Tag Archives: England

Blades Blunted by Wolves, Confirming Leeds as Top Yorkshire Club – by Rob Atkinson

At various times over the past few years, since Leeds United’s well-documented “fall from grace”, there have been those in the media who have been all too eager to drone on about how the Whites are no longer Yorkshire’s top club. At one point, some local TV hack – it may or may not have been Harry Gration, I simply can’t recall – almost salivated over his autocue in his eagerness to get out the obviously pre-prepared line “Yorkshire’s top club Hull City”, showing no outward trace of the embarrassment he must surely have felt. It was all so cringeworthy, as if any temporary arrangement of league placements could ever alter the immutable fact that Leeds United are Yorkshire’s number one, as they have been for well over half a century.

Now, one game into United’s first top flight season since 2004, even those who thrive on bare, soulless statistics are left without an argument, as Leeds’ only fellow Premier League Yorkshire club fell to a routine home defeat at the hands of Wolves. This left Leeds, despite their thrillingly gallant defeat by the odd goal in seven at Anfield, as the highest placed Yorkshire club, further reinforcing their historically predominant status in God’s Own County.

For Sheffield United, it may well be that “second season syndrome” will blight their campaign which, judging by their Blunt attack, could well develop into a struggle for survival. It’s early days, obviously, but there could hardly have been more of a contrast in the first game performances of the two Yorkshire clubs. It’ll be interesting indeed to see how their respective fortunes progress from here on in – but, for now, it’s good to see the league table confirming what we all know was always the case; Leeds United are Yorkshire’s Number One.

Marching On Together

Messi to Leeds, Just a Pipe Dream? Transfer Request Submitted by Superstar – by Rob Atkinson

Bielsa and Messi – is it meant to be?

Superstar Lionel Messi is on record as declaring that he’d love to play for Marcelo Bielsa. In this blogger’s humble opinion, his recent plea for El Loco to join him on the Nou Camp stage at Barcelona was the wrong way to go about fulfilling that desire to experience the guidance of the man they call the best coach in the world. Messi should be looking at the reverse proposition, and consider the prospect of doing for Leeds United what Diego Maradona did for Napoli many years ago.

It’s always tempting in these cases to add together two and two, ending up with 1919 or so. When the signs align as they appear to do in this case, it’s hard not to clutch at a passing straw and reach a highly desirable conclusion. But there is that precedent involving Diego Maradona, a man who coincidentally figured in an even more outrageously unlikely rumour back in the dark days of pre-Wilko United’s second division tenture in the eighties. Then, affable MD Bill Fotherby was telling everyone who would listen that this deal could be done, and you began to understand how this plausible man had succeeded in life. It didn’t happen, of course, but Maradona did eventually make a move from his storied career at the Nou Camp to a Napoli outfit that had seen no Serie A success in far too long. The rest is history, Maradona proved to be the magic ingredient in the revival of the Naples club. He was also destined to feature briefly for Newell’s Old Boys later in his career, a club of significance to any student of Bielsaball.

So, could history repeat itself? It’s unlikely, but it’s also, tantalisingly, well short of impossible. The received wisdom is that Lionel Messi would love to play for Bielsa, and there is also the rumour that the new Adidas deal provides for the possibility of a marquee signing, the kind of player who would raise even the profile of a global giant such as Adidas a notch or two. As for the player himself, could he perhaps be tempted at this stage of his career to help complete the return to the global stage of a former player in Leeds United, just as Gordon Strachan did thirty years ago, and just as Maradona did at Napoli?

As rumours go, it’s not a bad one. And at least we’re not speculating about the likes of Wayne Rooney, who found the task of revitalising Derby County a step too far. At a time when Messi’s Barcelona adventure is showing signs of turning a bit sour, maybe – just maybe – he might be looking for an inspirational challenge elsewhere – and under his favourite coach, too.

