Tag Archives: Spain

With Bielsa Joining Leeds, Legendary Striker Fernando Torres Cannot be Ruled Out – by Rob Atkinson

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Fernando Torres – on his way back to Elland Road?

SkyBet have suspended betting now on the question of the next Leeds United manager – the last price available on Marcelo Bielsa was, reportedly, a not altogether generous 20-1 on. If the bookies expect you to invest £20 to gain a quid, then you can bet they’re fairly certain of the eventual outcome – and now, even that price is off the table. With other sources reporting that Bielsa has been granted a work permit, it seems nailed-on that “El Loco” will be installed in the Elland Road hotseat in the very near future.

To say that this represents a change in United’s recruitment policy is hopelessly inadequate. It’s like saying that Leicester City‘s 2015 title triumph was mildly surprising, or that Harry Kewell is perhaps lacking slightly in the nobler scruples. Bielsa to Leeds is a seismic event, something that shows the club are getting seriously serious in their approach to achieving promotion to the Promised Land. As the wise Yorkshireman observed when he sampled his neighbour’s parsnip wine, “Owt could ‘appen ‘ere”.

That being the case, other stories in circulation, yarns that would normally be dismissed as too outlandish and fanciful even for Coronation Street, must now be treated a little more respectfully. In layman’s terms: if Bielsa can agree to take over at Leeds, and especially if he’s managed to get the club to grant him a big say in all footballing matters including transfers, then pretty much anything can happen now. We’re entering an alternate reality here, one for which the last decade and a half has left us totally unprepared. It is indeed a whole new ball game.

So, when rumour has it that Leeds United, at Senor Bielsa’s behest, are showing an interest in former Liverpool and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, now 34 but eminently capable still of tearing the Championship division a new one, then my advice would have to be: Titter ye not. Put aside your initial impulse to scoff, carp and otherwise demonstrate your scorn. A new reality is upon us, and who can say with any certainty what’s possible or probable under these radically different circumstances? Not I, and, I’d respectfully suggest, not you either.

Even now, though, with an improbability field so vast drifting around Elland Road, that you’d be forgiven for demanding a refund on your Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, some possibilities must be counted as less likely than others. Bielsa? Almost certainly. Abel Hernandez? Where else is the lad going to go? Kyle Bartley? Agent Ayling is on the case. But Torres – a legend in the truest football sense of the world – that has to be a bit more of a stretch. SkyBet, supremely confident about Bielsa, regard Torres to Leeds rather more circumspectly at 33-1. They appear to see Japan as his likely destination, with Premier League minnows Newcastle also much more highly fancied than Yorkshire’s Number One, at 12-1.

Then again, it’s at Leeds United where the nigh-on impossible stuff appears to be happening right now. It should be remembered that Torres would be the third ex-Liverpool striker to join Leeds in the last couple of decades, following on from Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler. Could we really see Fernando Torres leading the line for the Whites at Millwall and Rotherham next season? The way things are around LS11 at the moment, you’d better think twice about betting against it.

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Too Many Leeds United “Fans” Forget That Saiz Matters – by Rob Atkinson

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Saiz leaves early after zero dribbles and one spit

Characteristically, Leeds United has contrived to make a drama out of a crisis, compounding the humiliation of an FA Cup Third Round exit at minnows Newport by adding the embarrassment of an on-pitch spitting scandal, as well as the six-match loss of star player Samu Sáiz. To make matters even worse, the intellectually-challenged end of the Whites’ support then took to Twitter with the express intention, so it seemed, of unleashing their long-repressed bigotry and incipient racism by attacking Sáiz in the worst kind of Daily Mail-reading Colonel Blimp-inspired terms. It made for very unedifying reading, even for Twitter after one of Leeds’ frequent bad days at the office.

