Tag Archives: Neil Warnock

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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Is Jason Puncheon Above His Weight in Attacking Ex-Leeds Boss Colin? – by Rob Atkinson

Warnock: denial

Warnock: denial

Oh, dear.  Here’s a spat that could have far-reaching consequences.  Firstly Neil Warnock, fondly known as “Colin” by his legions of ex-fans, was heard on pisspoor radio station TalkSPORT to be making jovial remarks about his former player Jason Puncheon – after the latter missed a penalty against Spurs at the weekend.  Colin opined that Puncheon lacked the “cool” to be selected as spot-kick man at a place like White Hart Lane.  Jason was understandably not a happy bunny over this and he launched a series of irate tweets, many of which were swiftly deleted – and at least some of which appeared to make allegations possibly concerning the probity of Warnock in matters not unrelated to the appearance bonuses of players under his managership.  Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a footballer dissed on the wireless and determined to bite back via Twitter.

Jason Puncheon

Jason Puncheon

Warnock has since confirmed that the matters apparently raised in the ether are being “addressed on his behalf” directly to Puncheon.  One senses the impending involvement of Messrs Sue, Grabbitt & Runn.  It’s foreseeable from this point that a welter of denials and counter-accusations may well follow, and that at some point, the FA could wish to become involved.

Whether this gathering storm has any rain to shed upon Leeds United remains to be seen.  There are those who are wondering away, in various social media, as to whether any light may be cast on the contractual situation and selection records of various un-named individuals who somehow managed to earn a living at Elland Road during the Colin era, despite a puzzling lack of form or fitness for a playing role with a major professional football club.  Such are the whisperings that are always likely to go back and forth in the aftermath of hasty and precipitate tweets, especially tweets that appeared to allege various practices upon which the game’s governing bodies would be likely to look with grim disapproval – to say the very least.

Of course these matters, once put out there into the public domain, even if only for the briefest period – will have to be looked into.  It’s possible to read a certain amount into the fact that the two men have worked together at the same club, QPR, and that – therefore – anything said in public might be expected to have some grain of truth in it, failing which it might be deemed extremely unwise and possibly costly, once the legal eagles (with apologies to Puncheon’s current employers Crystal Palace FC) get their talons into it.

For the sake of clarity and in the interests of avoiding any possible murkiness surrounding what is likely to be a developing story, a screenshot from the Twitter feed concerned is reproduced below.  The blue touch paper appears to have been lit – it may swiftly become clearer as to the explosive potential of the detonation which could now result.

Those tweets, captured before disappearing

Those tweets, captured before disappearing

Warnock the Clueless Bemoans Leeds’ Loss of “Pacy” Snodgrass – by Rob Atkinson

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Colin & Brian

A fascinating quote today from Neil “Colin” Warnock’s Saturday collection of epigrams, sideswipes and bewildered bits of nonsense in The Independent.  The piece opens with a characteristically self-aggrandising few paragraphs describing various situations in which he had to deal with stroppy owners or chairmen.  Invariably, of course, Colin was right.  It’s typical of former football managers of the Colin ilk that they will always emerge as heroes from their own reminiscences.

The bit that comes nearest to being of any interest to Leeds United fans goes as follows:

Come off it, Brian – I left you a decent side at Leeds

I heard Brian McDermott on the radio taking issue with my comment that he only needed to “put the icing on the cake” when he took over from me at Leeds. I stand by it. The main thing lacking when I left was pace – because I had to sell Robert Snodgrass.

Brian’s had good money to spend, whereas I was forced to make a profit on transfers, but they still lack pace. Eight of the XI he picked at Forest last Sunday he inherited from me.

Now obviously, this basically boils down to “I had it tough and it’s a bed of roses for the guy who’s followed me.”  Standard whinging fare from yer actual has-been who still wants to have enough to say so that his weekly column remains in demand.  But portions of that shortish quote do rather take the breath away.

