners. Neil should seek an immediate return to nurturing youth, before his wings get burned.

If Cellino were to show the wit and courage to change his modus operandi, and hire Pulis – a man to whom he would have to relinquish all control of football matters – then he might yet usher in another era of success at Elland Road. Otherwise, there may well be much more trouble ahead for a club never short of that unwelcome commodity.

The Championship is about men like Mick McCarthy, Steve McClaren, Eddie Howe – football men, men who paddle their own canoe as much as any man could these days – but also distinctly square pegs in square holes. Leeds United needs a football man and, moreover, we need one who is a perfect fit for the club that we are. We need a modern-day Wilko – and we need him badly.

Tony Pulis is currently available – though that surely can’t last, not with the Premier League managerial merry-go-round starting to spin – and he’s definitively the right man for us. So please – let’s get him, now. Before it really is too late.

Update: Bugger! Looks like Pulis is taking the Baggies job. Great appointment for West Brom, but dear, oh dear. It’s a missed opportunity for Leeds. I maintain we need a Pulis type.  Any ideas/candidates??

Normality is the Holy Grail for Embattled Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Can Leeds find their Holy Grail?

Can Leeds find their Holy Grail?

The Holy Grail – as you will all know from your studies of classical Arthurian Legend, including Wagner’s Parsifal, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and the immortal Cleese/Palin Meisterwerk, beloved of us all, Monty Python & the Holy Grail – is a semi-mythical, part-legendary symbol of something sacred and other-worldly, a spiritual treasure urgently sought by adventurers and heroes down the ages, something enticingly desirable but forever unattainable, always just beyond our reach.

So it is with Leeds United.  We have this unquenchable need, this elusive treasure always denied to us.  We want to be a normal football club, one that seeks to compete as a football club should, one that goes forward in harmony instead of turning in upon itself with suicidal zeal and self-destructive mania. We want to march on together towards a common goal, but instead we are possessed by demon after demon, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.  When we occasionally do appear to glimpse one, it invariably turns out to be an onrushing locomotive, poised to dash us, together with all of our vain hopes, headlong into the void.

Why is this normality denied us?  What is it about Leeds United that condemns the club and its hapless legions upon legions of followers to such unending purgatory?  Does Alan Hardaker live on as some malign Poltergeist, fated to walk the corridors of Elland Road for all eternity, casting ghostly spanners into the works?  Perhaps Don Revie’s only real fault was a failure completely to exorcise the alleged gypsy’s curse which he had detected hanging around LS11 in the sixties, like some stormy, sulky cloud. It has to be something supernatural, for goodness’ sake.  Something that Sergeant Wilko was able to frighten away temporarily for the brief return of the glory days in 1989-92, before it returned with a vengeance, realising that the Sergeant’s bark was worse than his bite. What other explanation could there be?

Even when things have appeared to be going right, fate has slapped us about the chops before there was even a chance to celebrate properly.  The boom of 1997 to 2002 collapsed in on itself as we faced a black hole of debt and probable ruin.  Then, we had to flog off a talented squad on the cheap – amid tales of tropical fish and journeyman midfielders seeking and getting kings’ ransoms to lay our coffers bare.  Before that, the Last Champions almost turned into the first Premier League fall-guys as we replaced David Batty with Carlton Palmer whilst surrendering our domestic top spot to Taggart’s stormtroopers – we even sparked off their French Revolution for them – and on the cheap, too. Even before that, Revie’s peerless artists were denied more than they won – they should have won the lot, because they were simply The Best.

Typically, our most recent golden dawn also turned out to be a damp squib, as Grayson’s scum-busting warriors emerged from League One in 2010 fighting fit and ready to take the Championship by the scruff of the neck – only for Evil Uncle Ken to ruin it all and send us on a downward path which ended up in acrimony, despair and Warnock.  Surely, by now, Leeds United have sampled all of the many and various ways a football club can screw itself up.  Or is there worse yet to come?

The latest events at Elland Road are as bizarre and farcical as any I can recall in the whole topsy-turvy history of my support for this crazy club. Class A drugs, caught on espionage equipment installed in bog and Boardroom by our own prospective Tory Boy, Colgate Dave himself.  The club’s former dictator still hanging around Elland Road like a bad smell, nesting occasionally in his foul lair over the road above Subway, for whom a snap inspection by the Environmental Health chaps must be a constant worry.  The new owner is habitually referred to by our friends in the mainstream press, not by his given name of Massimo Cellino, but by use of the lazy soubriquet “Convicted Fraudster” as a matter of routine preference.  Massimo himself is giving a progressively more convincing impression of an impoverished billionaire, howling about financial excesses, closing down the training ground and preparing to sack club staff ranging from the tea ladies right down to Peter Lorimer.  The manager Brian McDermott has apparently cleared off on holiday, without leaving so much as a forwarding address to facilitate the matter of sending on his P45. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the club’s retained list is being mulled over by il Duce and a man called Benito.  To say that it’s a mess would be a hopelessly inadequate understatement.

