Thousands of Leeds fans will have gone to bed last night, feeling that the world is a slightly sadder place following a sobering 4-1 reverse at home to an efficient Leicester City side. The defeat will have been the first thing many will have thought about on waking up this morning. And yet we all know deep down that, compared to real loss and tragedy, alongside the immensely unfair and indiscriminate habit life has of abruptly handing out shattering blows to innocents, football and its petty travails and setbacks means nothing at all.
This essential truth has hit home hard again today with the awful need that a 14 year old Leeds fan who has bravely and uncomplainingly battled leukaemia for the past two years – a big chunk of his young life – has now found out that there is no more that can be done for him, and that he has just a matter of three weeks to live.
The heartbreaking story of young Louie Jones, from Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire, was told today here on the Leeds Live website, and has been shared on Twitter along with a plea to Leeds United Football Club to do something for the teenage Leeds fanatic in his last few weeks. That’s the kind of request United are normally very receptive to, and I sincerely hope that will be the case for Louie, even in these testing lockdown times.
Beyond that, though, I simply haven’t the words to describe how terribly sad this story is. Courage of the type Louie is now showing, as he faces up to such a horrific certainty, is absolutely beyond my ken, so all I can do in this blog is take off my hat to the lad and reiterate my hope that maybe he’ll hear from his beloved United at what is a devastating time for him and his family.
Life still transcends football, as is right and proper. I know for sure that those who read this will hold Louie in their thoughts and, where appropriate, their prayers.
The delight of witnessing Leeds United’s 3-0 demolition of Aston Villa was reserved mainly for those willing to fork out an extra fifteen quid over and above normal subscriptions, as well as a few discerning types who found other, less official methods. Doubtless those who did cough up will consider their money well spent – the chance to see the Villans, who recently demolished Liverpool seven goals to two, themselves getting royally stuffed by our own heroes was one not to miss.
Happily, many who might otherwise have paid the price were so disgusted by the cynical exploitation of fans’ desire to see their team, that they chose to miss out, preferring instead to donate the £15 to a local food bank in the wake of our disgraceful government’s refusal to help feed poor kids who risk a hungry holiday without public support. I was proud to donate myself, and would urge others to do so. Last time I looked, the total raised was over £83,000.
So in the end, it may well be that Villa’s slaughter at the eager hands of “myth club” Leeds was even less visible than you might have thought, given its PPV status. But, over on Sky Sports News, the humiliation of Villa Rentamouth Gobby Agbonlahor, who had provided so much unintentional motivation for the United lads in the run-up to the game, was all too cruelly public.
Gobby, who had described Bielsa’s Leeds as a “myth”, and who had then made various other unwisely provocative statements, can be seen in the image above, clearly wilting and finally appalled as his beloved Villa were dismantled in a one-way second half at Villa Park. Realising, perhaps, that he’d effectively delivered Bielsa’s pre-match motivational talk for him, Gobby had admitted on his Twitter account that he needed a Villa win last night, or he’d have to deactivate his account in craven embarrassment. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything understands that the former Villa striker now plans to add a personal disappearance to his virtual one, joining the French Foreign Legion “to forget”.
Whatever the feelings of the crushed and humiliated Agbonlahor, we must not forget that Gobby’s not the only one who’ll be ordering several portions of humble pie – though it’s the crestfallen TalkSport pundit who’s taking the brunt of Villa fans’ frustration and disapproval on Twitter. But the likes of Dean Smith and John Terry have had this experience coming to them, ever since the match at Elland Road when Villa histrionics in the wake of a perfectly legal goal led Bielsa, realising that the media would be all over the incident, to order his team to allow the Villans of the piece a walk-in equaliser. Terry in particular was still mouthing off at Bielsa after this gesture (later recognised with a FIFA Fair Play Award), and it gives me immense pleasure to contemplate the current misery of that deeply unpleasant man. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold, so United’s victory, and especially the manner of it, was sweeter and more delectable than the finest iced dessert.
It’s been a fabulous start to another sporting weekend, seeing Leeds United outrun, outplay, outthink and thoroughly outclass opponents who had prevailed in every previous match this season. I’d thought perhaps we might match if not exceed Liverpool’s feat of scoring twice at Villa Park, but – with skipper Cooper and midfield fulcrum Phillips both missing – I never suspected we’d concede seven fewer than the Champions.