Take for instance this gem: “The main thing lacking when I left was pace – because I had to sell Robert Snodgrass.”  Pardon me?  Was Snoddy really known for his pace?  He’s a fine player, and I would carry him on my own back to Elland Road, should he wish to return.  But the Snodmeister’s thing was trickery, sleight of foot, skill.  He did not scorch past opposing full-backs, leaving them gasping for oxygen in his wake and turning the turf to cinders with his state-of-the-art afterburners.  You’d have thought his manager might have noticed this, but evidently Colin had got Snoddy all wrong – which may explain a thing or two.  Perhaps it also sheds some light on why he preferred the class and skill of Browneh over that mega-hyped upstart Ross Barkley, who we had on loan from Everton, but for whom Colin couldn’t find a place.  Barkley has since that time somehow managed to fool everyone into rating him as a top Premier League performer and the likely future of the England national team.  It’s a pity that people don’t listen to Colin about things like this.

The not-entirely-coherent Mr Warnock also points out that eight of Brian McDermott’s starting XI at Nottingham Forest were inherited from Colin’s potential top-flight squad.  This may be true – as is undeniably the fact that we lost that game, looking particularly inept in the first half.  It all comes down to the fact that dear old Colin seems to feel that he left Brian with the basis of a very good Championship side of promotion pedigree, needing only “the icing on the cake”.  The folly of this seems obvious to anyone who has watched Leeds United this season.  Things have improved, thanks to a previously unknown level of investment in the summer.  There have been no 6 and 7 goal thrashings at home, for instance – things that most Leeds fans are glad to see the back of. Brian was swift to disagree with Colin’s “ice on the cake” jibe, and this is Warnock showing his displeasure at being contradicted by the current United manager who is, annoyingly for Colin, far more popular with the fans than he ever had a chance of being.

Worryingly, though, a few coldly mutinous voices are being heard to question whether things really are that much better under Brian McDermott.  It seems a daft stance to take, when the stench of Bates has been fumigated from the Elland Road corridors and so many facets of the club are starting to gleam positively again, such a difference from the murky despair which typified the previous regime.  The daftness can probably be explained when you look at the sources of some of these remarks – the WACCOE forum, for instance, home to so many of the younger and yappier, wet-behind-the-ears type of Leeds fan who will never be completely happy unless they’re showing how all-fired wry and cynical they can be.  Or the Service Crew equivalent, mouthpiece of middle-aged boneheads who like to have a moan about a popular and progressive manager who has a good rapport with fans and owners alike, just to provide a change from espousing their right-wing agenda, or boasting about what hard and tough chaps they used to be and still could be if the need arose.  Yawn, yawn.  But the thing is, impressionable people read this rubbish, and there is always room on a bandwagon for a few more idiots.

Sadly, then, there will more than likely be a few dim types who will read what Colin has to say and wonder if those EDL chaps on Service Crew might not have a point.  Despite the fact that Snoddy covered the ground with all the searing pace of an elderly snail, and looked tired just standing up, these easily-persuadable people might feel tempted to agree with Mr Warnock, and put down the lack of pace to the loss of our skilful Scot.  They might feel that Colin did a good job after all, having provided the bulk of the side that lost so convincingly to Forest.  Delusions like this spring up quite easily when fertilised by a high enough grade of manure in a seemingly respectable publication like the Independent.

It’s at times like these, with former managers injecting sly doses of poison, and the dimmer section of fans mouthing approval from the fringes of reality, that we have to make sure the bulk of the support – those able to think for themselves and recognises the inherent stupidity of Colin’s comments – need to redouble our backing of Brian McDermott and the current regime at Elland Road.  Just think where we were a little over twelve months ago.  Chilling, isn’t it.  It may well be that the league record over that time is virtually identical to the one of the previous year or so – but that sort of thinking is akin to judging a book by its cover.  The work of restoring Leeds United as a real force has, so far, been mainly a behind-the-scenes thing.  There is still much to do on the field, and we should be thankful the person who will do that work is not the type of man who would prefer Browneh to Barkley, or who would regard Snoddy as someone who could routinely out-pace Theo Walcott.