Marching On Together

Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Leeds? Bid Was Massive Statement of Intent from United – by Rob Atkinson

Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – tempted by Elland Road but forced to settle for the San Siro

News has emerged that Leeds United held “concrete” talks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the January transfer window, with a view to bringing the prolific Swede to Elland Road for the run-in to a possible Premier League promotion. In the end, Zlatan settled for a less challenging option, moving to ply his trade in Serie A with AC Milan, but the important aspect of this remarkable story is what it reveals about the ambition  being displayed by Leeds under the ownership of Andrea Radrizzani. 

The January window was reasonably fruitful for United in the end, with the loan signing of Jean-Kevin Augustin, whose potential is beyond dispute. But still, the neghative end of the Leeds online support was as vocal as ever, accusing the club of dragging its feet and lacking ambition. It is now quite clear, with the audacious bid for Ibrahimovic – and with interest also apparently having been registered in the PSG sensation Edinson Cavani – that United are prepared to aim high in their efforts to enhance the squad. That kind of resolve, backed up by Premier League status and a vastly richer transfer war chest if promotion should be achieved this season, bodes very well for the Leeds squad development plans and prospects in a higher sphere.

If Leeds were prepared to think this big whilst still in the Championship, who knows what their targets might be as a top flight force? It’s a mouth watering prospect, however long the delay might now be until those ambitions can be realised.

Surely though, it’s now a matter of when, not merely if Leeds go up – and the ultimately unsuccessful enquiries for two major stars in January could well be a precursor to some extremely ambitious squad building in the run up to United’s first top level season in sixteen years.

It looks as though, when that glorious day dawns and Leeds are back in the big time, they might just be going for it in an appropriately big way – and this blogger, for one, can hardly wait.

Marching On Together

So, Do We Want Leeds United Promoted by Default … or Not?? – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds United, big club, great fans. Massive player in any league

On the face of it, any question with the question “do we want Leeds United promoted” in it would always come under the heading of “bleedin’ silly/obvious”. But circumstances alter cases and we are not living in normal times. So, weird as it would normally appear, we’ve seen genuine Leeds United fans genuinely confused and uncertain about what seems to be a genuine possibility that United, along with West Brom, may be invited to join a slightly inflated Premier League next season, with the caveat that they’d have to finish five or six places clear of the bottom in order to stay up – as there could be four or five relegated to redress the imbalance caused by no relegation at the end of this possibly truncated season.

Phew. If that’s all clear to you, we now move on to the even knottier issue of whether or not we’d want promotion this way. Certainly, it’s far from ideal  There’d be no carousing on the pitch after an ecstatic final whistle, no tension, no anticipation, probably not even the civic pride of an open-top bus parade from City Square to the Town Hall and onwards to Elland Road. Instead, it would be the meekest, mildest and probably least satisfactory promotion ever – but at least we’d be up.

The other alternatives are scarcely more attractive. Voiding the season simply doesn’t bear thinking about, so I won’t discuss it. Resuming the season in the foreseeable future seems unlikely, unless some way can be found to play behind closed doors without causing riots outside locked stadia. But at least that would permit the possibility of an earned and undisputed promotion (unless we screw up again). Ending the league now, with the positions as they are, would perhaps taint any promotion thus earned. Yes, we’re seven clear of third – but even Liverpool, twenty-five points clear at the top of the Premier League, need two more wins as it stands, for mathematical certainty. Would we really want our many critics to have the open goal of “Yeah, you went up – but it was shoddy”. As Spurs legend Danny Blanchflower famously said, “The game is about glory”. There’s a school of thought that demands any promotion should be glorious, and therefore shrinks away from any antiglorious creative accounting or artifice, whatever the circumstances.

I’m looking for input here, tell me what you think. I must confess that, if we were simply invited up alongside WBA, it would leave a slightly hollow feeling where my yellow, blue and white heart should be. Not that it’d stop me hailing us as Champions. But would any of us stick so closely to noble principles that we’d look a gift horse in the mouth and say, no – I’d rather we stayed down and earned it next year? Not forgetting, of course that – given another year in the Championship – we’d probably be saying goodbye to Marcelo Bielsa (God) and Kalvin Phillips, the Yorkshire Pirlo himself.

