Tag Archives: motivation

Warnock’s 2006 Blades Provide Blueprint for Successful Leeds Promotion Bid – by Rob Atkinson

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Neil Warnock celebrates in 2006 with his promotion-winning battlers

I was watching one of those Neil Warnock half-time rant videos on YouTube the other evening, and reflecting on his undoubted ability as a rabble-rousing motivator. There’s a couple of well-known examples of these online, one during his time at Huddersfield Town when he berated his team while talking passionately about the fans who had travelled miles in the rain to support the Terriers. This was the clip that initially got me enthusiastic when “Colin” was appointed to the Leeds job; in the end, for a variety of reasons, Warnock was the right man at the wrong time for Elland Road, something that is good cause for profound regret.

Because, like him or hate him, Warnock is a winner. In the right circumstances (note that phrase well), he will fulfil the brief of getting promotion; he might not win many friends on the way, but give him the tools and he’ll finish the job. He’s doing it right now at Cardiff City, of all places. Wherever he is, he’s totally committed to success – although a lifelong Blade, his efforts at Bramall Lane were no more fervent than anywhere else he has been successful. He’s fanatically focused on getting the job done, building a team ethic, fostering the right spirit. He’ll do it with the support of the club’s board if he can, without if he has to. Only when the situation at a club is really toxic has he really found a job impossible. Note that phrase, too.

It was impossible at Elland Road for Warnock to create what he eventually created at Sheffield United. Even so, several nominally superior clubs came to Leeds and were slain in one or other of the two Cup competitions, notably Tottenham Hotspur, Gareth Bale included, who succumbed 2-1 to exit the FA Cup five years ago. Warnock had an effect at Leeds, but was eventually stymied by the regime in control, as just about every coach since has been. It’s galling to think that, if he‘d had the cooperation of the people in charge at Elland Road, we might now be a Premier League club. But the evidence is irrefutable. Wherever he’s gone, and been allowed to create his vision, success has eventually followed.

It took him a while at Bramall Lane, but when he got it right, the look of his team at work reminded me irresistibly of Wilko’s 1990 promotion winners. Remember that game against Sunderland at home, when the Mackems kicked off and Leeds had won possession and mounted an attack in the first few seconds? That team hunted the opposition down, harried them, left them nowhere to go and, eventually, overran them, I think it ended 5-0. The 2006 vintage Blades were very similar. The initial clip I’d watched of Colin bollocking his troops at half time led me on to a review of Sheffield United’s promotion campaign. Ironically, that year, they could only muster two 1-1 draws against Leeds; the previous season, when they just missed out on the play-offs, they beat us 2-0 in Sheffield, and absolutely walloped us 4-0 at Elland Road on the 30th anniversary of my first ever game there.

It’s instructive to watch that 2005/06 Blades review video, if you get the chance and can bear it. That team was the very model of a promotion-winning outfit, always at it, giving the other side not a second’s rest. The contrast with what I’ve seen lately from Leeds is stark and horrifying. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to see a fully-committed team in action; even though I’ve got no time for either Sheffield club, this was inspiring stuff. The defenders were grisly hard and completely uncompromising, the midfield was ever-busy, chasing down every ball and tackling like tigers, always with an eye for a telling pass; and the attackers – sharp and decisive, pouncing on half-chances, making channel runs until their legs turned to water, challenging for everything. Home and away, the Blades tide was usually irresistible – and when they did suffer a setback, they invariably bounced back. What would I give to see a Leeds United team perform like that?

Well, I did see it, when I was 28 years younger and had suffered eight years of thinly-attended dross in the old Division Two. Wilko’s Warriors were a team in the Warnock idiom; all of the qualities I saw in that Blades video were there in abundance with White shirts on and, with Strachan, Batty and the dearly-missed Gary Speed, three quarters of one of the greatest midfield fours ever was already in place by the end of that campaign.

It’s fashionable to look back on the Warnock era at Elland Road and deride the man as a failure. But previous history, as well as his subsequent achievements, expose that as arrant rubbish. Make no mistake, if anybody could have succeeded at Leeds, Warnock was that man. He has a PhD in getting teams, some quite unlikely teams, up into the elite. There, it becomes a different ball game, but Colin’s your man to get you to that point – and to pretend otherwise is an exercise in futility. If we really want to see a relentless juggernaut of a Leeds United team – and I think we all do – then someone of the Colin ilk is needed, if not the man himself.