We have the right man in charge.  It’s important that we pay scant regard to Colin, or to anyone else – our own dumber than dumb tendency included – who might wish to persuade us otherwise.

That Was The Leeds United 2013 That Was – by Rob Atkinson

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A look back before we look forward…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  January 2013 at Elland Road saw Leeds United in the throes of transition from the misery of life under Bates to a newly-budding optimism surrounding what was still technically, for the time being, life under Bates.  The long-awaited takeover had finally happened, but many were unable to see beyond the strings which were clearly attached.  After daring to dream, it seemed as though the old nightmare still had its final act to play out.  We were stuck with Ken Bates until the end of the season as Chairman – and then for three years beyond that as President, threatening to sully an office previously held with honour by the late Earl of Harewood.  Still, it was better than Bates owning the club.  So, modified rapture.

January was a mixture of indifferent league form relieved by significant Cup success.  Neil Warnock’s charges had ended the old year with a thorough drubbing at Hull; though the final score was only 2-0, the Whites had been taught a sobering lesson in how the game should be played at this level, and the score-line distinctly flattered them.   Sadly, another 2-0 defeat at Barnsley on January 12 showed that the lesson had not been learned.  How a team so humbled in two league fixtures could possibly knock out the mighty and Bale-inspired Spurs from the FA Cup was puzzling to say the least.  But that’s what happened – Spurs went the way of Birmingham whom United had beaten after a replay in Round Three, and we were through to face the daunting task of playing Champions Man City away in Round Five.

Leeds took an uninspiring single point from the opening three league games of February and then bowed out of the FA Cup at the Etihad, the 4-0 spanking again not really reflecting the lopsided balance of play in City’s favour.  Able to, as they say, “concentrate on the league”, Leeds beat Blackpool 2-0 and played out a goal-less draw at Blackburn to enter March, which turned out to be the last full month under Neil “Colin” Warnock.

Colin had looked ever less capable of fulfilling the United dream of promotion, and March was the month that broke the back of that ambition.  A scratchy win over Millwall was followed by three draws and then two defeats and, as April rolled around, Colin’s tenure ended after two further losses – at home to Derby and then at the Valley against Charlton Athletic.  And then, it all changed – though too little and too late.  By this time, the hopeful peering upwards at the playoff zone had been replaced by anxious glances over our shoulders at the relegation tussle.  When Brian McDermott was appointed, he immediately said all the right things as new managers tend to do – except he managed to imbue his words with a sincerity and meaning that marked him as somebody we might actually want at the helm.

Brian’s first match was a 2-1 defeat of Sheffield Wednesday, a badly-needed and richly satisfying victory after the previous chelpings of then Wednesday manager David Jones.  A win over Burnley followed, hoisting Leeds to mid-table security before two successive defeats re-awakened those nagging worries.  But all was well by the last day of the season as we travelled to Watford and won 2-1, successfully pooping their intended promotion party and sending Hull up instead.  Ah, well.

So that was it for the season.  During the summer, big changes were afoot at boardroom level, including the welcome early termination of Bates’ connections with the club, a £1 million-ish signing for the first time in absolutely yonks, and generally increased optimism and morale.

The story of this season so far has been “steady as she goes” with new players bedding in, plenty of our familiar flaws still in evidence, but overall a much brighter and happier atmosphere about the whole place under Brian McDermott, who has continued to forge a great relationship with the fans as he displays a quiet determination to succeed in this job, regardless of distractions elsewhere – the Ireland job, for instance.  McDermott is known to have ambitions in this direction, but he swiftly distanced himself from speculation, stating firmly that he had a job to do at Elland Road.  In fact, McDermott’s hand on the tiller has resulted in an identical position at the turn of the year as compared with previous seasons.  Leeds have fallen away in the past – can they now build on what looks certain to be yet another fresh start under the Haigh-led consortium?

2014 looks as richly promising as any year in recent memory.  Our arguably top performer over recent games, with due deference to the prolific Rossco, has been Marius Zaliukas, signed initially on a short-term deal.  That deal has now been improved and extended to the end of the 2014/15 season – surely a cause for celebration.

