Tag Archives: soccer

Marcelo Bielsa “To Sign Leeds United Contract Tonight” – by Rob Atkinson

It’s happening – Marcelo Bielsa will be the next Leeds United boss. I’m purposely avoiding the terms “manager” and “coach” as being, at this stage, too precise. But the implications of this appointment are that Bielsa’s stringent conditions and requirements have largely been met. In those circumstances, the continuing presence of Victor Orta notwithstanding, “Boss” seems like the best word to use.

The information is reliable, having been tweeted by the famously ITK journalist Phil Hay. So, United have got their man, a stellar appointment to put every other occupant of the Elland Road hotseat, possibly since Terry Venables, firmly into the shade. We must hope that the club intends to be fully honest and open in their dealings with Bielsa; they certainly weren’t with Venables.

Much more on this to come, obviously. In the meantime, we must wish our new Boss all the best, getting right behind him from Day One. This could and should be a pivotal moment in the illustrious history of a club approaching its centenary. From here, the only way should be up.

Welcome to Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa. May you meet early with the success we all wish you.

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Any News, Phil? Leeds United Reporter Phil Hay Suffers Torture by a Million Tweets – by Rob Atkinson

Phil Hay

Phil Hay, perennial Leeds United Twitter target info source

One man who will be particularly relieved, and who may indeed shed tears of joy, when the white smoke eventually goes up over Elland Road and Marcelo Bielsa becomes our anointed king, is the Yorkshire Evening Post‘s chief football writer Phil Hay.

Phil is the man with his finger on the pulse of Leeds United and his ear to the ground at Thorp Arch. It’s become an article of faith that any item of Whites football news can only really be believed when it’s been presented as fact by Mr. Hay, whose articles and revelations always carry that stamp of authenticity.

The downside to this elite and privileged position is that Hay, an endearingly prolific tweeter of the snippets all Leeds fans thirst for, has to put up with a phenomenal amount of Twitter queries, amounting to an ongoing Inquisition, with demands for more news, more verbatim accounts of what’s being said and, above all, urgent confirmation of that which has not yet been confirmed. Sometimes, the strain ever so slightly shows, when representatives from the dimmer end of the Leeds Twitteratti attempt to second guess our intrepid reporter. Then, such responses as he makes can be quite terse and dry. But, ever the pro, Phil does not engage in unseemly to-ing and fro-ing. That’s a lesson I could do with learning.

It’s not just Phil Hay, of course. The equally respected Adam Pope cops for his share of incessant nagging, the likes of “Popey, can you confirm… etc”. Lee Sobot is another target for this insatiable hunger for news NOW. Of course, people do know that you can’t report developments until those developments have developed – but you sometimes have to doubt that awareness. Our professional reporters are harangued 24/7, and it’d be no wonder if they got just a teensy bit sick of it.

The last couple of weeks have been a case in point, with “Any news, Phil?” becoming a catchphrase to rank alongside any in the world of alternative comedy. It’s being used ironically now, as Tweeters take the mick out of their less patient fellow online fans. If Messrs Hay, Pope and Sobot tried to answer every desperate plea for knowledge aimed directly at them, they’d have neither the time nor the energy to get on with their actual jobs.

With this in mind, it’d be nice to think that the manic tweeters would lay off a bit, accept that things happen when they happen or not at all, and generally give our faithful correspondents a bit of time and room to breathe. Not that any such restraint is likely to happen, of course. That imperious need to know is out there, and it’s voracious.

What I will wish is for the Bielsa story to be resolved as soon as possible, so that our chaps in the press room can take a bit of a rest. Then again, once Bielsa is in – well, all the transfer business will catch fire and consume us all, won’t it? Hmmm.

Erm – any news, Phil?

Leeds Bielsa Talks Now on Home Straight but Suffering Cramp – by Rob Atkinson

Having been in the last mile of negotiations for the past 24 hours or so, Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa are now staggering up the home straight and expecting to reach the finishing line, which is in sight, at any time in the next hours, days, weeks or months.