Don’t get me wrong, on many levels I think the man is a disgrace, especially when he lets himself down as he did with the Wolves coach the other week. Although, apparently, he’s a nice enough bloke away from the football. But we don’t need nice, we desperately need some nasty son-of-a-bitch who’s going to motivate a squad of players to perform as a Leeds United side should perform. And for that to work, unfortunately, it’d probably need a sea-change in the way our club is run. How likely that is, I really wouldn’t like to ponder on too much, in case the answer should prove just too depressing.

If we want to see a difference next season – if we really yearn to see a new version of Wilko’s Warriors or even Colin’s Crusaders – then we should be wishing and agitating for change. Because, otherwise, all we’re likely to get is a further helping of the disgracefully dilettante and uncommitted poncing about that we’ve seen, and paid through the nose for, in the campaign now limping to a shameful conclusion.

In short, we need a hero. Maybe we’ll get one, some day. But just who will that man be?

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Can Darko’s Leeds Cope with the “Cup Final” Mentality of Local Rivals Rotherham? – by Rob Atkinson

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Huddersfield’s low-key celebrations after edging out Leeds

In the wake of Leeds United’s recent failures on the road against inferior local opposition, it’s well past time to take stock of the problem behind this unwelcome phenomenon, which is set fair to drag us down and keep us away from the top level –  if it continues as it has in past campaigns. It’s to be hoped that, in the new Darko Milanic era, things might be different. There were some promising signs against the Wendies the other week, but away from home against pumped-up (yet lower-class) opposition, some fight is what’s sorely needed.

Firstly, let’s put to bed any foolish suggestion that the local opposition aren’t inferior. They are – by definition.  Leeds do not and never have in living memory played local derbies where they are the underdog in terms of club size and history.  We’ve been the biggest club in Yorkshire – by far the biggest, and the only one with a global profile – for the last fifty years plus. Whatever the relative squad merits – and for 90% of the time, Leeds have possessed demonstrably more accomplished players too – any meeting between Leeds and a smaller Yorkshire club has seen the Elland Road outfit cast as Goliath to some horrible, backstreet David. The real question is – does such superiority of status confer any advantage at all?  The answer to that would appear to be a resounding No, and a reminder that, horrible and provincial though David might have been, he still gave Goliath one in the eye.

The extent of the problem may be brought into focus simply by comparing two different sets of results over the past few years.  If you look at league games against other Yorkshire teams, together with a selection of upstarts around the country who have a similar chip on the shoulder, as compared with our reasonably regular Cup meetings with Premier League clubs over the past three or four years, the contrast is startling – and it says a lot about what it has taken to motivate our white-shirted heroes.

Taking league games first, and looking at the locals – the likes of Barnsley, the Sheffield clubs, Huddersfield and Hull, together with self-appointed rivals like Millwall – the results have been unacceptably bad.  Barnsley in particular have visited embarrassment upon us in match after match, often by a significant margin, whilst keeling over to most other clubs and usually only escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth, prior to their welcome demise last year.  Our relatively close West Yorkshire neighbours Huddersfield are nearly as bad for our health. The other season, these two clubs met on the last day, and over the course of ninety minutes, first one and then the other seemed doomed to the drop.  In the end, both escaped because of events elsewhere – and what did both sets of fans do to celebrate their shared reprieve?  Why, they joined together in a rousing chorus of “We all hate Leeds scum” of course.  This tells you all you need to know about what motivates such dire and blinkered clubs – but at least the motivation is there.

And the motivation is there for Leeds United, too – just not, seemingly, on those bread-and-butter league occasions when we need it.  What seems to turn your average Leeds United player on over the past few years, is the glamour of the Cup – either domestic cup will do, apparently.  Results and performances in these games have left bewildered fans scratching their heads and wondering how such high achievers can then go on to perform so miserably against the envious pariahs from down the road in Cleckhuddersfax.  Look at the results – going back to League One days.  A narrow home defeat to Liverpool in the League Cup when by common consent we should have won and Snoddy ripped them up from wide areas.  The famous win at Man U when we went to the Theatre of Hollow Myths and showed neither fear nor respect in dumping the Pride of Devon out of the FA Cup.  Draws at Spurs and Arsenal, beating Spurs, Gareth Bale and all, at Elland Road.  Beating other Premier League sides such as Everton and Southampton in games that had you wondering which was the higher status club.  Great occasions – but of course we haven’t the squad to go through and win a cup, so these achievements ultimately gain us little but pride. And, naturally, when we draw a Yorkshire “rival” away in a Cup, we contrive to lose embarrassingly as per Bratfud earlier this season. It’s just not good enough.