So, in amongst this lot – how can the Leeds fan in the street possibly hope to attain that Holy Grail of normality?  He or she might as well cry for the Moon and the stars – there is just as much chance of success.  And yet other clubs appear to be able to go about their business in a relatively calm and efficient, unremarkable manner.  There might have been a time when this would have appeared to Whites fans as charmlessly boring, an exercise in tedium.  But wouldn’t we just grasp at the chance of it now?  Just imagine – a football club entering the close-season with bright prospects for the campaign ahead, quietly going about the business of improving its squad, resolute and determined to be battling it out with the best of the rest, for one of those prized tickets to the Promised Land. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  But it’s just not Leeds – rather it’s the privilege of lesser clubs, supported by less remarkable fans.  Why on earth does it have to be that way for us – and for so bloody long – when others have it so much better?

I’m afraid that this is one of those pieces with a few questions and no answers. It’s just a why-oh-why cry of distress, because that’s how I happen to feel as evidence piles up that we’re not out of the woods yet – indeed that we haven’t even hauled ourselves clear of the quicksand in the depths of those hostile woods.  I hope, but feel no optimism, that matters will clarify themselves as the next few weeks go by.  But realistically, I fear, we’re going to go into next season in a state of turmoil extraordinary even by LUFC standards.  There’s every reason to believe that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Usually with these blogs, I’m not short of people ready, willing and seemingly able to tell me that I’m wrong; eager to demonstrate the folly of my reasoning and to put me straight.  I normally welcome this much as I do a dose of cod liver oil – it might do me good but I find it extremely unpalatable.  But – if you’ve indulged me by reading this gloomy tirade up to this point – the least I can do is take on board any more constructive views you might have to offer.  For once, I would actually welcome it.  I would even go so far as to say that I need it.  So, bring it on – please.

But for those inclined to agree with me, I’d say – let’s take it as read.  I’m depressed enough already…

Happy Monday? It’s a Pivotal Day in Leeds United’s History – by Rob Atkinson

 

"Historic and Iconic" - Leeds United AFC

“Historic and Iconic” – Leeds United AFC

Forget March 2nd 1968, the day Leeds United won its first ever silverware, beating Arsenal at Wembley to lift the League Cup. Forget May 6th 1972 when, at the same venue, against the same opponents and by the same 1-0 score, United won their sole FA Cup. Forget, even, those three incredible days which saw the Whites hailed as the best in the land as our three Football League Championships were confirmed in 1969, 1974 and 1992.  All of those dates pale in comparison with the epochal significance of the legal fixture being played out in London tomorrow, March 31st 2014.  For tomorrow, it’s likely to be decided which of two well-defined paths Leeds United will be treading into the future.

On the one hand we have a signpost pointing upwards which says: possible fame and success, with a minted owner to put us on a par with those we should be emulating. On the other, there’s the signpost pointing downhill, with the equally unmistakable message: more of the same at best, with a distinct possibility of crisis and dissolution in the near future.  It’s not a choice Leeds United or their amazingly loyal and long-suffering fans are able to make for themselves.  We are all in the hands of the legal eagles as they fight it out over the technicality of whether or not the Football League were correct in saying that Massimo Cellino’s peccadilloes rule him out of fitness and propriety under their own test. Upon this technicality hangs the immediate, or short term – or even the whole future of a famous old club that has never been far from the headlines, for good reasons and bad.

A match-day commentator at Elland Road yesterday summed it up in one well-chosen phrase prior to kick-off against Doncaster Rovers.  Leeds, he said, should be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U and Chelsea.  And so, of course, we should.  None of these clubs has more of a right than Leeds – and its magnificent support – to be fighting it out at the top table for the big prizes.  It’s ironic that such telling words should be spoken ahead of a league fixture – and a defeat – against little Donny Rovers.  That sums up the dire straits Leeds have been consigned to by bad leadership, self-interested owners and relentless ill-fortune.  Whatever may have been done wrong, whatever rules may have been broken in the name of Leeds United – it’s no fault of the fans.  And yet, time and again, it’s been the fans who have suffered – whilst the principals in the ongoing pantomime of LS11 have generally waxed fat and walked away happy when their particular final curtain has fallen.  A prime example of this is, of course, Shaun Harvey, CEO of the Football League and a man with a face in each camp, so to speak.  I wonder how he sleeps at night? Blissfully, I expect.

There are two constants in any football club, which transcend players, directors, administrators, League officials and even solicitors, barristers and judges.  One is the entity of the club itself, which in our case is now just five years shy of her 100th birthday.  Where will she be, what state of health will she be in, when that Centenary rolls around in 2019?