There’s no getting around the fact that spitting at a sporting opponent is a disgusting matter, deserving of punishment and not to be tolerated – or even mitigated, if it comes to that. It initially seemed an odd affair to me, with some confusion and delay surrounding the red card in the immediate aftermath of Newport’s late winner. But Sáiz appears now to have admitted, acknowledged and apologised for his transgression, so that’s that. He’s bang to rights and indefensible, he’ll have to do his time, repent at leisure and make sure he sticks to his vow that this will never happen again.

Incidentally, and particularly for those who think I’m an uncritical Sáiz apologist, his conduct has worried me before, and I’ve gone into print hoping he’d see the error of his ways. This was over an early season tendency to wave imaginary cards when fouled, something that risked attracting the ref’s attention negatively, and a habit I’ve always hated. So I don’t see Samu as any sort of paragon of virtue; even so, some of the stick and abuse he’s received from alleged Leeds fans since the Case of the Newport Spit has been sickening in the extreme – decorum prohibits the reproduction of many of the remarks here. Suffice to say that there’s been a nasty, racist overtone in the murkier regions of the Leeds Twitter hashtag, many of the boneheads who like to comment there seeming to have forgotten what the little Spanish wizard has contributed to our faltering season so far.

It’s not big and it’s not clever, but then again, that just about sums up some of our Twitter knuckle-draggers. Sadly, the temptation to jump aboard a Brexiteer anti-“foreign signing” bandwagon appears to have been just too much to resist for many of these hard-of-thinking opportunists, with some of them engaged for hours on end in trying to outdo their IQ-minus cronies in a competition to see who could be the most offensively tasteless in their treatment of United’s best player this season.

The subtext emerging was of a groundswell of opposition, again mainly at the thicker end of United’s online adherents, to the idea of signing non-British players in the first place. Some Leeds fans, apparently, will not be happy until United’s first team consists of blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan stereotypes, goose-stepping their way towards the lower leagues with the Sieg Heils echoing from the stands – a harking back to the early and mid-eighties. But those days are gone; the continental and global lads are here to stay, they will continue to provide the best hopes of success – and the Twitter and other social media morons are welcome to crawl back under the stones from which they should never, in these more enlightened times, emerge.

It’s to be hoped that this will be a storm in a teacup, that United will safely negotiate the enforced and unfortunate absence of Sáiz – and that, when he returns, he will be given the warm welcome that his value to the team deserves. And that will probably be the case, because Leeds will surely move to cover for the lad’s loss, while the bulk of the United support are a silent yet match-day raucous majority, who will always be behind the men in the shirts, whether they hail from Selby or Spain.

Samu’s been a silly lad, but many, many young footballers are guilty of that; he’s not the first, he’ll not be the last, and it’s got absolutely bugger-all to do with his nationality. So, enough of all that nonsense. What we need now is to get stuck in as a United Leeds for the rest of the season, that’s boardroom, management, players and fans – and put this sorry incident behind us. The rest of the transfer window promises to be interesting or maybe even exciting, and meanwhile there’s a formidable array of opposition waiting to tackle a Samu-less Leeds. Let’s stick together, ignore the ten-a-penny haters – and show them all what we’re really capable of.

San Siro Dom the Perfect LUFC Ambassador

Memory Match No. 9: AC Milan 1, Leeds United 1   8.11.2000

Dom Matteo - Scored a Flippin' Great Goal - In The San Siro....

Dom Matteo – Scored a Flippin’ Great Goal – In The San Siro….

This week’s appointment of United legend Dom Matteo as a club ambassador inevitably brings back fond memories of a November night in Milan in the year 2000 when the defender wrote himself indelibly into Leeds folklore with one emphatic near-post finish.