I must admit, I slightly lean towards going up any which way, and arguing about it later, with our Premier League status confirmed. But there’s a nagging doubt still, over how I’d actually feel.

Let me know what you think, please. Feel free to add in your own feelings, doubts, arguments. And please don’t think I’m neglecting the seriousness of this COVID-19 crisis. But that’s all over the media – and here in this protective bubble is where we talk about Leeds United, while the world outside goes crazy.

Marching on Together

EFL to Promote Leeds as Champions “On the Balance of Probabilities” – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United – ready to beat the bug

With the suspension of all domestic professional football until at least April 3rd, fans of clubs who occupy highly promising league positions are understandably worried about their favourites’ prospects of success being snatched from them by a nasty little bug – but enough of Shaun Harvey.

Leeds United, of course – along with the likes of Liverpool in the league above and Coventry in the third tier – are among the clubs for whom the future, so apparently bright a bare few days back, now seems uncertain to say the least. Seven points clear of that dreaded third place, United looked nailed-on for promotion – with the Championship title dangling as a temptingly achievable bonus. One pandemic later, and we’re all stressing about still being in this league next season (whenever that might be) sans Bielsa, sans the Yorkshire Pirlo, bereft of hope and considering legal action.

But don’t despair. The seeds of our salvation were sown a few weeks back with the decision handed down from on high that Kiko Casilla, although deemed not to be a racist, would nevertheless be banned for some racist abuse that nobody can be sure actually happened. With a cool £60,000 fine thrown in, along with a date with the FA Re-education and Indoctrination Guild (FRIG) it’s a pretty hefty penalty for something unproven. But the authorities decided they were vindicated by the lower standard of proof applicable in non-criminal cases, and happily threw the book at Kiko, concluding that he dunnit, on balance of probabilities.

This was felt by some at the time to be scandalous as well as draconian, but now it’s a precedent that may well assist Leeds United, as well as the likes of Liverpool and Coventry. All three clubs are so well placed that the half-baked balance of probabilities test would have to find them overwhelmingly likely to clinch promotion. Some bookies have Leeds with a 98% chance of going up, which satisfies even the more stringent “beyond reasonable doubt” test. As for Liverpool, it’s far more likely that Boris Johnson will be hit by a meteorite than that the Reds will fail to become Champions of England for the first time since 1990 – when Leeds United coincidentally last won promotion to the top flight as second tier Champs.

So there you have it. The authorities are hamstrung by their own legal machinations, hoist by their own petard. Even if they want to seize upon this virus crisis to deny Leeds promotion (and I bet they do) – they will find that they can’t. Probably.

Marching on Together

Think Leeds Will Blow It? Wake Up and Smell the Costa Coffee – by Rob Atkinson

Ben White Would be a Double Your Money Bargain for Leeds at ANY Price – by Rob Atkinson

Ben-White-Leeds

Ben White – limitless potential and a bargain at any price

Without any doubt, the revelation of the Leeds United season so far has been a young man called Ben White, a lad with no previous experience above League One level, having made zero appearances for his parent club Brighton. The challenge at Leeds for this comparative novice was a stern one. Signing on loan for the season, he came in the Elland Road players’ entrance almost as the iconic Pontus Jansson was making his exit with a shock move to Brentford. Among the United faithful, eyebrows were raised so high that they threatened to wind up on the backs of their owners’ necks. Teeth were gnashed and clothes rent asunder in biblical displays of grief and dismay. Pontus was gone, and we had this tyro no mark in his place, an almost comical proposition that had a section of the Whites support writing off Leeds’ promotion chances before a ball had been kicked. Oh, we of little faith.