More signings are promised in this window following the expected ratification of the takeover by the Football League.  There is the possibility of a winger, maybe another striker too to take some of the burden of McCormack.  These could at last be exciting times.  2013 was a year in which we have moved from one takeover watershed to another, with no great change in league position but with a massive improvement in the whole atmosphere of the club since Bates was shown the door.  What we have now is a solid foundation to build upon, with a club that seems likely to be relatively well-funded, ahead of Financial Fair Play regulation, and able to exert some buying power in the transfer market to supplement the good players we already have at the club – including promising youngsters such as Byram and Mowatt as the Academy production line continues to flourish.  It’s impossible of course to speculate about what an article penned next New Year’s Eve would say – will it reflect on solid achievement, steady progress or dashed hopes?  All are possibilities.  That story will unfold in the next twelve months.

Meanwhile, let’s raise a glass to 2014 and all it might bring to fans of Leeds United AFC in terms of progress, excitement, maybe even glory.  Happy New Year to #LLUUE readers everywhere, to all Leeds United fans and to everybody else.  Let’s see where it takes us!

Should Leeds Keep Hold of Maverick El-Hadji Diouf? – by Rob Atkinson

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Regular all-round nice guy Dioufy

He’s a rum cove, that El-Hadji Diouf.  You don’t get many like him to the pound.  At first glance, his link-up with Leeds United seemed like a match made in hell.  He was signed by a manager in Neil Warnock who had previously referred to Diouf as “lower than a sewer rat.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m sure I’ve heard more sparkling endorsements than that – even from the notoriously uncouth Colin.

For a while there, we very probably had the most gleaming, five-star example of the full set hate-wise.  The most hated club, with the most hated Chairman, the most hated manager, the most hated fans and the most hated player.  It rather made your heart swell with pride, and you felt that if Dioufy could be taken to anyone’s hearts, then perhaps Elland Road was the most likely place.  We are rather fond of our villains down Beeston way.

The down side of the former Liverpool man – other than his alarming tendency to get involved in trouble at the drop of a blob of phlegm – is that he doesn’t look the fittest of lads.  He’s not yet 33, and he’s got undeniable pedigree – but you’re not going to see him running past opponents too often. His main contribution to the Leeds team last season seems to have been an ability to hold the ball up in confined spaces, draw a foul and win a free kick.  There was an early flurry of goals, but it was this ball retention ability that really shone in a team which appeared quite inept in that regard.

Sadly, a few live games in the first half of the season were characterised by the commentator making a fuss about this facet of Diouf’s play, and refs seemed to be on the lookout for any possibility of being hoodwinked by the wily Senegalese schemer.  Give a dog a bad name, eh?  There were certainly quite a few occasions that I noticed where Diouf would go down with a pained expression on his face, only for the ref to airily wave play on, to approving noises from the gantry. This detracted greatly from his general effectiveness, but he still contributed to some reasonably encouraging performances in that pre-Christmas part of last year’s league programme.

Overall, I think I would say that it remains doubtful we have anyone else on the books who can use the ball in a confined space, under pressure from close markers, as Dioufy can.  Time and again, he can either slip the attention of a couple of defenders to find a man in relative acres of space, or (more often) he would gain one of those free-kicks.  Both of these gifts were invaluable to last season’s Leeds side which otherwise appeared to regard the ball as a bit of a hot potato. It’s only that telling lack of pace which limited his overall contribution.

In the home match against Brighton late in the last campaign, Diouf managed to get himself sent-off in the aftermath of a successful penalty conversion.  It appeared that he’d taken some stick from Brighton’s rather over-sensitive away support, and responded in sign language involving a too-public manipulation of his genitals, to shocking effect as far as the away crowd and sadly also the ref were concerned. A little surprisingly, this was Diouf’s first dismissal since he joined the club.  We were told that he was sorry, and that he remained committed to the Leeds United cause coming into this season (but as it’s turned out, we’ve hardly seen him since.)