The problem at this late stage is cramp. The home straight is slightly uphill and it’s been hot and muggy, so, you know. These things are never simple, and when you start tying up with the goal in sight, it gets really tricky. Fortunately, both parties have been able to take on essential isotonic supplements from a number of distinctly salty sources along the way.

More as we get it, but don’t hold your breath.

Massive, Defining Week Ahead for Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the next few days for Yorkshire‘s number one football club. The decisions due to be made by various parties could well dictate the shape, not only of the season ahead for Leeds United, but even of the next few years. A major change in management style and recruitment policy seems to be under consideration, with the abiding question being: and what happens if prime target Marcelo Bielsa doesn’t take the United helm?

That could of course turn out to be a question strictly for the pessimists and the more mischievous outposts of the press. While the glass-half-empty brigade on Twitter and the 95% of the media hostile to Leeds have done their best to stoke up doubt and despondency, the club itself, as well as respected journalists closer to the people in charge, exudes an air of businesslike calm. The expectation clearly exists that what initially appeared to be wishful thinking could actually happen. If it does – and we should know quite shortly now – then it could easily change the course of Leeds United history. And in a good way, too.

Interestingly, the betting markets still appear to assume that these great events will take place. And bookies have a vested interest in getting these things right. So this next week, so nearly upon us, could well be an epochal time for anyone with LUFC carved on their heart.

And if Bielsa doesn’t happen – well it’s still significant that Leeds are looking at that end of the talent market. There’s no reason to suppose that, should the volatile Argentinean decide that Elland Road is not for him, United will inevitably resort to the bargain basement outlets they’ve frequented before. The apparent change of attitude at the top of the club is at least as important as the names in circulation as possibilities as coach or new players. The intent of the club is the crucial thing, and we must presume that the nature of this intent will survive any short term disappointments.

So it’s still a case of “watch this space”, though not, you’d suspect, for too much longer. Sit back, and wait for great happenings to unfold down LS11 way. This could well be the first week of a whole new era for Leeds, maybe even one of a distinctly golden hue.

Elland Road’s England Extravaganza Proves Premier League Needs Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

World-Cup-2018-England-costa-rica-Elland-Road-970941

Southgate’s England win at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road

England‘s last stopping-off point before their Russian quest for World Cup glory was at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road – and the occasion told us plenty, some of it even about our national team and its chances this summer.

Talking about England first, this was a competent and dominant performance against a slightly jet-lagged Costa Rica team who were still nobody’s mugs. England pretty much won as they liked though, with Marcus Rashford, looking much more effective with better players around him, making a persuasive case for inclusion in the opening game of England’s group, ahead, perhaps, of Raheem Sterling. Rashford’s spectacular 13th minute opener brought generous cheers from the Kop, despite the lad’s day job, with Danny Welbeck‘s close range header near the end greeted equally warmly by the South Stand. In between the two decisive strikes, England passed prettily, defended well enough to leave their keeper Jack Butland largely unemployed, and a lively attack gave the Costa Rican defence plenty to think about.

But the signature note of the evening was struck by the occasion’s real star – Elland Road itself. For once in a very long while, the muted, apathetic atmosphere of Wembley was replaced by a thrillingly raucous fervour to urge on the national team, courtesy of one of football’s genuine, old-style cauldrons of white-hot atmosphere. That’s done nowhere quite so well as it is in this part of Leeds; the crowd lifted the England players to a degree that was obvious to anybody who’s suffered through some of those dreary friendlies in North London. This was dutifully acknowledged by commentators and pundits alike; Clive Tyldesley for ITV noted that the attendance was around 36,000, “but sounds like twice as much”. Indeed. Old Trafford, it’s worth mentioning, can do a similar trick – only the other way around.

