Tag Archives: Sunderland AFC

Garry Who? Chris Who?? TC’s Divine New Leeds Chopped the Forest Down – by Rob Atkinson

Divine duo

Christiansen and Radrizzani: Divine Duo

As we head into the season’s first international break, with its timely chance to pause and reflect, we can look back upon a first segment of Leeds United‘s campaign that can best be described as the stuff of which dreams are made. The Elland Road exits of Garry Monk and Chris Wood had the press pack, or at any rate that 99% of it hostile to the Whites, drooling with anticipation of United’s fall from grace. Gleefully, they speculated upon the damage that will be done by the loss of thirty-goal Wood; happily, they salivated at the jumping overboard of Garry Monk – who would actually appear to have swapped a cruise liner for a rusty tug. The reality of Leeds’ refreshing approach so far has confounded these ill-wishing souls, and they’re frankly welcome to their own purgatory. Leeds fans, by contrast, are higher than kites on Cloud Nine.

Today’s performance at Nottingham Forest surpassed even last Saturday’s demolition of Sunderland. Both were clinical displays away from home at perceived football fortresses. Both saw United make light of the loss of their erstwhile big number nine; both ended up as solid victories via a memorable goal in each half. But the high-press at Forest was even more effective than United’s stifling of the Mackems seven days ago, with the fluency of midfield passing and the incisiveness of the multi-pronged and revolving attack both even more impressive than at the Stadium of Light. It’s fair to say that today’s win at the City Ground – normally absent from United’s happy hunting ground roster – was as complete and satisfying as any away performance over recent seasons.

Count the blessings: another clean sheet, that’s four on the trot in the league; a first goal from the dazzling Gianni Alioski (and what a goal it was); the continuing development of Kemar Roofe in a central striking role, his display embellished by a neat headed finish – and last, but by no means least, a late cameo of rich promise from new signing Jay-Roy Grot. On the evidence of his short time on the pitch, this massive unit of a young striker will have much to offer over the season ahead. He showed a neat turn, the potential to dominate in the air, pace to burn – and an endearing tendency to bully opposing defenders that belies his tender years. Grot has been described admiringly by the Leeds Twitteratti as a monster, a beast, an animal. In the context of the pantheon of Elland Road heroes, these are terms of high praise indeed.

So, for the second week running, United have breezily popped the bubble of a rival’s promising start to the season. We remain unbeaten, handily placed in the league, and with the enticing prospect of further possible recruitment during the last few days of the transfer window. To say there is currently a feel-good factor around LS11 is hopelessly inadequate; a masterpiece of understatement. It really is much better than that so far – but it’s important as a serious blogger for me not to get too carried away; there’s a long way to go, after all.

So I’ll confine myself to this brief summing up of the current situation at Leeds United, as follows: Andrea Radrizzani is God; Thomas Christiansen sits divinely at his right-hand side as the New Messiah (the clue’s in his name, brethren); the assembled first team squad are the Heavenly Host, the glorious anointed representatives at pitch level of this omnipotent duo – and we, the fans, are the newly-inspired believers, a teeming multitude of the faithful, looking forward with the serene confidence of ordained destiny to our unstoppable march to the Promised Land.

There. In all modesty and discretion, I think that’s fair comment.

 

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Divide and Rule: Cellino Deliberately Pits Leeds Fans Against Sam Byram   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - it's my way or the highway...

Cellino – it’s my way or the highway…

So, Massimo Cellino is all over the media, bemoaning a player’s ungrateful refusal of a new contract. We’ve heard it all before, haven’t we – though, thanks to a certain Adam Pearson, not so much lately. But now, with Pearson gone, the shackles seem to be off il Duce – and he’s giving vent to a familiar refrain as yet another quality wearer of the white shirt is eased (not-so-gently) through the Elland Road exit door.

It seems certain now that Sam Byram – coveted by clubs of far higher current status than our own beloved Leeds – will be taking himself off to one of those clubs before too many more moons have waxed and waned. On the wane beyond dispute has been Sam’s form this season. A footballer’s effectiveness is a fine-tuned thing, as highly-strung as a skittish thoroughbred, and something has certainly affected Byram this term. Whatever that might be – interest from the top flight, a benevolent offer from Cellino of a pay cut for a new contract, or perhaps a combination of the two – the situation will hardly be smoothed over by the owner’s unfortunate habit of tossing controversial comments, like live hand grenades, broadcast into the media scrum.