So should we hang on to this mercurial talent, or not?  He’s been this season’s forgotten man and yet, since signing an improved contract, he’s taking more out of the club by far than when he was making a real impact on the first team. I would cautiously vote to retain him, unless the rumoured influx of cash really does turn out to be enough to buy someone as good as Dioufy – and maybe younger and faster.  If that turns out to be the case, then sadly it’ll be a no-brainer.  All’s fair in football and war – and there’s precious little room for sentiment.

What do other people think?  Keep him or get rid?  And if he goes – just who are the likely candidates to replace him, depending on whether we have a Red Bull sized budget, or just a tidgy little David Haigh one? Answers on a virtual postcard, please…

Neil Warnock: I’d rather watch Downton Abbey than an England match

The thoughts of Colin, as bizarre as ever – but does he have a point in claiming he’d rather watch Downton than England? Leeds fans would be able to confirm that the old boy has no more than a passing interest in football, so maybe this expressed preference isn’t all that much of a surprise…

6 months on from Colin but his corrosive legacy lingers long at Leeds United

A scathing post-mortem on Colin’s reign at Leeds United. This blogger lays the blame for our current, less than vibrant state squarely at the feet of Messrs. Warnock and Bates. A year after this article first appeared, I think it’s still obvious the author had a point…

Spoilsports Leeds Sting Angry Hornets

ImageWatford 1, Leeds United 2

Leeds United, perennial party-poopers, did it again at Watford in a crazy game that sometimes bore more resemblance to an episode of Emergency Ward 10 than the blood-and-thunder Championship clash it was. Still smarting from a bizarre 1-6 defeat at Elland Road in the reverse fixture, Leeds were in no mood to stand idly by and watch their hosts stroll to the three points which – as it turned out – would have seen them gain automatic promotion. The Whites worked hard from the start, despite the early loss of injured Steve Morison, closing down space, snapping into tackles and pressing their opponents well up the field, denying them opportunities to create.

Sky co-commentator and one-time Man U flop Garry Birtles marred the viewing experience with his frequent inane interjections – his verdict on substitute Dominic Poleon’s part in the unfortunate injury to Jonathan Bond, Watford’s late replacement ‘keeper, being particularly obtuse. “He knew what he was doing alright,” spluttered the werewolf-faced ex Forest goal-hanger – apparently crediting our Dom with the skill to push a Watford defender in the back whilst running at full tilt and at precisely the correct angle to cause deliberate damage to the unlucky ‘keeper. But Birtles never was the sharpest tool in the box, and Sky would serve us all better if they provided a menu option to mute him.

Bond, only playing because of a warm-up injury to Manuel Almunia, seemed seriously hurt, but to suggest any deliberate intent to that effect was ridiculous and unjustified. After a lengthy break for treatment, the stricken ‘keeper was carried off to be replaced by a 19 year old rookie, Jack Bonham, for whom this would indeed be a baptism of fire. Shortly after entering the field Bonham was involved in a mix-up with one of his defenders as the ball headed into his penalty area. Poleon benefited from a fortuitous bounce to be able to sprint clear and tuck the ball home from an acute angle close in. Before the end of an extended first half – 16 minutes stoppage time – Watford were level with a finely constructed goal. Almen Abdi pounced on a lay-off at the edge of the Leeds area and curled a fine shot well out of Paddy Kenny’s reach into the top corner.

At this stage in the bigger picture, things were pretty much how they’d started – Hull City as Watford’s rivals for the remaining automatic promotion place were also level in their match at home to Cardiff. But then we heard Cardiff were ahead, meaning that Watford could go up with a draw. The situation would continue to change right to the end. As the delayed second half started at Vicarage Road, Hull had turned their own game around, leading 2-1. Watford now had to win whilst hoping Cardiff could draw level, and the urgency of their game was notched up accordingly. Troy Deeney, stupidly booked in the first period for kicking the ball away, now sailed into an ill-judged challenge on Michael Brown and was rightly booked again and dismissed. The expression of Gianfranco Zola’s face showed that he would possibly not be defending his striker’s actions.