Of course, we’re Champions too, albeit in a slightly less grand manner, and last night we produced a performance worthy of that title. Villa fans on Twitter were acknowledging at half time that Leeds had been the better side – with the scoreline blank, they hoped for and seemingly expected better things after the interval. But once Leeds had survived a mazy run and shot from Grealish, they were utterly irresistible and thoroughly deserved a victory that could easily have been a lot more emphatic, as even Dean Smith was heard to admit. It was a fabulous win and an unmistakeable message to the football world that United are back.
On a final note of exultation, we can now consider one particular debt repaid in full. Patrick Bamford’s last hat-trick was against Leeds a few years back, for Middlesbrough. Now, he’s repeated the feat, but in our colours and at a higher level. Patrick’s hat trick has raised his seasonal tally to six, and this likeable and increasingly lethal lad appears at last to be finding his confidence and enjoying himself in exalted company. All of which pleases me immensely as a long-time supporter of our No. 9.
As for Gobby – better luck next time, son. And maybe you’ll engage brain before opening mouth before we meet again. Though, given your astounding lack of judgement and discretion this time, I won’t be holding my breath…
Manchester United, reeling from their 1-6 home defeat to Spurs on Sunday, and frustrated by Dortmund’s refusal to budge on top target Jadon Sancho’s £100m+ price, have admitted that their move to sign 33 year old free agent Edinson Cavani was prompted by the threat of losing a fan in the wake of their stuttering start to the season.
The once mighty Pride of Devon have been out of sorts so far in this new campaign. The season opened with a 1-3 home reverse to Crystal Palace, with neutral observers claiming that Palace could have had six. Then, the ailing media favourites had to rely on a penalty given after the final whistle to beat Brighton in their first away fixture, with neutral observers claiming that the Seagulls could have had eight. Most recently, it was back to the Theatre of Hollow Myths, where a first minute penalty was not enough to stop Tottenham Hotspur rattling in six, with neutral observers claiming that Spurs could have had ten.
In the wake of that second home defeat, Steve, a Leeds-based plastic armchair man u fan of forty years, shocked the football world by claiming that he’d had enough and was no longer a glory-hunting disciple of the ironically-dubbed “biggest club in the world”. Steve pulled no punches in his withering assessment of Manchester’s second club, ranting as follows:
“I’ve been a Man U fan for over 40 years and I’m afraid I’m looking for a new club to support after today’s shambles. I’m done with them. They are not a big club anymore, they’re an absolute shambles and it starts from the top. Until Woodward and the board go, they’ll have no success. I live in Leeds so I’ll probably support Leeds United. They’ve got one of the best managers in the business, their players are hungry for it, and they play great football.”
Sadly for Steve, the reaction among proper Leeds fans has not been particularly positive, with several commenting that they “would rather chew wasps” than accept a renegade Devonian as one of their number. It appears, then, that there is no welcome for Steve at Elland Road, and so hopes will burn bright from Milton Keynes to Singapore that he will keep the faith and maintain his front room devotion to Ole’s boys, however dire and dismal they are under the hapless Norwegian “demon pixie”.
The Trafford based club have reiterated their determination to retain fans like Steve, by making any signings necessary, regardless of the benefit or lack thereof to the team itself. “We mean business”, stated one man u insider, “and we’ll show our intent by the end of this window. If Cavani doesn’t do the trick, we’ll be approaching Derby for their star forward Rooney. Don’t rule us out yet, we’re going to do great things.”
Terry Christian, well-known Salford scally and professional man u fan, was unavailable for comment, as he’s hiding behind his sofa until Woodward and the Glasers are gone.
A prominent feature of the radio coverage Leeds United have enjoyed over the past several years has been the joyously raucous goal celebrations of former United player Noel Whelan, as he greeted each goal the Whites have scored with what has become his signature – GET IIIIINNNNNNN!!! – coming at us over the airwaves courtesy of BBC Radio Leeds.
But now, alas, it seems that Whelan is being forced to tone down his celebrations for fear of upsetting other radio stations, some of whom have complained about the noise and passion of Noel’s on-air outbursts. This po-faced attitude seems to be getting more and more common among the various broadcasters that cover our national game – they seem to picture us all sitting at home, covering our ears for fear of hearing a naughty word or an over-exuberant ejaculation, if I may use that hijacked word in its original sense. I’ve had cause myself to rant at Sky TV for frequent apologies during their otherwise half-decent coverage. “Sorry if you heard any bad language there” a seemingly shocked commentator will intone during some passionate encounter, while over on Channel 4, other passionate encounters will be accompanied by wall-to-wall effing and jeffing, without so much as a “by your leave”. It’s odd, and a bit annoying – and now it appears to threaten the natural partisanship of one of our own.