The difficulty for Leeds United is that, between Cellino’s ego and Byram’s youthful obduracy, the scope for further negotiation now seems narrow to non-existent. This being the case, we appear certain to see what will ultimately be a multi-million pound talent leaving United for what will amount to a song. There’s pride and principles on both sides, no doubt – but the economics of that outcome are just pure madness from an Elland Road point of view. 

Leeds are clearly preparing for a Sam-less future. At one point, the received wisdom was that a new winger or two would see Byram move back to a right-flank defensive role in which he previously excelled, all but snuffing out the potent threat of Gareth Bale one famous FA Cup afternoon at Elland Road, as Spurs were sent packing. But this past few days, it’s become more difficult to see a first team berth for a jaded Sam, with three quality wide attackers on the staff and in-favour full-back Gaetano Berardi signed up for another two years. The writing is clearly on the wall – but that bitter pill might be sweetened by some mega-club owner’s signature on a nice, fat cheque. Alas, it seems unlikely to happen thus – and the finger of blame for that really must point directly at Massimo Cellino.

It’s been a welcome change, until quite recently, to hear the golden sound of silence coming from the direction of erstwhile Motormouth Massimo. There’s been less angst and less anxiety with that sensible Mr. Pearson doing the talking. But, now that he’s run, or been pushed, off to the Far East and Hull FC’s inscrutable problems, it’s as if someone’s de-muzzled Massimo, and the familiar fusillade of soundbites has resumed, to no true Leeds fan’s delight or delectation. This past few days, we’ve heard the Italian’s views on Byram, Matt Child, Uwe Rösler and God knows what-all. It’s been the opposite situation to the relief you feel when you stop banging your head against the wall. Regrettably, it appears that the head-banging has resumed at Leeds – and we’re now shorn of that calming, restraining influence that made for a placid summer and early season. If Rösler’s ample forehead has acquired a few new worry lines, is it really any wonder?

Of course, it’s Cellino’s club and he’s a right to his say. But is it really too much to ask that such a gift for self-expression might be tempered by a bit of judgement and consideration here and there? Mouthing off in the media about Byram’s contract-renewal negotiations is hardly constructive. At best, it’s a breach of confidence. At worst, it’s a blatant attempt to set the club’s more gullible fans against one young man, who has a finite career to think of – and who might quite reasonably be casting a jaundiced eye on offers that may or may not amount to a pay cut. And this could so easily destabilise the whole club (after all, what player likes to see his team-mate’s contract linen being washed in public?) – just because of one man’s ego and the current lack of any third party restraint. 

This blog is on record as saying that Sam Byram is dispensable – albeit with regret – but only if the price is right and if that money is reinvested in the squad. It seems likely that the squad will continue to be improved, but that such improvement will probably not be funded by a healthy return on the talents of an outgoing Sam Byram. And that’s not just a great pity – it’s undeniable evidence of mismanagement – ego before economics – at the very top of the club.

The best outcome now would appear to be persuading young Sam that joining Sunderland in January would be a good move, in the hope of landing winger Will Buckley on a permanent – together with maybe Liam Bridcutt, who could definitely do an “older head” defensive midfield job – with a few million pounds and a healthy sell-on clause into the bargain. At least, that way, honour might just be satisfied. The tricky bit would be getting Byram to clamber aboard a visibly sinking ship, and hoping that the Mackems conveniently forget they could have the lad for relatively little next summer – if they avoid the drop.

It’s all a bit of a mess, quite frankly, and unhappily reminiscent of previous periods when Cellino has rampaged around Elland Road, mouthing off at (and about) all and sundry, with nobody to say him nay. For the good of Leeds United, Uwe Rösler – and all of us – it’s fervently to be hoped that those difficult days have not returned for good. 

Leeds United “Reach Agreement” With Sunderland for Winger Buckley   –   by Rob Atkinson

  
Sources close to both clubs are indicating that Leeds United and Sunderland have agreed a deal for the transfer of former Brighton winger Will Buckley to Elland Road. If true, the signing would represent success for United Head Coach Uwe Rosler, who has made no secret of the fact that he has considered his squad short of vital width. 