The other constant is, needless to say, the supporters.  Come rain, come hail, come snow, the supporters are always there. They were there to cheer on the Greatest Footballer in the World when John Charles plied his mighty trade at Elland Road.  They were there to support Don Revie’s nonpareil team of the sixties and seventies as they witnessed some of the finest football ever seen on the planet. They were there too when Wilko’s Warriors rose, like a Phoenix from the ashes, to swagger back into the big time as if they owned the place and end up, once again, on top of the pile.  And they’re here now, today, watching the dross currently being served up by a team weighed down with larger worries that what happens on the pitch – a team who, with a very few apparent exceptions, are preoccupied with where the next wage packet is coming from, and just how heavy or light will it be?

The supporters will be here in the future as well, whatever happens tomorrow. That is beyond doubt, save only for that nagging worry over the club’s very existence. Only the numbers of that indomitable band will remain open to any variation, depending upon which path we tread.  Any Leeds United fan will tell you what the club deserves – and it’s not more of the same grinding, morale-sapping poverty that we’ve been putting up with now for twelve long and dreary years. Leeds United and their supporters – especially their supporters – deserve some time in the sun.

It’s not United – club or fans – on trial tomorrow.  If anything is on trial, it’s the duty of care owed by the Football League to all of its member clubs – even Leeds. The questions before the appeal panel must include that consideration in the scope of its examination of this whole issue.  The Football League have sat by and they’ve shown every willingness to let their biggest club, their most tangible asset, wither and possibly die for want of sufficient funding to operate on a big club level and compete with their true peers.  And this is the kernel of the matter.

Because, with rapists, con men and porn barons among the current and recent number of their owners and directors, the League has elected to make a stand over an obscure tax question surrounding a yacht.  One little boat, which might be American, and in respect of which some duty allegedly had to be paid in Italy, but was not.  The League have chosen to accept that Cellino, a man of staggering wealth, would court trouble over a matter of what is, to him, small change.  They have leant over backwards to interpret the law and their own regulations such that United are to be denied a saviour and their fans are to continue suffering.  Where is the duty of care amid all of that?

Tomorrow will, in all probability, be the start of a new era at Leeds United. Whether it is an era of further degradation, more doubt, more humiliation, remains to be seen.  There has to be a possibility that things might – for once in a very long while – go in Leeds United’s favour.  And then what? Would we know quite what to do with ourselves in the absence of this millstone of penury and reduced status?  Poverty is not just a matter of not being able to meet the bills, or afford a tank of tropical fish to brighten the place up.  Poverty is much more than that.  It seeps into the very fabric of a place and it poisons the soul.  If we were suddenly to become “Dirty Leeds, Filthy Rich” – how would we cope?

I can tell you this much, especially you lot who occupy the anti-Cellino bandwagon.  I’m heartily sick to death of a penniless existence.  So if the “Filthy Rich” option is there, ripe for the sampling – let me at it.  I’d simply love to try it out.  We lived the dream in the nineties – but there was always that worm of doubt; where’s it all coming from?  With Cellino –  well, it looks as though we’d at last have a man of immense material wealth who is keen to invest it in reviving a fallen giant.  Fingers crossed that he finally gets that chance.

Leeds’ Bournemouth Humiliation Worsened by PR Calamity – by Rob Atkinson

Don't forget the crowd bonus, Gaffer

Don’t forget the crowd bonus, Gaffer

You won’t hear me going on about tactical issues, team shape, diamond formations and all that malarkey. I know my limits. I have played football, mind you – in the distant days of my youth. I was goal-hanger-in-chief for Bradford College 1st XI in 1981/82, scoring in every game I played. I even scored a hat-trick past a keeper who’d played in a World Cup Qualifier. OK, it was for Oman. But still…

And even when my full-scale football days were over, I still played 5-a-side well into porky middle-age, undeterred by a snapped cruciate ligament.  I look back on my playing days very fondly, but I don’t kid myself I know the game on a deep tactical level, so I refuse to pontificate about it.  I know there are plenty who have no such reservations, but I also know that the pros think of these types as a rich source of amusement – not to be taken seriously.  So I’d rather stick to what I know for my scribblings.

For instance, I know enough about Public Relations to sort out the good, the bad and the ugly from the plain disastrous.  It was PR of that latter variety – the really crappy end of that particular stick – that Leeds United now stand guilty of, after yet another dire performance on the field. The team was thrashed out of sight by Bournemouth, a club who had never before beaten the once-mighty United.  Clearly, these are dark days, though Bournemouth are a decent side with a go-ahead young manager in Eddie Howe.  So it’s no real disgrace for this Leeds squad to lose to them – but, as is the case far too often with the modern-day Whites, it was the spineless manner of the defeat which really rankled.