Noel, with whom I’ve had the privilege of the odd chat now and then, seems to be taking his admonition philosophically, and has confirmed he’ll be winding down the volume and the passion “from this Saturday”, though whether there’ll be much cause for any such celebrations against City has to be doubtful. On the other hand, if there was to be a Patrick Hat-trick to make our Bam Bam Bamford the first Leeds player to score in four consecutive Premier League games, it’s difficult to see how Mr Whelan could restrain himself. These things are spontaneous and visceral, after all; perhaps Popey will be standing by with a gag, or maybe a Leeds branded non-medical face mask, just to avoid giving offence to the delicate sensibilities of those “other radio stations”.
It really is such a daft situation, and those within the media and indeed the game itself should be wary of draining away what passion and enthusiasm remains in our football during these months of crowdless competition. It appears they’d rather rely upon canned cheering, some of which starts and then abruptly cuts off if there’s a near miss, depending on the skill of the person on the button. Surely that bizarre phenomenon can’t really be preferable to a bit of honest, gutsy over-celebration from a guy who bleeds white, yellow and blue? (Or maybe even plum or wine, given our new third kit).
It’s a funny old game, alright. But I’m not sure I’m laughing too much right now. Far be it from me to proffer advice to so august an institution as the BBC – but, if I could make just one small suggestion: why don’t they belt up and mind their own business?
Yes, it’s only Twitter – but our esteemed and reliable fanzine folk at The Square Ball might just have themselves a little scoop here. It’s a YES 🤞 from Rodrigo de Paul, and our top flight status could well be about to get a lot more secure.
At various times over the past few years, since Leeds United’s well-documented “fall from grace”, there have been those in the media who have been all too eager to drone on about how the Whites are no longer Yorkshire’s top club. At one point, some local TV hack – it may or may not have been Harry Gration, I simply can’t recall – almost salivated over his autocue in his eagerness to get out the obviously pre-prepared line “Yorkshire’s top club Hull City”, showing no outward trace of the embarrassment he must surely have felt. It was all so cringeworthy, as if any temporary arrangement of league placements could ever alter the immutable fact that Leeds United are Yorkshire’s number one, as they have been for well over half a century.
Now, one game into United’s first top flight season since 2004, even those who thrive on bare, soulless statistics are left without an argument, as Leeds’ only fellow Premier League Yorkshire club fell to a routine home defeat at the hands of Wolves. This left Leeds, despite their thrillingly gallant defeat by the odd goal in seven at Anfield, as the highest placed Yorkshire club, further reinforcing their historically predominant status in God’s Own County.
For Sheffield United, it may well be that “second season syndrome” will blight their campaign which, judging by their Blunt attack, could well develop into a struggle for survival. It’s early days, obviously, but there could hardly have been more of a contrast in the first game performances of the two Yorkshire clubs. It’ll be interesting indeed to see how their respective fortunes progress from here on in – but, for now, it’s good to see the league table confirming what we all know was always the case; Leeds United are Yorkshire’s Number One.
Each of Leeds United’s three old-style Football League Championship titles was clinched at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC and, appropriately enough, United’s destination on Saturday as they make their long overdue return to the top flight. In 1992, the Reds were good enough to beat a demoralised Man U 2-0 which, added to Leeds’ earlier triumph at Bramall Lane, saw the Whites as Champions by 4 points in the last ever pre-Premier League competition – which, after Man U had been such solid favourites only a week or so earlier, would have qualified any first time Leeds pundit for a well deserved best bet365 welcome bonus.
In 1974, Liverpool obliged at Anfield again, losing at home to Arsenal to ensure that they couldn’t overhaul Leeds at the top. I remember a TV programme going to an ad break and then an information board coming up which read “Football result: Liverpool 0, Arsenal 1 – LEEDS UNITED ARE THE CHAMPIONS”That simple memory still sends a tingle down my spine, even forty-six years on.
And of course – probably best of all – Leeds United’s first ever title success at the top level of the game came after a showdown between the two deadly but mutually respectful rivals on April 28 1969. Leeds had come to Anfield knowing that a point would clinch the league, and they set out their stall as only they could to obtain that point, in the toughest place possible. They would go on to beat Nottingham Forest in the last game of that season to reach a record 67 points – a mark that wasn’t beaten until Liverpool themselves recorded 68 points, ironically with a 3-0 win at Elland Road, in their fabulous 1978/79 Championship year.