Often we will sing to daft smaller clubs’ fans about the Leeds fixtures being their Cup Finals, but this is becoming a joke very much against us.  The teams concerned seem to take the Cup Final thing literally, they get highly motivated, roll their metaphorical sleeves up, the veins in their temples start to throb and the battle cry is sounded.  Their fans, normally present in miserable numbers, are out in force – and they are demanding superhuman endeavour.  Faced with this, too many Leeds teams over the past few years have simply failed to find a comparable level of commitment and effort.  There’s no excuse for that – it has meant we’re almost starting off a goal down – even when we swiftly go a goal up.

The sheer number of local derbies will count against a team which allows itself to suffer this disadvantage, this moral weakness.  For Leeds, since we came back to the second tier, there has usually been one Sheffield or another, usually Barnsley or Huddersfield or Hull, Middlesbrough perhaps – even the just-over-the-border outfits like Oldham and Burnley feel the same ambition and desire to slay the Mighty Leeds.  It amounts to a sizeable chunk of a season’s fixtures – if you fail to perform in these, then you’re struggling.  The pressure is then on to get results against the better teams at the top end of the table, and we don’t fare too well there either.

It’s easy to say that it’s a matter of getting better players.  Largely that’s true.  But we’ve usually had better players than these annoying little Davids, and yet the slingshot has still flown accurately right into Goliath’s eye and knocked us over. Professional football is a game of attitude, motivation, mental readiness to match the opposition and earn the right to make your higher quality tell.  This, over a number of years, is what Leeds United have signally failed to do.

Can it change?  Well, so far this season we’ve played Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield at home  – plus Millwall, who qualify as a southern member of the chip on the shoulder brigade, away.  We’ve four points out of nine to show from that little lot, which is the difference between our current position and sixth – in the play-off zone.  Even three of those lost five points would see us just a point off the top six places.  And the thing is, ALL of those games were distinctly winnable, so it’s no pipe-dream to look at where we might have been.  The difference is down to attitude; our opponents have had it and – with the notable exception of the Huddersfield performance – we simply haven’t.

It’s a sobering message at this stage of the season, with only three such games played – and plenty more to come.  But it’s a message that should be heeded, or the effect on our season will become more profound as it goes on.  The potential is there for us to take advantage of games against inferior but highly-motivated opposition, to match the attitude of these teams and to reap our rewards.  The failure to do this will see us endure yet another season of under-achievement. We have to overcome the “Cup Final Mentality” of certain other clubs, mainly those in Yorkshire but elsewhere too.

The Rotherham game next Friday night is an ideal opportunity for this new, tougher mental attitude to kick in. Again, we have small local rivals who nurse a fierce and unrequited hatred of Leeds United – and they have the odd old boy in their ranks as well as a wily manager who has been busily bigging us up. Our heroes will include a number of quite new foreign signings, who may still be a little wide-eyed and naive on occasions like this. So the ingredients are all there for the relative big boys of Leeds to turn up, find the environment not to their liking – and roll over once again in abject surrender. Please, let it not be so.

Leeds United –  you just need to get psyched-up and go out to win some of these pesky and troublesome “Cup Finals”.  Darko can inculcate his principles and make a pretty pattern of play – but when blood and guts are needed, some fight and some grit – then it really is up to you lads who wear the shirt we’d all of us out here be willing to walk on hot coals for. 

Post-Leeds United Cup Final Syndrome is Reality for Huddersfield and Millwall – by Rob Atkinson

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Huddersfield’s Ground, pictured on a non-Leeds United match day

Both Huddersfield Town and Millwall have recently enjoyed league victories over the Mighty Leeds United – classic David and Goliath tales of tiny, grubby backwoods clubs enjoying their moment in the limelight as they contrive to overcome a world-famous footballing superpower.  The fallout was similar in both cases – joy unconfined, celebration and jubilation in excelsis, dancing and cavorting in the cobbled streets and who knows what other forms of primitive festivity.  It’s anticipated that there will be a sharp spike in the birthrate for both of these isolated communities nine months hence – though sadly the limited gene pool means it’s unlikely we’ll see any such augmentation of the average IQ figure.