However much pedants may argue about when the third millennium started – January 1, 2000, or a year later – this season 2000-01 was the first proper 21st Century season, and it was also my annus mirabilis European campaign; having never seen my beloved Leeds play abroad up to this point, I witnessed them competing at the highest level in three true cathedrals of continental football.  Incidentally, I’ve always favoured the Jan 1, 2000 date as the start of the millennium – that’s when the most spectacular fireworks kicked off, that’s when the magical sight of four numerals clicking over was seen – and most importantly that’s when Leeds United were heading the Premiership table, marking what will probably be football’s only thousand year threshold by sitting proudly at the top of the game – a position that the media had been frantically speculating might have been held by the lesser United from the wrong side of the Pennines.

More about other parts of this memorable season elsewhere, but my European experience started in a “sports bar” on Westgate in Wakefield, watching nervously on a big screen as Leeds negotiated the second leg of a tricky Champions League qualifying tie against 1860 Munich.  We were ahead 2-1 from the first leg in Leeds, and such a narrow lead was never that secure.  In the end though, Alan Smith scored the only goal in Munich to close out the tie 3-1 on aggregate.  The subsequent draw saw United pitted against giants Barcelona and Milan as well as Turkish side Besiktas in an incredibly tough first qualifying group.  I was on holiday with my wife and young daughter on a campsite in the South of France when the first game was played, in Spain.  Callously abandoning my ladies to their fate, I impulsively jumped on a train from St Raphael to Barcelona, installed myself in a hotel with a swimming pool on the roof, bought a ticket from a tout, and watched from the midst of the fanatical home support – the Boixos Nois (Crazy Boys) – as Leeds, fielding a side decimated by injuries, slid to a 4-0 defeat.

If you’d told me then that we were destined for the last four, I’d have laughed long and bitterly, but I did enjoy every moment of my first European away-day in the palatial surroundings of the Camp Nou.  I still have two souvenirs – a plastic seat cushion and a big St Georges flag with LUFC Oxford Whites printed on it, which a group of Barca fans had captured and were waving in triumph at the end.  Stupidly, I approached them, feeling that a 0-4 defeat was humiliation enough, and demanded it back (quite politely).  I was getting snarls and throat-slitting gestures, and I remember mumbling something along the lines of “Barcelona no es Galatasaray”, which they seemed to take to heart.  Some of the lads’ girlfriends were regarding me pityingly, obviously wondering if I was drunk, or mad, or both and they urged their men to show restraint.  Luckily for me, they seemed to listen – they handed the flag over, anyway – but if they’d known we were destined to eliminate them from the competition, I doubt they’d have been so conciliatory.

The group then ebbed and flowed – but most results after that first defeat went our way.  We beat Milan at home, came so, so close to beating Barca at Elland Road, denied only at the very death after a world-class display from our rookie ‘keeper Paul Robinson, and we thrashed Besiktas 6-0.  By the last round of group games, the equation was simple – if we could avoid defeat at the San Siro, we would be through to the next stage, whatever Barcelona did to Besiktas.

And so I found myself on an early-morning flight from Leeds Bradford Airport to Milan Malpensa, along with thousands of other Leeds fans intoxicated at the prospect of a famous evening in a truly magnificent stadium.  We would arrive in Milan with plenty of time to look around the place before meeting up with coaches to the stadium, and it proved an eventful day.  There had been violence the previous night, a Leeds fan had been attacked and wounded in an incident which evoked horrific memories of the awful scenes in Istanbul just a few months before.  The city of Milan had been declared “dry” for the day, so it was extremely difficult to find a bar which would serve an obvious Leeds fan.  I was contended enough though, just wandering around the amazing Cathedral Square where I met legend and Leeds fan Ralph Ineson, of “Harry Potter” movie fame, and also memorably “Finchy” in the BBC’s “The Office”.  He was happy to have a chat and a photo, and then I ambled off to have a peek at the world famous La Scala Opera House, where my wife’s great-grandfather had been a violinist, so that was my passing nod to family history.  Finally, with the afternoon stretching before me, I bumped into an old mate from home – we both exclaimed stupidly “What are you doing here?” – and we managed to find a bar that was open, and spent a couple of hours relaxing and happily anticipating the match ahead.  The bar owner was friendly – so much so that he felt able to pop out on some errand, leaving us in charge.  The fearsome reputation of some Leeds fans had evidently failed to penetrate this far into the bar culture of Milano.