The onus remained on Watford to win, just in case Hull let things slip at the KC Stadium. With ten against eleven, they pressed as hard as they could, drawing a couple of excellent saves from Paddy Kenny in the Leeds goal – and then the news came in, first that Hull had missed a penalty chance to secure their match at 3-1, next that Cardiff had gone straight down the other end and scored a penalty of their own to finish at 2-2. Now Watford were one goal from promotion, and their efforts became positively frantic as time ran out – time they only had because of the delays for injuries before half time. The Watford momentum built, waves of attack from the ten men were repulsed by a determined Leeds; something had to give. And, in time-honoured fashion, when it did give the result was a sucker punch to leave the Hornets stung and reeling. Ross McCormack seized on a clearance to advance on the young ‘keeper who was in no-man’s land off his line. McCormack tried a chip that looked just not quite good enough – but the debutant goalie could get only fingertips to the ball, which dropped over his head and behind him into an empty net. Tragedy for the young lad, sweet revenge for Leeds as they held on for three points to salve the wounds of their Elland Road battering and frustration for Zola’s fine Watford side who will now have to take their chances in the play-off lottery.

Leeds had successfully pooped another party, just as they had with Neil Warnock’s QPR two years previously – though Rangers had gone up anyway, despite that 2-1 away success for the Whites. There is some satisfaction in drenching the celebrations of others, but the onus is now on Brian McDermott and the club owners to plot a more positive outcome to next season – because whatever the buzz of Schadenfreude, the Leeds fans will not settle indefinitely for spoiling other folks’ parties. It’s high time we had one of our own.

There’s Only Two Brian McDermotts

In 1996, Arsenal confirmed the appointment as their new manager of one Monsieur Arsène Wenger. I took a distant but distinct interest as I did with any news story concerning Arsenal, a club I have always thoroughly admired. And I must confess; at first I thought it was a wind-up, some weak attempt at a joke. An Arsenal manager called Arsène? Were our major clubs recruiting managers on the basis of weirdly appropriate names now? How ridiculous. You couldn’t make it up.

History shows of course that Arsenal FC was being deadly serious and decidedly astute. They were appointing a man who would become their longest-serving and most successful manager, a man widely credited with revolutionising the whole of English football, a cerebral man with a scientific approach to the art of beautiful football. But others reacted initially as I had. Former Arsenal captain Tony Adams has said

“At first, I thought: What does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher. He’s not going to be as good as George [Graham]. Does he even speak English properly?”

This seemed to reflect most people’s level of incredulity at what appeared an odd decision. Who, indeed, was Wenger? What had he done? He was certainly no Johan Cruyff, a global “name” who had been touted by many for the Highbury hot-seat. Rarely though can such a seemingly strange appointment have turned out so well. Despite the more recent lack of actual silverware, look at Arsenal now. Look at the football they play. It’s enough to make a Leeds fan drool – I know I do.

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Dioufy meets McDermotty

Fast forward to 2013 and there has been another “you couldn’t make it up” appointment – the strangeness being of a somewhat different nature, but nonetheless bizarre for that. Leeds United have recruited one Brian McDermott, recently sacked by Reading FC. This appointment has come with just five games to go of a season that was always supposed to be about promotion to the top league, but has latterly taken a nightmare downturn towards a struggle to avoid relegation back to the third tier. United of course share the city of Leeds with Rugby League superstars Leeds Rhinos – Coach: another Brian McDermott. Furthermore, the Rhinos have an outstanding winger called Ryan Hall, a world-class exponent of the game and prolific try-scorer; a major contributor to his club’s dominance of the Super League. And – lo and behold – we find that Leeds United also have a winger called Ryan Hall, a man of more modest accomplishments but much promise; one who produced a game-changing, match-winning performance at Huddersfield which gave Leeds United fans a lot of hope for his future.

Two clubs in two different sports sharing one city; both managed by a Brian McDermott, both with wingers named Ryan Hall. That’s stretching credibility quite a long way; has anything like it happened before? Could weirdness of that degree have a happy ending comparable to the way the weird Wenger story turned out?