All of this is quite understandable, given the chip on the collective shoulders of each respective band of David fans, where this particular Goliath is concerned.  It’s probably more acute in Huddersfield, whose fans have had to live their lives in the long shadow of Big Brother from Elland Road on the one side, and of the Pennines on the other, their only protection from the barbaric hordes of Lancashire.  But Millwall nurse their own grudge against Leeds, who they feel somehow outshine their own carefully-nurtured reputation for mob-handed naughtiness.  This is a misconception – the old Leeds wild boy tendency are mostly harmless elderly chaps these days, venting their spleen – if at all – from a computer keyboard.  Millwall fans seem convinced however that something nasty awaits them in LS11 – at any rate, they rarely bring more than a few dozen along to our annual meetings at Elland Road these days, and they spend their time sitting quietly in a safe area of the ground, shuffling their feet and hoping not to be noticed.

But whatever motivates these quaint if rustic people to nurse such savage hatred in their bosoms – and really, who could ever tell what goes on inside those misshapen heads? – there is certainly a galvanising effect on the teams they support.  Those guys can be relied upon to play well above their usual form and give even superior Leeds sides a terrible time.  The motivational aspect is undeniable and, sadly, it costs an unwary United points that should be there for the taking.  This happens time and time again – every time a Leeds fixture is in the offing, the drums start to beat, the blood stirs and an atavistic glitter is to be seen in the eyes of otherwise placid and useless players.  We Leeds fans refer to it ruefully as “Cup Final Syndrome” – much to the annoyance of the unwashed hordes in opposition camps.   The Huddersfield and Millwall lot would have you believe that Leeds is “just another game”.  But this is demonstrably not so.

Quite apart from the annoying regularity with which these dingy little clubs raise their performance levels against Leeds, another noticeable factor is the slump in performance immediately afterwards.  It’s as if the players, egged on by their desperate fans, have given every last drop of blood, sweat and tears and then gone on to draw on hidden reserves to complete the job, leaving them shattered and drained.  What inevitably happens next time out is that a team of pale wraiths take the field, wave and smile wanly at the applause due to them for beating Leeds, and then capitulate to whoever they are playing, simply too knackered from post Cup Final Syndrome to offer any resistance. Don’t take my word for it.  Check out the facts.

Since Millwall beat Leeds 2-0 on 28 September, they have played six games.  The first two after Leeds were away at Birmingham where they lost 0-4 and then away to Bournemouth, who tonked them 5-2.  Three draws followed and then the most recent defeat was at Bolton by 3-1. They’ve mustered 3 points out of the 18 available, registered not one further win and generally looked like exhausted relegation fodder.  Huddersfield have hardly fared better.  They’ve played only two games since beating Leeds, losing them both – away to Wigan by 2-1 and at home to Birmingham (1-3).  It’s especially notable that both teams have been easily beaten by a Birmingham side made to look like Sunday morning park footballers as Leeds murdered them 4-0.  Funny old game, isn’t it?

The truth of the matter is that this “Cup Final Syndrome” is a real factor, one that can distort results and affect the whole season.  As I’ve previously written, Leeds suffer more than most from the phenomenon – not that this is any reason for sympathy.  It’s something Leeds have to sort out and overcome, if they are to achieve anything in the foreseeable future.  It’s just the loud and indignant denials you get – from the clubs who experience Cup Final Syndrome – that amaze me.  They’re prepared to swear blind that there’s no such factor at play, and yet the figures speak for themselves.

The managers of those clubs concerned might see things in a different light; they might argue that if their team can reach such heights and expend such effort when they play Leeds, then they could and should do it all the time.  But that’s the point – they can’t. They almost literally do give that hackneyed 110% against Leeds.  It is their cup final. They try and they try – and they come off the field, maybe victorious, but shattered and run down, their batteries as flat as the top of Wayne Rooney’s head.  They’ve nothing left to give, with predictable consequences next time out as they get royally stuffed.  It’s all there, in those results.