Lee Dixon in his punditry role was fired with enthusiasm afterwards. This is what you need, he exulted, thumbing over his shoulder at the arena behind him. Let’s take England on the road. It’s a good idea, one that’s been around for years now, but the commercial lure of Wembley has usually won the day. Perhaps there will now be a rethink. It’s no coincidence that this was one of the better England “friendly” performances; the team responded to the crowd, the occasion, the unique atmosphere. Above all, tonight showed beyond doubt that the Premier League – currently stuffed with pedestrian acts like Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Watford – positively needs the return of Leeds United. The stadium, the club and the fanatical support are all wasted on anything less than the elite group, and the so-called Premier League has been diluted too far and for too long by elements of mediocrity. The return of United cannot come too soon, for the sake of all parties concerned.

For Leeds United fans, it was a taste of what might be to come, the stadium packed out and cheering on some top class footballers who may even be destined for great things. How the fans of Yorkshire‘s top club would like to sample that atmosphere, and witness this style of performance, on a more regular basis. It’s a dream, something to hope for and aspire to. And, you never know – those dreams do occasionally come true.

Leeds Should Bring Robert Snodgrass Back Home, Agree? – by Rob Atkinson

Snoddy

Snoddy, come home

I’m sure this idea is out there, in light of what appears to be a sea-change of recruitment policy at Leeds United. It’s probably just that I haven’t seen it. But, surely, I can’t be alone in thinking that the time and circumstances are ripe for securing the return – even if only on loan initially – of former United talisman Robert Snodgrass.

It seems so obvious. West Ham don’t really want him. Villa definitely can’t afford him. And it would upset those Norwich and Hull upstarts, quite apart from adding significantly to the skill factor and firepower at Elland Road. It’s a proper no-brainer to me and, for the first time in years, it seems feasible – the kind of quality we should be looking to add.

I’m interested to know what readers of this blog think. Please feel free to comment as usual, giving your thoughts – but do also answer the poll below – a simple Yea or Nay.

Thanks and MOT.

 

Pontus Jansson Should Buckle Down at Leeds and Show Us Why We Used to Love Him – by Rob Atkinson

Pontus

Pontus as we knew and loved him

It’s been a love affair like so many others, waxing hot with passion and mutual desire in that early, devoted phase – then cooling off, with indifference where once was there was adoration. Harsh words are spoken, third party interest rears its opportunist head, and whatever the formerly enamoured couple might say only serves to emphasise the widening gap between them.

This is how things are now developing for those two erstwhile paramours, Pontus Jansson and the massed support of Leeds United. In the beginning, it looked like true love, with frequent, heartfelt declarations on both sides. Pontus said and did the right things, and the besotted Leeds crowd swooned accordingly. Pontus headed away every threat on our goal, and occasionally sallied forth upfield for attacking set pieces, nutting spectacular goals that roused the support to a fever pitch of ecstasy and adoration.

Surely, this was a love affair that would stand the test of time, with Jansson living up to the lyrics of his love ballad by demonstrating his willingness to head away footballs, opposing attackers, bricks, meteorites if need be. Pontus did it all, and communed with the support after the final whistle sounded and battle was done. Great was the love that cascaded down from the stands for our Swedish hero. Pontus was Leeds, and Leeds loved Pontus.

When the rot started to set in, it seemed scarcely believable – but, in reality, it was that age-old story of love and then loss being retold in the football idiom. Leeds fans didn’t want to believe their idol had feet of clay, and spent months in denial as Jansson’s form faded and the occasional lapses of fidelity became more frequent. Pontus started to show a tendency to bail out when the going got tough; only a few brave souls, at first, invited charges of heresy by pointing this out. The support en masse waited for signs that the beloved Pontus still loved them and would return to his brick-heading ways of those passionate early stages of mutual devotion.

But a few – a significant few – feared that the magic had gone, that the magic hat no longer fitted a swollen head, that Pontus had lost his desire and dedication. Time and again, when things were going against the team, Pontus sought the sanctuary of the changing rooms, nursing some apparent injury that would miraculously clear up when easier opponents were in the offing. It seemed as though our hero had a streak of yellow in what had seemed to be a warrior’s persona, and his adoring fans fretted at this evidence of fallibility in a man who, not so long before, had seemed to epitomise all that was good and heroic about Leeds United and its fanatical following.