That legendary Leeds United squad of the sixties and seventies hung on Don Revie’s every word, they would follow him into the pit of Hell itself and they trusted him implicitly. This was the cornerstone of the relationship between team and boss; the unit thus formed was formidable indeed and, on their day, there was no-one to touch them. It was often said of that Leeds side that if you cut one, they all bled – and then you’d better watch out, because they’d be after you as one man to seek retribution. They would do anything for each other and anything for the legendary Don – but on that historic night at Anfield over half a century ago, they must have come as near as they ever came to saying “You what, gaffer? Are you sure??”
On the final whistle, as the Leeds players cavorted with joy in front of their delirious fans at this first delightful taste of being The Best – and as the weary Liverpool troops, having given their all in vain, sportingly congratulated the new Champions – Revie came over to Billy Bremner and confirmed to him that he was to lead his team over to the Kop. This, remember, was at a time when crowd violence was becoming very fashionable. A similar gesture at a certain stadium down Trafford way, and sundry other less-than-welcoming grounds around the country, might very well have got you a crack on the head with a pool ball. It did rather seem to be pushing things a bit – but Revie was insistent, and he was very definitely The Boss.
So it was that Billy Bremner, captain of champions Leeds United, gathered his players together and led them on a long, slow walk to the legendary Anfield Kop. When it was realised what was happening, a hush fell on the ground. In near-silence, the heroes in white walked on, nearer and nearer to the most iconic terrace of them all.
As the triumphant yet apprehensive Leeds warriors finally neared the Kop, the long silence was finally broken as the first cry of “Champions!” went up, swiftly echoed by others on the still-packed terrace – until finally the whole 27,000 population of that mighty hill were acclaiming the title-winners with the same shout, over and over again: “Champions! Champions! Champions!!”
Later, in the dressing room, Leeds celebrated anew with champagne provided by Bill Shankly, whose quote was short and to the point: ‘Leeds United are worthy champions,’ he said. ‘They are a great side.’ Revie responded by praising Liverpool, the club, the fans and their fine team. ‘The reception given us by the sporting Liverpool crowd was truly magnificent,’ he acknowledged, ‘and so, for that matter, was our defence tonight. They were superb in everything.’ It was a night of triumph and disaster, as these decisive nights tend to be, depending on whether you were White or Red; but it was also, let us not forget, a night of dignity, respect and utter, unalloyed class – not least from those 27,000 Liverpool fans on the Anfield Kop.
Some unlikely candidates have put themselves forward as “rivals” to Leeds United over the last decade and a half, as Yorkshire’s finest have languished in the middle two tiers of English football’s four division structure. Some, such as Barnsley and Huddersfield, have had few pretensions to be compared size or history wise with United, but feel a tribal enmity based on geographical proximity, which is understandable enough. The same might be said of the two Sheffield clubs, or even Bradford City.
All these local clubs, together with the likes of Reading, Millwall, Derby etc etc have sought to exploit the reduced circumstances of Leeds for as long as their top flight exile lasted, to suggest that genuine two-way rivalries were in place. That bubble of delusion popped with United’s overdue elevation to the Premier League, and the realisation that the traditional enmities would now be cordially resumed. In the hearts and minds of Leeds fans, it was always about the likes of man utd and Chelski, with those clubs reciprocating the extreme dislike, even during our long absence from actual competitive involvement.
But, even in the Premier League, there are lesser clubs who clearly yearn to carry the mantle of “Leeds United’s rivals”, however ridiculous such a claim seems in the absence of any reciprocal antipathy, or indeed any real interest on the part of the Leeds fan base. Still, that hasn’t stopped certain clubs from fondly imagining there’s a rivalry there, and one in particular is extremely reluctant to give up on even such an outlandish notion.
For Brighton and Hove Albion – not so much the club itself, more their fans and adherent local press – the time since the end of last season seems to have been a prolonged and unaccustomed spell in the spotlight, due entirely to Leeds United’s pursuit of Ben White, who spent a gloriously successful Championship campaign on loan at Elland Road and was now wanted by United on a permanent basis. The move never happened, despite repeated efforts on the part of Leeds, and despite the player himself being widely regarded as wanting a return to West Yorkshire. In the end, Brighton stood firm, and Leeds, after making three offers and having them all turned down, reluctantly looked elsewhere and signed a German international for around half what they’d been willing to pay for White, who lacks any experience at all of top flight football, let alone the international arena. So Brighton kept their player, Leeds got a more than adequate replacement in Robin Koch, and Ben himself, at long last, got a contract acceptable to him, given the value placed upon him by his parent club. Case closed, so you’d have thought.