Maybe the Millwall and Huddersfield fans would rather have a more consistent level of performance – and in that case, maybe they’d tolerate a less superhuman level of effort against the arch-enemy Leeds United.  But do you know, I somehow doubt it?  I have this sneaking suspicion that they’d rather continue to settle, grumpily maybe, but settle nonetheless, for mediocrity and runs of defeats for most of the season – just as long as they can have those wins against Mighty Leeds.  That, for them, is what it’s all about.  It’s not as if they’re going to go up anyway – so they need those Cup Final victories, they’re a validation of sorts.  It’s a defining characteristic of the type of club they are, with the type of fans they have.

So, you small-time, small club, small-minded envious pariahs – next time you hear Leeds United fans singing to you about “your Cup Final”, and feel moved to utter an offended bleat of protest – just bite your lips, and pause a second or two.  Think on.  You might just realise that what we’re singing to you is almost literally true.

McDermott’s LUFC Promotion Formula

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Brian has said it himself: promotion next season is the expectation – nothing less will be good enough.  So how should he set about realising this desirable outcome?

Recruitment with a view to moulding a competitive and combative squad goes without saying.  We will all have our ideas about who needs to come in – from those who wish to see us reclaim our lost boys from the likes of Norwich and Leicester to the more forward-looking who would prefer hungry players, new to Leeds but maybe familiar to McDermott, your le Fondres and your Robson-Kanus and so on.

How else can Brian make a difference?  What have the problems been in the past?  One major drawback for a less-than-excellent United squad has been the difficulty of coping with the massive anti-Leeds chip on the collective shoulder of our rivals: the so-called “46 Cup Finals Syndrome”.  This is a crucial factor, but it is one that can be exploited by a real leader.  A certain charmless Scottish git over the Pennines in Salford is well-known for his preference for fostering what is known as a “siege complex” among the various teams he’s had There over the years.  He’s generally had a squad to compare with the best anyway, but there’s been that undeniable edge provided by the attitude of “They all hate us, lads, so let’s get stuck in and ram it back down their throats”.  The fact that Brian appears to be a mild and likeable guy, as opposed to the bile-choked monster in charge at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, is no impediment to the fostering of a “them against us” mindset.  It’s just good psychology, good man-management, and most of all, good for cohesion and team spirit.  There hasn’t been enough of that at Elland Road lately.

The hate comes mainly from opposition fans, particularly in Yorkshire where we will again play quite a few “Derbies” next season after Huddersfield’s and Barnsley’s mutually-collusive escape from relegation.  This fever of hate, eclipsing all other emotions, was adequately demonstrated when the cameras focused on a rabble of Barnsley fans in the very moment of relief after their last-ditch reprieve.  Were they applauding their team, or proclaiming their barely-salvaged Championship status?  No, their tiny, obsessed minds could find no room for anything but a tuneless chorus of “We All Hate Leeds Scum”, with the similarly brainless Huddersfield fans happily joining in. Clearly, fellow Whites, we are not famous any more.  If Brian does choose to utilise the hate of Leeds for positive gains in terms of team bonding and incentive to win, he will not find it in short supply.

Beyond this, we the fans have a massively important part to play.  But Leeds have usually been helped by terrific support; given the least encouragement, the fans will be like a 12th man out there.  We know from awed testimony in the past that playing at Elland Road can be an intimidating experience for the very best.  McDermott’s fostering of an atmosphere and team ethic comparable to that at Reading last season, where a squad not over-packed with stars pulled back an 18 point deficit to pip Southampton for the Championship Title, would not go amiss.  The fans would respond to the effort and togetherness of such a team, there is a parallel there with Wilko’s promotion side of 1990, who used to set about the opposition with voracious hunger and would usually wear them down before over-running them.  That kind of thing would certainly do; I remember Wilko’s Warriors very fondly, and they’re just the kind of team we all love down in LS11.

Once the business of Summer is done – and you sense that Brian wants to do his shopping early so that he can put his print on a super-fit squad – then the fine-tuning can start towards next season.  We hear that improvements are afoot at Thorp Arch – training pitches to match Elland Road dimensions, with equivalent watering systems; squad-numbered reserved parking spaces for the players.  Small enough improvements, but brought about in the name of increased professionalism.  It’s all good.

Give Brian the squad he wants, and let him turn them into lean, mean, motivated machines, ready to feed on hate and use it as fuel for a tank of a team which will grind the opposition into the turf, and we could be all set for a memorable season with the reward we all crave waiting at the end of it.