The talk is that this transfer is at an advanced stage, with the deal being agreed between the clubs, leaving it down to United to sort out personal terms with Buckley. 

There may well be an update on this story in the next couple of days and possibly as early as tomorrow. 

Sam Byram Presented With Bewildering Choice of Relegation Battles – by Rob Atkinson

Byram - spoilt for choice?

Byram – spoilt for choice?

For a young man still learning his trade after graduating from one of football’s finest academy setups at Leeds United, hot prospect Sam Byram now looks to have a tempting choice in front of him; he could be fighting relegation with either Sunderland or West Ham United this coming season.

Of course it might also be that Byram will prefer to continue his development at Elland Road, where great changes are afoot with a new head coach promising fast, aggressive, attacking football. This is surely just the kind of menu to have a pacy young wing-back, effective all the way up and down the right flank, licking his lips and champing at the bit – if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors. But the lure of the Premier League has seen United shorn of many a promising young talent before; our Sam would be in illustrious company if he decided his future would be best spent elsewhere.

This blog’s opinion, for what it is worth, is that any deal for Byram should be sanctioned only if the benefits to the club are absolutely irresistible. From that point of view, the rumours suggesting that Sunderland might be prepared to offer their richly-talented forward Connor Wickham and a cash adjustment not unadjacent to £6 million would have any discerning Leeds fan urging the club to snatch the Mackems’ hands off. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has given its opinion on a couple of previous occasions that a nominal right-back (albeit with attacking ability) as sumptuously talented as Byram is a distinct luxury in the Championship. A player like Wickham and a cool six mill besides would provide a wealth of options in terms of building a team that could challenge at the top end of this league. If Sunderland are that keen to capture Byram, then it’d be extremely tempting to roll out the welcome carpet when they come a-calling – and make sure they get the worse of any bargain. This is something that Massimo Cellino notably has form for, with last season’s brutal mugging of Fulham over Ross McCormack being the obvious example of seeing coming a club with more cash than sense.

From Byram’s point of view, though, it’s hard to accept that he couldn’t do better than clubs likely to be scrapping away at the foot of the Premier League. Names of much greater pedigree than Sunderland or the Hammers have also been whispered as possible destinations – Liverpool, maybe, or even Manchester City. Again, Cellino would be expected to drive a hard bargain, if Byram were to be winkled out of our clutches – and at least we’d have the admittedly dubious satisfaction of seeing yet another Leeds old boy strutting his stuff at the top end of the top league.

It’s always difficult, contemplating the loss of a home-grown star – thankfully, there is no sign of the supply drying up, and this is likely to have to provide one of our club’s main income streams until that glorious time rolls around when we, too, dine at the top table in the swanky restaurant that is the Premier League. Things will be different then – or so we must hope. Leeds would be looking to storm the top flight for the third successive time, following promotion in the early sixties and late eighties and the subsequent swaggering domination of the game enjoyed by those two great sides.

Whether it’s feasible to expect a hat-trick of such achievements must be open to the gravest doubt, given the radically different landscape of football now as opposed to then. But it’s in the nature of Leeds to gatecrash cosy, elitist parties and make their presence felt. Those previous two promotion outfits have surely written that into the club’s DNA – and now, as then, we have the same promising knack of producing our own, sparkling talent.

Perhaps Sam Byram will be leaving this summer – or perhaps he will pen a new deal and stay. Either way, whatever happens has to be for the good of the club, and in the longer term at that – no short-sighted squinting at the immediate future should get in the way of a focus on lofty ambitions beyond the next season or two. This blog hopes that the lad will stay, but is philosophically accepting of the possibility that he might well be seduced away.

And, whatever his destination, surely Leeds fans will wish him all the best – especially if any deal done helps United lay the foundation for a brighter future. That, much more than the future of any individual player, is what matters above all to anyone with the interests of Leeds United at heart. 