But no. The Brighton support and the local press for the region were not willing to give up so much delicious attention, and set about trying to force an unlikely rivalry with a club and support base hundreds of miles to the north, both of which habitually looked west to the red quarter of Manchester for its chief object of dislike and derision.
For Brighton, the Ben White tranfer saga evidently represented their biggest day in the sun since a Cup Final appearance (coinciding with relegation) 37 years ago. Looking further back, their only other real mark on history was a Charity Shield triumph sometime prior to the Great War of 1914-18, so it’s reasonably understandable that their fans should wish to prolong any spell in the public eye. But the ridiculousness of their efforts to talk up a “rivalry” is to be found in the fact that such efforts persisted even after Leeds ended their interest in Ben White, with the local press tagging Leeds in any tweets relating to his eventual new contract, and the Brighton fans on Twitter eagerly attempting to troll bemused Leeds United fans, who remained preoccupied with more traditional rivals and only thought of Brighton when Quadrophenia was on the telly.
It was all most unedifying, and it’s a stark warning that we can’t expect much more by way of dignity and restraint in the Premier League than we ever found at lower levels. I got drawn into the slanging match myself at various points before it became clear that, despite his wishes in the matter (confirmed today by his agent), Ben White would not be sold to Leeds at any price. At that point, I stopped taking the mick about Bielsaball versus Potterball, and moved onto more pressing matters – such as how the EFL would survive without Leeds United. But the Brighton fans persisted, becoming more evidently needy and utterly ridiculous with each passing day. Abandoning any sense of irony or perspective, they’re vying with each other to label United a small club, heading straight back down, which is insolence if you like, and pretty foolhardy stuff to boot. But the relentless tagging of LUFC by the Brighton tweeters and the Sussex Bugle, or whatever it’s called, continues unabated. This is a club unused to such attention, and clearly its supporters are desperate to prolong the experience as far and as long as possible.
The whole thing reflects pretty poorly on the Brighton support, certainly of the online variety, which has been encouraged in its collective acts of self-ridicule by a local press clearly cottoning onto the fact that tagging Leeds in any published piece will increase the number of hits exponentially. Again, I’ll exclude the club itself from those remarks, due to their determination in resisting offers from a bigger club, which you have to applaud. They also showcased Ben White in a video allowing him to express his appreciation of his time at Leeds, and to thank the fans for the support and adulation he received here. That was classy stuff, and there was no real need for Brighton to do it, so fair play.
Perhaps – just perhaps – Brighton & Hove Albion still remember that Leeds United helped save them financially when they were enduring hard times, by signing goalkeeper Mark Beeney for a significant sum, which went a long way towards alleviating a threatening situation at the time. That’s a factor that the local press down there, and the eager-beaver online fans might do well to take into account before bringing down even more ridicule upon themselves. However recent Leeds United’s elevation to the top level, it’s an undeniable fact that the Elland Road outfit is by far and away a bigger club than Brighton could ever dream of being, with a far more illustrious history, a fan base that spans the globe and (let’s face it) a much better coach and the makings of a squad that will compare well even with such an – ahem – established Premier League force as Brighton.
The moral of this tale is probably: choose your rivals well, and don’t punch above your weight – something the over-enthusiastic Brighton fans have flouted, thereby making themselves look several shades of daft. There’s a perfectly good south coast rival in Southampton, not an incongruously bigger beast as Leeds are, and therefore much less likely to reflect poorly on and embarrass the Brighton club. From here on in, it’s to be hoped that the Seagulls, fans and hacks alike, will conduct themselves in a more seemly and less cringeworthy manner – but I suppose we’d better not hold our breath.
For ten years, Leeds United has been the jewel in the EFL crown, a gem of a club amid the various also-rans, has-beens and nonentities which made up the Football League roster in any given season. Leeds was the fixture they all looked out for, everybody’s Cup Final, the club they just couldn’t stop talking about. That jewel in the crown status was always undeniable, everybody knew that United represented the biggest asset in the sub-Premier League game.