Now, just nineteen games into a season that has seen White play every single minute of league action for Leeds so far, the doubters are having to gorge themselves on humble pie, to the extent that there may well be no room for the Christmas turkey in just a few short weeks. Mostly, they are happy to do this, because seeing this young colossus form a vital part of the Championship’s best defence has been a joyous experience. Bloggers such as yours truly have had to reach deeper and deeper into their bag of superlatives each week, and still it’s difficult to overstate just how integral to United’s success Ben White has been. I’ve seen him described as a latter-day Paul “Rolls Royce” Madeley, and it would be difficult around these parts to come up with a more flattering comparison than that. Others see a resemblance to Alan Hansen of Liverpool fame, still others point to the young Jonathan Woodgate, who saw at first hand last weekend just what United and White could do, as his Middlesbrough charges were swatted aside 4-0.

My own view is that White, who will doubtless face far sterner tests than the Boro men managed to set last Saturday, may well end up in a category entirely by himself – he has the potential to become truly peerless. Ben seems to have the lot – skill, composure, tenacity and that innate ability to read the game which is given only to the special few. My nearest comparison out of all the footballers I’ve seen in my 44 years as a fan, would be Franz Beckenbauer, the legendary Bayern Munich and West Germany icon of the seventies. In fact, if you could just graft a bit of moral compass onto der Kaiser, who was not above a bit of skulduggery as Leeds United fans are only too well aware, then you’d have a pretty close match. Ben White deserves to be mentioned in such company, he’s simply that good. He can play for and captain England, he can lift a World Cup, he can win titles, cups and Champions Leagues. Absolutely nothing is beyond this lad.

All of which is why I would say to Leeds United: whatever else you do recruitment-wise over the next couple of transfer windows, move heaven and earth to get Ben White. There is no price too high to make his capture anything but a thief’s bargain; whatever you pay, you could at least double your money five years down the line. It’s a Rio Ferdinand type scenario, buy for £18m, sell for £30m plus – but the return would inevitably be higher still. Never mind Financial Fair Play; dig deep and do whatever you have to do in order to get this player.

You know it makes sense.

Opportunity Knocks for Leeds United After International Break – by Rob Atkinson

Forshaw hip injury

Adam Forshaw – hip trouble

There are no easy games in the Championship, as any windswept and cynical pundit will tell you; it’s a highly competitive, dog-eat-dog league, a marathon and not a sprint, a nine month war of attrition where every point is won only via the lavish expenditure of blood, sweat and tears. Add in the fact that the division’s undoubted aristocrats, Leeds United, bring out the very best in their opponents due to the fact that the Whites are every other team’s bi-seasonal Cup Final, and you can begin to comprehend why the men from Elland Road are not striding miles clear at the top of the league. Even so, United are right up there, only two points off the top and rightly ruing the three daft defeats so far this term that have stopped them turning their regular domination of games into an even healthier position in the table.

So far, so good then, as we head into yet another International break. It’s quite timely, really, as the injuries are starting to niggle a bit, with skipper Liam Cooper having to withdraw from the Scotland squad to nurse a troublesome groin. The two week hiatus in the league programme might also nudge the likes of Jamie Shackleton (hamstring), Adam Forshaw (hip) and Ezgjan Alioski (side) nearer to a first team return. And it’s a fortnight-long chunk out of Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah’s regrettable absence, as he recovers from what looks like a medium term abdominal muscle problem.

The United path to promotion never runs smooth; it’s in the DNA of the club to do things the hard way. But maybe, just maybe, there’s good reason to be cautiously optimistic about the Whites’ league programme in the period following this two week festival of representative football. The reason behind such an upbeat attitude is to be found in the fact that, so far this season, Leeds have faced mainly rival teams towards the top end of the league, still managing to remain in a challenging position. When league competition resumes, though, the picture changes slightly, with United facing four teams currently placed 21st, 17th, 22nd and 19th. Meanwhile, league leaders West Bromwich Albion have to face the sides currently 2nd, 4th, 7th and 8th – clearly there is the potential for Leeds to pick up points against notionally weaker sides while simultaneously the Baggies have to face some of the cream of the division, including Preston North End, who sit in second a mere one goal ahead of Leeds who are tied on the same points total.