Sunderland v Newcastle Rivalry Not in Same League as Leeds Against Man U – by Rob Atkinson

Hate Man Utd - We Only Hate Man Utd

Hate Man Utd – We Only Hate Man Utd

Football rivalry – the antipathy between fans of rival clubs with a keen edge of hatred in extreme cases – has been going on for as long as two teams of eleven players have gathered together to dispute possession of an inflated bladder over a green sward. And I will proudly say here and now: Leeds United is an extreme case. We are top four material when it comes to despising our foes. But we like to think we’re quite picky about it. None of this “regional rivalry” nonsense for us.

Let’s face it, hating another team and its supporters for mere reasons of geographical proximity is pretty silly. I can understand it to a certain extent where two clubs share a very small area, like a town or adjacent districts of a city. There’s a territorial thing going on there that recalls the days when a team’s support was derived largely from its immediate locality, though that’s not really the case any more now with the mega clubs who have fans all over the world. After all, why would a Man U glory-hunter in Singapore or Seattle really care if Man City are based only a few miles away from “his” club? He’s more bothered as to whether or not his favourites can buy more trophies than anyone else, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, anyone.

At Leeds, hatred tends to be reserved for those who have earned it, and who are – by independently verifiable standards – intrinsically despicable. Man U pass both tests with flying colours, and it’s certainly woven into my DNA to detest them. Call me a blinkered bigot (guilty, m’Lud) but I can never really understand why Sunderland and Newcastle, who meet in derby-day combat this afternoon, share such mutual loathing when quite frankly both would be better off directing their energies towards hating someone who deserves it.

Many at Leeds have the time and energy to revile other clubs, Chelsea prominent among them. The Ken Bates era at Leeds was an uncomfortable time for these types in particular – they hated Bates for his Chelsea connections (I hate him too, but mainly for his own not-so-sweet self.) Bates never seemed keen on Leeds either, not since – during his reign at Stamford Bridge – a group of freelance demolition contractors from Yorkshire travelled down to SW6 and saw off his scoreboard. But for me, Chelsea (and Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool and the rest) are only relevant insofar as they have teams that can beat Man U for much of the time, and as long as they do that, they’re just fine and dandy as far as I’m concerned.

In Yorkshire the situation may best be summed-up as follows. All other Yorkshire clubs hate Leeds United, and Leeds United regard all other Yorkshire clubs as beneath our notice – except on those annoying occasions when temporarily reduced league status means we have to soil our boots by playing them. This attitude does nothing, of course, to endear Leeds to the likes of Bratfud, Barnsleh, Uddersfailed and the Sheffield dee-dahs – but really, who cares?

I have more respect for fans of clubs like Birmingham or Everton or – yes, even Man U, who hate Leeds for reasons other than just sharing a county with us. That fits better with my world view. Ask a Newcastle fan why he hates the Mackems, and he might blither incomprehensibly for a while (well, they just talk like that up there) – but no rational reply will emerge. I could talk your ears off about why I hate the scum, and I know many Man U fans who can do the same when invited to say why they hate Leeds, which is more than many other Leeds haters can say.

The fact is – whatever the pious purists and holier-than-thou types might say – there’s nothing wrong with football hatred, properly expressed and stopping comfortably this side of actual violence – as I’ve previously written here. It adds some passion to a crowd and to a football occasion, and football would die a lingering death in the sort of sterile atmosphere some of these self-righteous hypocrites seem to want. All I’d say is: if you must hate, then hate for a good reason.

Read my other articles, and you’ll find my reasons for hating Man U – the reasons why I firmly believe anyone might reasonably hate them – are a regular feature in the occasional rants to which I’m prone. They’re nothing to do with why Southampton hate Pompey, or why Forest hate Derby (although I CAN see the Clough factor in the latter case.) Pure regional tribalism is at work there, and I suppose there’s a place for it. But that sort of thing is slightly irrational to me, while hatred based on facts and history is not. Hatred is a genuine human emotion, and the football variety is a safety valve which is useful in diffusing a lot of the negative emotions in society at large. It’s a therapy of sorts. So chew on that, you pious, pseudo-intellectual gits who preach at rabid football fans and utterly fail to understand what’s going on.

I’m happy to admit that I have a healthy hatred for the scum, and I’m equally happy that it’s so lustily reciprocated – with any luck the depth of these feelings will see the game of football, still so dependent on the atmosphere generated by its match-going followers, survive for a good long time to come.