The match itself is so famous that I barely need to recount the action kick by kick.  The Leeds fans at one end of the stadium were in fully, throaty voice for most of the proceedings, drawing incredulous glances from the attendant Carabinieri who were in full-on riot gear but friendly enough, muttering to each other about lunatic English tifosi (hooligans.)  The first half was a decent contest – Milan were through already, but not disposed to give Leeds an easy ride – especially after paranoid noises emanating from Barcelona, who – nervous about their own prospects – had done their best to warn Milan off taking it easy against Leeds.  So Milan pressed in front of a crowd of 52289, and their winger Serginho was causing Gary Kelly plenty of problems.  In the 26th minute, a slightly soft penalty was awarded to Milan at our end of the stadium, and 6000 Leeds fans held their collective breath as Andriy Shevchenko took careful aim only to rap Robinson’s right-hand post, the ball bouncing away to safety as the masses behind our goal celebrated as if we’d actually scored.  And then, miraculously, as the first half ebbed away, we did score.  A Lee Bowyer corner from the right found Matteo rising majestically at the near post to meet the ball with a punchy header which soared high into the net.  Cue utter pandemonium at the Leeds end as all the tension, passion and belief exploded in one almighty roar which almost lifted the hi-tec roof off the famous stadium.

The party went on throughout half-time and into the second half, drawing more bemused glances from the Italian police; there was only a brief hiatus in the 67th minute when the superb Serginho deservedly equalised, but then it was mounting fan fever again all the way to the final whistle and beyond as Leeds held out to qualify for an equally difficult second phase of the competition.  The scenes after the game are at least as famous as the events of the ninety minutes; the team coming back out onto the pitch in response to the demands of the faithful who were held back in the interests of crowd safety.  What followed was described by respected football commentators (as well as Alan Green) as the best example of team/fan bonding they’d ever seen.  Fans and players – even a certain Chairman – swapped chants and songs in a spontaneous celebration of a joyous night.  Even the uncertain musical efforts of Lee Bowyer were greeted by a blast of friendly derision.  It was a unique experience, and the Latin cops were clearly by now utterly convinced that these English people were absolutely barking mad.  As football nights go, you’d have to travel a long way to find one more worthy of memory – only a trophy could have improved it, but the spectacle of the game and its aftermath is one I have seen imitated but never repeated.

Dom Matteo was simply a likeable and committed defender before that night, clearly delighted to be Leeds; the kind of player the Kop takes to its heart.  But after that night, he was elevated to demigod status, a true Leeds legend with his own song and a place on a pedestal in the United Hall of Fame.  The choice of Dom as a club ambassador seems obvious but is actually inspired, especially in light of the fact that Ken Bates’ malign shadow will remain for up to three years yet.  Just as Ken sends out all the wrong messages, so Dom – beloved ex-player and respected press commentator, dispensing common sense when all about him has been hysteria, sends out only the most positive of vibes.  He is the sort of person we need to see closely associated with the club, and his involvement in any capacity is a move to be applauded.  Just get Lucas “The Chief” Radebe back on board now, and we’ll be cooking with gas.

Thanks, Dom.  Thanks for being a voice of sanity in the press, thanks for coming back to reassert your love of the club.  And thanks most of all for that memorable night in Milan.

Next:  Memory Match No. 10: Leeds United 2, Leicester City 1.  The last home game of the 1989-90 Promotion season, and things were on a knife edge.  Relive that tense and unforgettable afternoon at Elland Road, as a future United hero came close to derailing our return to the big time – and our archetypal diminutive red-haired midfield powerhouse, in the best traditions of King Billy Bremner, stepped up to the plate to provide the decisive moment, cementing his own status as a Leeds Legend.