Dog-eat-dog always means there will be losers; teams in the top four who have to play each other face the mathematical certainty that points will be dropped, and it’s likely that none of United’s rivals will be able to reap maximum rewards from a difficult run. So, if Leeds can take full advantage of their relatively less demanding quartet of games, then the prospect of creating a nice cushion at the summit of the table must be a realistic one.

Of course, this is Leeds United, which means things probably won’t work out according to such blatant wishful thinking. On paper, of course, there’s no reason why our heroes shouldn’t take full advantage of the unusually promising hand the fixture computer has dealt them. But sadly, football isn’t played on paper, and our old friend the Imp of the Perverse could well dash our top of the league aspirations, as he’s done so many times before. As ever, we just have to wait and hope, with fingers firmly crossed for an improved injury list and twelve lovely league points from those four “easier” games.

Marching On Together

Diary of a Championship Fan Part Three; SUMMERTIME BLUES, 2019 – by Patrick Hogan

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England v Cameroon: Ladies! The brutality!!

I’m a gonna make a fuss, I’m a gonna make a holler,
‘Cause I ain’t got no team for the summer I can a’foller…’

It might be sunny. It might not be. Whatever, it’s raining in your heart. You’re in that dead zone. You know. The one where the Championship season has finished – and in disappointment – again. The play-offs are over. The annual date ends in an odd number so there’s no World Cup or European Championships to feed your addiction.

So what are you going to do? Other than scour the internet daily while the agents are busy and rumours abound about your players. You of course have your own ideas about which Leeds players should be ditched and which positions need strengthening. But you know that you’ll have to wait until the big boys have done their transfer business and maybe settled on their twenty-five men squads before the trickle down will happen and your team can scrap for the pickings, or maybe land some promising young players on loan.

Meanwhile there will always be rumours of a takeover if you’re a Leeds fan. The press just love inciting and milking them, and then glorying in the daily confusion thus engendered. But you are hardened to this. You’ve endured enough TOMAs in the past. It’s what’s happening with the team that concerns you most. And frustratingly you have to put that curiosity on hold.

So you come home from work tired and with an urge to throw a microwave meal down your neck and get out to the pub early so it’ll be quiet in there; and you can be in peace to work out your Championship odds and predictions for the new season. You need to nail a definitive top six teams for your accumulator. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been successful before – the studied interest, intense scrutiny, and the possible anticipation of being right for once are the thing. Of course Leeds are always in the list despite the fact that you suspect such bias might have been a cause of your undoing in previous seasons. They just couldn’t not be. And now a recent third place finish has strengthened your optimism despite your complete denial of the frustration and disappointment at the end of the 2018-19 season tempered only slightly by Derby’s apposite demise in the final. You refuse to enter into debate with fellow sufferers, and instead only want to look forward.

‘Sit down,’ she says. ‘Your tea’s nearly ready. It’s shepherd’s pie. You’ll find a beer and an iced glass in the living room, and we’ll eat on our knees so we can watch the TV.’

Flummoxed you think, beer = tick; home made meal of shepherd’s pie = check, but TV? Not bloody soaps again surely? So you wander in to the living room and sit down consoled slightly by the cold bottle of lager on the coffee table followed by herself who says, ‘We’re going to be a proper couple and watch something together.’ She sees your downcast look and the possibility that you’re going to say, ‘But I was off out to the…’ and she adds, ‘It’s football.’

Your eyes light up. Has she dug out a re-run from The Glory Years? Or is there an international tournament on you didn’t know about?

‘Women’s football,’ she adds. ‘World Cup no less.’