Even that, though – even the appalling defending and general laxity of play – must pale into insignificance by the side of some of the quotes emanating from the United camp in the wake of this defeat.  The players, we are given to understand, are distracted – talking about the club ownership issues and, much more specifically, whether they are going to get paid.  This information is offered almost hopefully, as a sort of mitigating background to the inadequacy of the football Leeds are playing these days.  Bloody hell, guys.  Really?

Trust me – nobody has more sympathy for the working man and his right to get paid than I do (I also extend this courtesy to working women – outside the field of professional football).   I’m one of your actual left-wing reds under the bed, a proper old-fashioned socialist.  I’m deeply suspicious of management and I’m a strong supporter of workers’ rights, including the right to withdraw their labour if necessary.  What I’m not by any means as enthusiastic about is a bunch of extremely well-paid young men seeing fit to grouch – in these parlous times – about the possibility of not being paid on time, when their average bottom line must be forty grand a month at least.

To my mind, this is obscenely disgusting, and it is a PR disaster of the first magnitude that somebody has seen fit to voice such a matter as in any way excusing or making more understandable some of the players’ currently pathetic levels of performance.  When you think of the times we live in – times when we’re thanking God it’s been a mild winter so far, because otherwise pensioners face agonising heat-or-eat choices – it makes the blood boil, surely, to hear even a suggestion that athletes earning up to and beyond half a million quid a year should be grizzling about their lot if force majeure necessitates a temporary reaction to acute cash-flow issues.

There are people out here in the real world actually starving, for heavens’ sake. Yes – quite literally fading away from malnutrition in this first-world country of ours, reduced to subsistence on food-bank parcels and watching, horrified, as their kids become vulnerable to scurvy and rickets.  And yet, in this bleak context, you have the luckiest of young chaps, earning their munificent living in a manner most of us could only dream of, actually having the gall to grumble that this week’s £15k pay-cheque might not turn up on time – and this, apparently, is putting them off their game.  The sheer nerve and bad taste of that makes my head spin.  I don’t want to name names, but the person who has raised this issue of the poor players “worrying” must surely wish that, on that particular subject, he’d kept his gob firmly shut.

These are bad, hard times for Leeds United, there’s no denying that.  But at the end of the day, football is only a game – and the players who are so preoccupied with thoughts of the next fat wage-packet that they’re seemingly incapable of kicking a ball straight, must surely lack even the most remote sense of proportion.  So what if this week’s fifteen grand doesn’t show up?  What did you spend last week’s on, or that of a week before?  Are you down to the last six-figure sum in the bank yet?  Honestly lads, my heart bleeds for you, it really does.

There’s a real world out there, and most of the people living in it would laugh tears of bitter mirth at the very idea of a professional footballer at a club like Leeds United actually whinging about or even worrying about money.  As a breach of good taste and etiquette, that knocks passing port to the right into a cocked hat.  Things may well get a good deal worse at Leeds before they get better – but even if they do, all the sympathy should be reserved for the fans, those long-suffering fans who follow them everywhere, at vast expense, leaving home fans in awe of their sheer gutsiness wherever they visit.  There was the usual raucous army down at Bournemouth, most of whom will have arrived home, cold and dispirited and about £100 lighter in the pocket, sometime in the dawn hours of Wednesday morning.  How will they feel when they hear about the players’ petty worries?  Not too impressed, I’ll be bound.  They might well think – what if nurses, or soldiers, or fire-fighters decided to stick the bottom lip out and sulk when things got a bit stretched financially?  Where would we all be then?  And they might well be tempted to snap at a discontented footballer: “Honestly – grow up”.

Leeds United as a club doesn’t have a lot going for it at the moment.  It doesn’t own its stadium or its training ground.  It’s beset by takeover crises and an ownership and investment situation which seems to worsen by the hour.  But what it does have is undeniably the best support around – it’s the last real asset of the Leeds United “brand” and as such, it’s something the club simply cannot afford to squander.  But really – even a fanatic will run out of enthusiasm at some point – probably about the same point a saint loses the last shreds of his or her patience.  It’s a finite resource, like anything else. And if there’s one thing guaranteed further to sicken a devoted fan who has just made a round trip of hundreds of miles at great expense to see the heroes in white get well and truly stuffed, it’s to be made aware that those so-called heroes can think only about the next wedge of cash due to them – and sadly not about those poor fans, without whom there would be no game of football for them to get overpaid to play.

That’s a terribly sad situation, and I truly hope that all parties to this tasteless leak of unpalatable information get a lot of earache for it, together with a stern reminder of what real life is like out there in the real world. I’m a devoted Leeds United fan, and there’s not much about my beloved club that could ever genuinely nauseate me.

But this thing has – it really, really has.