Well, maybe it could. Once you get past the long-odds coincidence which certainly rivals the strangeness of Arsenal’s Arsène, you begin to look at the merits of the appointment. It’s an move being welcomed quite whole-heartedly by long-suffering Leeds fans, who had been certain for a while that former manager Neil Warnock’s approach was going to produce nothing but dire football, inexplicable substitution decisions and a heavy reliance on his old favourites from previous incarnations of his managerial career. He was going to build on his excellent record of promotions gained; he was going to top off that record by returning his biggest-ever club to the Premier League. But it all went horribly wrong, and Neil has clearly been yearning for his Cornwall home, hearth and tractor for months now. He’s seemed tired and dispirited, forced to defend the inadequate efforts of a palpably rudderless team, reduced to cliché after cliché as he attempted to deflect criticism of the performances of a squad he’d recently described as “Leeds’ best in years.”

McDermott though appears to be a horse of a different colour. A younger, hungry man, a still slightly angry man who you’d guess feels wronged by his dismissal from Premier League Reading, a club he’d served undeniably well and against whom he now seems destined to compete in the Championship next season. That’s if Leeds stay in that league – which is by no means certain as yet. With five games to go, McDermott quite possibly needs at least four more points to secure Championship football for next season and give him the chance to plan in the longer term. He has said already that he’s been given “assurances of support”, and we can but hope that these don’t turn out to be yet more of the same forked-tongue promises we’ve heard for a good many seasons now. McDermott though has the air of a man who is happy and confident as he picks up what many in the game see as a poisoned chalice. Leeds United has the reputation of a managers’ graveyard going back many years now and – surely – nobody entering via the revolving doors that have seen so many unceremonious exits can be at all optimistic they won’t share the same fate. Nevertheless, Brian McDermott has made all the right confident and determined noises, he has his right-hand man with him and he says he can’t wait to get stuck in. This is what we want to hear.

At some point, for heaven’s sake, Leeds United’s owners have to get it right. We’ve had a decade or more of stumbling, shambling descent into the pits of despair, followed by an almost equally stumbling and shambling partial recovery. As yet another era starts – and at Leeds we seem to have two or three new eras per season – the patience of the always potentially truculent masses cannot be relied upon for much longer. Leeds could so easily go the wrong way in just the next few weeks, and that would make for a terrifyingly long journey back at a time when – as in wider society – the rich are getting ever rich while the rest scrap for crumbs. Those who seek happy omens might look at how Arsenal’s strange appointment of Arsène turned out, or they may look across the city and look at the Brian McDermott who is in charge of the current Super League Champions. The omens are there, and in hard times they’re the straws we might reasonably clutch at.

We could go the wrong way – but we simply can’t afford to. It has to be safety first, followed as soon as possible by definite progress on and off the field. New investment is clearly sought, and appears to be a must-have without which the club will, at very best, continue to tread water.

This is not an option if the club is to have any real success in the foreseeable future, so the owners must deliver support to their new man. And Brian McDermott just has to be the right man; he has to get it very right very soon, establishing a pattern of success comparable with his fine work at Reading and leading us back to the top before the club is cut irretrievably adrift of the powers in the game.

That’s the scale of his task. That’s the urgency of the situation we now face. Good luck, Brian.

Leeds United Back at the Crossroads

Bye bye, Colin

As the final whistle blew after Leeds United’s most recent defeat at home to Derby County, in many ways it just seemed like business as usual. The team had huffed and puffed, flattered to deceive, taken the lead through a goal of genuine quality and then finally – as seems all too normal – frittered away a fragile advantage to end up with nothing. It could be a metaphor for the entire season, or even for the whole three year period since United dragged itself back, by the skin of its teeth, to the second tier of English football which represents the very minimum acceptable status for a great old club. It’s been three years of hollow promises, screwed-up priorities, bizarre transfer activities and chronic instability.