Your heart sinks. Women can’t play football. It’s not sexist: just a fact. They’re bound to sprain their ankles if they run too fast like they do in the films, or worse, cry if they got a ball blasted into their faces. And what if their make-up gets smudged if it rains? Mind you that could equally apply to a few Premier League prima donnas. Oh well, you sigh inwardly with resignation, at least it’s football. And it’ll probably only be thirty minutes for each half. Women won’t be fit enough to do the full ninety so there’ll still be time for the pub.

So you watch dutifully. And gradually have to admit that there’s some skill there, so much so that at times you want to forget yourself and get involved, even though it’s women playing, and yet you do.

‘What do you think?’ she asks at half-time.

‘All right,’ you reply condescendingly. ‘They certainly know the rules and how to pass and that,’ you trail off, and with fresh inspiration, add, ‘but there’s no real contact happening.’

She nods noncommittally as you continue to watch. But curiously you’re ready for more on another night. And your words come back to haunt you when you witness the England Lionesses, who you now support, face Cameroon! The brutality!  My God, the opposition was cynical. Not many Premiership players would’ve fancied facing that. And where was a strong referee when you needed one? But the girls took it all in their stride.

Not long after you’re already in front of the TV of an evening with the pause button active and urging your missus to get a move on and schlep her arse in sharpish to watch the action. When she looks pleased at this you realise that it could be a great result: not the game, but her finally taking an interest in football.

And then the heartbreak of England going out to the USA having been denied a goal for a contentious offside and then having failed to convert a late penalty. ‘Just like the bloody men’s team!’ you moan with genuine disappointment. You’ve said the right thing. Though she’s slightly down, not almost hysterical like you after the offside decision, she gives you a warm kiss.

But there can always be a bright dawn even after the most challenging disappointments. Pre-season is underway and Bielsa’s staying. Time to turn your attention to loftier matters and the LUFC transfer comings and goings and speculations and to get your accumulator on after all that deliberation. And to admit that inside, the Women’s World Cup filled a great sporting hole. They may be women but it is football after all. And the great thing was – they were fit! In all senses! And you could ogle them while your missus looked on appreciatively, and if she caught you looking too closely or doing too many replays with the remote you could claim it was to check out the incident, or appreciate that bit of skill etc. And some of the players did have long eyelashes, or wore make-up, or had their hair tied back in interesting ways – not, you noticed, too dissimilar from some Premiership players you’d seen recently. And Gareth Bale’s topknot? Well at least it hadn’t caught on with the women yet.

Anyway you couldn’t hold the women’s appearances against them could you? That would be sexist. You were interested in the game not their looks. Something you tended to point out at length to the missus when she questioned how many close up replays you needed to watch.

In conclusion you decide that the experiment was a win-win situation. She was starting to appreciate your love of football, and trying to join in with you in the enjoyment of watching it. She’d finally ‘got it’. That is, you and your obsession, and you could now be obsessed together. So with a slightly suppressed smile and inner warmth you think why not? Hang the expense. It’s time to push the boat out and feed your other half’s new interest.

And with that in mind you get your debit card out and prepare to pay for… hold it…two tickets for you and her to witness your beloved Leeds take on the might of Guiseley FC at Nethermoor. She’ll be over the moon. Live football and the two of you there to soak in the atmosphere, with an added bonus: it’ll a lot easier and quicker to get pies there at half time.

Many thanks to talented wordsmith PATRICK HOGAN for yet another quality contribution to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. MOT

Mbappe and Neymar for Leeds in PSG Link Up? – by Rob Atkinson

Mbappe – could he win a regular starting place at Leeds?

The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are not the most likely participants in next season’s Championship, but other current PSG might be beating a path to the Elland Road players’ entrance if there’s anything in the Twitterstorm surrounding possible investment by Qatar Sports Institute in Leeds United.

For the time being, it’s all smoke and mirrors. But I’ve been dreaming of linking Mbappe to Leeds for ages now – so ‘ave it.

More to follow, without a doubt.