Alas, the evidence against Pontus continued to pile up last season. Despite the occasional signs of defiance in defence, and the even more occasional evidence of lethal intent in attack, Pontus was, overall, the merest shadow of the Pontus we’d known and hailed as a defining hero the season before. Slowly, the truth was dawning on the Pontus fan club: here, just possibly, was yet another apparent idol who had flattered, only to deceive. We’ve seen enough of those before – but, with Pontus, it was supposed to be different.

Now, with his substandard contribution to Leeds United’s substandard season behind him, Jansson is away at the World Cup with his national team, and he’s making noises about his future that will not sound like sweet nothings to those who have worshipped him since those hearts and flowers early days. He wants to stay in England, we hear, but – despite the fact that he has a contract running until 2022, he’s not going to commit himself to seeing it out. He wants to aim for the Premier League, but if you read between the lines of his public utterances, he might rather achieve this through a transfer out of Leeds than soil his hands, feet and head by battling through another Championship muck and bullets campaign.

Maybe I’m doing Pontus a disservice, but perhaps I can be forgiven a slight bitterness. I loved Pontus too, as much as anyone, when he was doing it for Leeds and everybody was raving about this new juggernaut at Elland Road. And I’ve seen central defenders arrive on loan before, performing excellently and then, as soon as a permanent deal is signed, fading away to be the merest shadow of their former selves. It’s become depressingly regular – but I would have laughed at any suggestion of it being a route our Pontus might go down. And yet here we are, watching with horror as Jansson morphs before our eyes into just another Lubo Michalik. It’s just so sad to see a loved one end up this way.

Still, other relationships have hit rocky patches and still come through. It’s still possible for the Leeds support and their Pontus to rekindle some measure of the rapport that seemed to exist until comparatively recently. But it’s not for the injured party in these cases to make special efforts or resolutions. That’s for the one who strays, by word or deed – they’re the guilty element in the equation. It’s for them to renew their vows and attempt to rebuild bridges. Pontus needs to clear his mind, stop chelping about his club career until the World Cup is done with, and then settle down to win his admirers back by recalling the Jansson we used to know, possibly even – who knows? – with his partner of those heady early days, Kyle Bartley, once more by his side.

One more season of that partnership, together with improvement elsewhere in the squad, might enable Jansson to recapture his mojo, stop blaming others for his own failings and generally get back on the horse again and start heading away those bricks, to the left and to the right. If all that comes to pass, maybe Jansson will finally secure his passage to the Premier League. And it would taste all the sweeter, because he would have earned it. Along with, not incidentally, the renewed and restored adoration of his Elland Road fan club.

Pontus, you know it makes sense, and you know you owe us this – so make it happen. After all, every one of us wants the traditional happy ending.

EFL Will Schedule Dodgy Away Matches for Cold Tuesday Nights if Bielsa Takes Leeds Job – by Rob Atkinson

Bielsa – soft foreigner? Steve Evans thinks so

The Football League, having received informed assurances from omniscient football experts of the calibre of Steve Evans, now have a strategy for keeping Leeds United well away from promotion even in the event of them appointing as manager the man Guardiola and Pochettino regard as “the best coach in the world”.

According to Evans, the fatal flaw of legendary football coach Marcelo Bielsa is that he “won’t fancy it on a cold Tuesday night at Millwall/Rotherham/insert football shithole of choice”. This priceless nugget of information will therefore inform the League’s approach to arranging United’s fixtures in the coming campaign.

The upshot of this is that Leeds will face only fierce smaller clubs with massive anti-LUFC chips on their shoulders. All games will be played away from Elland Road, with no hot water being available, exclusively on chilly midweek evenings between late October and early March. This will involve significant planning difficulties, but the strategy is described by an EFL spokesman as well worth the trouble, with “the end justifying the means”.