The last point – that lack of stability – has been felt even more acutely than ever these last few weeks. Ever since Neil Warnock made his first wistful noises about wanting to be in Cornwall with his family and his Massey-Ferguson, the alarm bells have been ringing. The one thing above all that any sports team needs is a high degree of certainty as to where it is going and how it proposes to get there. Take away the certainty, the sense of direction and leadership, and – try though the individual team members might – the fine edge will be taken off that team’s performance. In a game of fine margins, as any game is at a high professional level, the lack of that edge makes all the difference.

It’s actually been worse even than that for Leeds. Rumours of a second takeover won’t go away, and memories are returning of the long and drawn-out saga of last summer, with all the disruption that entailed for any planning and preparation for the season ahead. Those rumours have gathered pace, and have come to a head at about the same time Warnock made it clear he was sidling towards the exit door. So not only does the team itself lack for leadership and the security of knowing who’s calling the shots on the football side – the whole club is embroiled once again in a fever of speculation as to who will own it, or various discrete chunks of it, by the time the next transfer window opens, and the all-important work has to start in order to ready us for a tilt at promotion next time around.

The past week has seen 10% of the club sold off to a “strategic investor”, but there is no clarity as to what this might mean for team-building. Is it any wonder that the mood among fans, despite reduced admission prices, is one of apathy at best? Now it has been confirmed that Neil Warnock has indeed parted company with Leeds United, so a club in a state of anguished flux must seek the right appointment at a time when it’s difficult to see any credible candidate being tempted to take up the challenge of restoring direction to a once-mighty ship, now seemingly rudderless and hopelessly adrift.

So we find ourselves speculating on two fronts, as this season sputters to an uninspiring close – always supposing that we don’t get dragged into an unseemly scrap to avoid relegation. Fans are bound to speculate after all – it’s in the nature of passionate support that we will be preoccupied by what, if anything, the future holds. But at Leeds United, more than at most clubs, that speculation is undertaken in an information vacuum and in almost complete darkness in terms of what’s going on behind the doors.

What we can and should do, with some degree of self-righteousness, is point out that the changes taking place now regarding team management might more usefully have been accomplished weeks ago, when there was still a realistic chance of making the play-offs, and when the introduction of a degree of certainty might have paid dividends. The points so carelessly tossed away in recent weeks as Warnock has yearned for his tractor from afar, taking his eye right off the ball, would have seen Leeds bang in contention. Last minute equalisers conceded at Wolves and Leicester, silly home defeats to Huddersfield and Derby, awful beatings at Ipswich and Barnsley, all these avoidable calamities add up in terms of points we could and should have taken. A Mick McCarthy at the helm, or maybe a Nigel Adkins or – dare I say it – a Simon Grayson, and I’m convinced a good proportion of those points could have been snapped up, and we might yet have found ourselves occupying a play-off berth right now. The club, the new owners, have let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers, from the moment those alarm bells started to ring.

Now, they simply have to get it right. There’s been a bit of talk around the city this last few days – wouldn’t it be strange if the Leeds Rhinos and Leeds United both had a winger called Ryan Hall, and a coach called Brian McDermott. Maybe that could now come to pass, and I for one wouldn’t object – as Mr McDermott has done a genuinely competent job at Reading, and was possibly unlucky to get the sack there. But whoever we get, he has to be installed, made to feel happy and welcome, and backed financially to undertake the surgery the squad still undeniably needs. The right appointment would still get the crowd back onside, as would some definitive statement of intent from the current owners about their plans. It has to happen, and it has to happen soon, or we can write off another season in the long-term quest to return to the top flight – it will now be a minimum of ten years out of the Premier League and a club like Leeds simply has to aim to be there in order to have any chance of fulfilling the potential that its still-devoted fans and its global profile afford it. A return to the top, then, is now a matter of increasing urgency.

So here we are again, at yet another crossroads, between managers and with everything up in the air for the umpteenth time. Situation normal. But it can’t go on. Whatever happens between now and August, one thing we know beyond doubt is that we certainly can’t afford another season like this one.