The League has revealed that it will remain in consultation with Mr Evans on an ongoing basis, drawing on his knowledge of pansy foreigners to assist on the potential difficulties presented by United’s imminent appointment of a decent coach. It is understood Evans has also commented that “these latin types don’t like it up ’em”, so the administrators of the game are reviewing the possibility of cold steel bayonets being provided for home dugouts when Leeds visit.

No further statement will be issued until the Leeds vacancy is filled, though it is understood that the situation will be reviewed urgently in the event of United bucking the bookies’ odds by appointing Mr. Mick McCarthy, who has made a career out of winning at hostile football shitholes on cold Tuesday nights.

More on this developing story as we get it.

Leeds United MUST Stop Their Ruinous Bargain Basement False Economy – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fans

Unrivalled support – the part of football where Leeds still rule

In the wake of Paul Heckingbottom‘s long, drawn-out, yet curiously unceremonious dismissal from his job at Leeds United, it’s important now to face up to certain unpalatable truths. The next United manager will be the club’s TENTH since 2014, giving our beloved club the unenviable title of “Highest Coaching Turnover” in that spell. That is a shameful record, a record of poor judgement and consistent failure under the auspices of successive owners. Leeds United are bang to rights on being the authors of their own misfortunes.

As a footnote to this latest sacking, somewhere amid the flurry of departures as the entire coaching staff was shown the revolving door, one of the men to leave, his contract not being renewed, was “Set Piece Coach” Gianni Vio, appointed with fanfares towards the end of the unfortunate Thomas Christiansen‘s abbreviated reign. Vio was somebody’s bright idea, yet another that didn’t pay off. It’s Leeds United who have ended up paying, over and over again, the price of rank bad decision-making, as contract after contract has had to be settled. You can see the financial folly of this, quite apart from the public humiliation of our club, when you consider that invariably it’s not just one single sacking, but a batch of them. So you multiply the cost of the settlements to be paid as contracts are more or less honoured. Then you start the costly process again – rinse and repeat.

The thing is, it’s US, the hapless, helpless supporters who are really getting rinsed. We have to suffer the slings and arrows of mickey-taking mates who follow less accident-prone clubs. In one dank corner of the national press, a certain bogroll of a “newspaper” which shall remain nameless has even had the audacity to suggest that Leeds fans must take part of the blame. With the possible exception of the dimmer end of the Twitter following, that’s arrant nonsense. Leeds fans as a vast congregation can do nothing but stand back helplessly, watching one slow-motion car-crash after another. It really isn’t good for the morale of the troops.

At some point, either now or, if not, then in the very near future as I earnestly hope, the powers that be at Elland Road must learn from the catalogue of mistakes that they have made and then repeated ad nauseam. False economy, shopping for bargains instead of concentrating on the quality end of the market, has cost United millions. They’ve set out to achieve success on the cheap, whether they’re buying players or hiring coaches, and ended up being massively expensive serial failures. That doesn’t make for good reading or writing, and the really nasty part is that the people responsible don’t take or even acknowledge the blame that is undoubtedly theirs. That’s the real sickener. And of course, they can point to that moron-market rag which is cheerfully blaming us, the real beating heart of the club.

This cycle of making do, paying up, lamenting and then doing it all again must stop. It’s time that Leeds United got serious about the business of making a success in football. Happily, there are a few behind the scenes signs that preparations are underway to make just such a quantum leap in ambition and aspiration. Capital injections, and the spreading of the net internationally to land a new manager, offer at least some cause for cautious optimism. Likewise, the names mooted as transfer targets have an unfamiliar sheen of stardust about them. It well be that Leeds United are on the point of growing up and getting serious about Life.

I certainly hope so, because surely the fans of this still great club cannot take much more of being made to look fools by association. Last season was an example of passionate support, home and away, with Elland Road packed out and the travelling army invading most of the country in their usual fanatical hordes. It was a level and intensity of support that the club did precisely nothing to merit; you have to question, though, whether another year of complacent apathy on the part of Leeds United will not see a dropping-off of support. It’s almost heresy to suggest this, but even football fans of the loyalest strip have their limit.

Perhaps Leeds will now go for a name and a reputation big enough to demand that enough time and money is provided for them to work their own brand of magic. Whether that will be Marcelo Bielsa, Claudio Ranieri, or some other high profile appointment, it is now vital that Leeds should depart from the ruinous path of false economy they’ve been travelling for so long. We must instead speculate to accumulate, not dwelling on the old nightmare of “living the dream”, but instead doing what is necessary to compete in a savagely dog-eat-dog league, to emerge, finally, into the daylight of the top flight – where this club belongs.

Carpe diem, Leeds. Seize the day, as you have yet another chance to do. Get it right, before you run out of chances. It’s time to march on together to success, instead of trudging towards the next dispiriting failure. The future starts here – and, this time, we must succeed.

Only a Madman Would Want the Leeds Job. Marcelo Bielsa Might be That Man – by Rob Atkinson

Loco Bielsa – new Leeds coach?

The rumours that Leeds United are set to dispense with the services of coach Paul Heckingbottom simply refuse to go away. Indeed, they get stronger with every passing hour, and crazier too. The latest embellishment to the “Heckingbottom to get the boot at Leeds” whisper is an unlikely-sounding “and will rejoin Barnsley“. I wonder if the Tykes fans would be up for that?

Leeds fans, meanwhile, are lapping up the stories linking United with any number of replacements – even before little details like creating a vacancy have been attended to. That vacancy may well be posted quite soon though; the initial trickle of Hecky Out rumours has turned into a torrent that seems set to sweep away the former Barnsley man and lifelong Leeds hater. Even now he is on holiday, a status he mentioned in the context of being sacked, when he first occupied the Elland Road hot seat. His position now is being said by many Leeds fans, having seen this riptide of rumour swell to tsunami proportions, to be well nigh untenable.

So, if Hecky is to be gone, where does that leave Leeds United? Surely, after all the comings and goings under Cellino, and with Radrizzani already on the verge of wielding the axe a second time, only a complete nutter would consider the Leeds job. Well, the Whites may just, if the latest story is to be believed, have found that nutter in the volatile shape of the madcap Argentine, Marcelo Bielsa.

Who? Actually, if you’ve had anything to do with the LUFC hashtag these past few hours, you won’t need to ask who. For those who have not seen the Twitterstorm, though, all you need to know about Bielsa is here, together with a few bright-spark edits from the usual suspects. Suffice to say that he’s a brilliant coach who has his teams play a highly watchable brand of attacking football – and also that he is, reputedly, as mad as a box of frogs. If that’s not the identikit Leeds manager after the own heart of every United fan out there, then I don’t know who is.

Bielsa is nearly 63, so even though he might be a little cuckoo, he’s no spring chicken. But any managerial appointment is a risk for a club like Leeds and, having considered at some time or other most of the rational possibilities, maybe it’s time to try the other sort. From that point of view, the man they call Loco Bielsa would seem to be the obvious choice.

If this story does turn out to be true, then it’s safe to say that it’ll be a very interesting “however long it lasts” down at Elland Road. Twitter seems excited, and I must confess I am too. So if Hecky’s race really is run – and, let’s face it, his credibility as Leeds boss has been shot full of holes with all this talk and yet not a word from the club – then we’ll need a new man in sharpish.

And who better, in that case, than a controversial, maverick, hothead madman such as Bielsa? For an insane club like Leeds, he ticks more of the right boxes than just about anyone else you could imagine. It would be a “major coup” for the Whites, but much would of course depend on Heckingbottom’s fate, firstly – and then on whether or not the Argentine would want to work in the United management structure as it stands. But it’d be a refreshing change, a man of real stature and a genuine, one-off individual into the bargain. Since demotion from the Premier League 14 years ago, Leeds have tried just about everything to recapture the good times. It might just be that it’ll take a real nutter in the Bielsa mould to get this club back on track.