But Leeds were a diamond that was neither treasured, valued nor lovingly polished – instead they were continually chipped away at, treated with little or no respect, sniped at routinely, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Minus 15 and the golden share, Spygate, over-celebrating. The trumped-up charges kept on coming, a run of 59 games without a penalty exemplified a corrupt organisation’s determination to cling on to its biggest asset and favourite whipping boy. For the EFL, it was good while it lasted. With perennial TV stars Leeds United as its most famous, infamous and notorious member, the League retained a certain cachet, despite the sparkling allure of the Premier League.
Now Leeds United has disappeared from the English Football League and, bereft of its biggest draw, that sorry organisation must now reflect on what it has left to recommend it. And, whatever efforts might be made to talk up the spectator and viewer appeal of Derby County, Nottingham Forest or even, comically, Brentford, the inevitable conclusion will be that, without Leeds, the cupboard is pretty bare.
There was a certain karmic satisfaction, inevitably, in seeing United celebrate at the home ground of one of their most envious and resentful rivals. Binoculars of the mime variety were brandished by Leeds personnel on the pitch after United’s 3-1 success at Derby confirmed that our hungover reserves were more than a match for anything the EFL has to offer, with the pressure off and the title in the bag. Off the pitch, a jubilant Victor Orta had thoughtfully sourced some actual binoculars to help him cavort with the unrestrained joy of winners against the odds, for this title success has been the story of a club winning a league that wished them anything but success. How teeth must have been gritted, how bile must have been swallowed in the corridors of power as those scenes unfolded at Pride Park.
A guard of honour had been reluctantly formed prior to the game, with the Derby players, who had gleefully rubbed United’s noses in play-off defeat a year before, now having to applaud the Champions. The attitude of “we’ve got to do this, but we hate it” was exemplified by one silly young man in the Rams line-up who thought it cool and edgy to slow-time his clapping. He came across as a sulky kid, but his demeanour neatly summed up the attitude of the whole organisation that Leeds were now, gladly, leaving. A charge of “over-celebrating” followed, petty but typical. We reflected that, a year previously, Derby had escaped censure despite one of their number defecating on the Elland Road dressing room floor in a typically disgusting gesture of disrespect. One rule for Leeds, another for the rest. The game’s rulers were staying true to type right up to the bitter end.
Derby, of course, went on to play-off defeat against Villa, leaving that solitary win at Elland Road, after three previous defeats in the same season, as the highlight of their recent history. It’s still celebrated across their social media with unconscious irony, a determined focus on winning a battle before losing the war. A turd on the dressing room floor is such an apt symbol for that club.
But will I now feel moved to gloat over the reduced status of the Championship? Will I laugh triumphantly over the fact that Derby are currently preparing to host Barrow as United look forward to a visit to Anfield? If you think I’d be ready, willing and able to indulge in such blatant Schadenfreude – then you’d be absolutely, one hundred percent spot-on correct.
Superstar Lionel Messi is on record as declaring that he’d love to play for Marcelo Bielsa. In this blogger’s humble opinion, his recent plea for El Loco to join him on the Nou Camp stage at Barcelona was the wrong way to go about fulfilling that desire to experience the guidance of the man they call the best coach in the world. Messi should be looking at the reverse proposition, and consider the prospect of doing for Leeds United what Diego Maradona did for Napoli many years ago.
It’s always tempting in these cases to add together two and two, ending up with 1919 or so. When the signs align as they appear to do in this case, it’s hard not to clutch at a passing straw and reach a highly desirable conclusion. But there is that precedent involving Diego Maradona, a man who coincidentally figured in an even more outrageously unlikely rumour back in the dark days of pre-Wilko United’s second division tenture in the eighties. Then, affable MD Bill Fotherby was telling everyone who would listen that this deal could be done, and you began to understand how this plausible man had succeeded in life. It didn’t happen, of course, but Maradona did eventually make a move from his storied career at the Nou Camp to a Napoli outfit that had seen no Serie A success in far too long. The rest is history, Maradona proved to be the magic ingredient in the revival of the Naples club. He was also destined to feature briefly for Newell’s Old Boys later in his career, a club of significance to any student of Bielsaball.
So, could history repeat itself? It’s unlikely, but it’s also, tantalisingly, well short of impossible. The received wisdom is that Lionel Messi would love to play for Bielsa, and there is also the rumour that the new Adidas deal provides for the possibility of a marquee signing, the kind of player who would raise even the profile of a global giant such as Adidas a notch or two. As for the player himself, could he perhaps be tempted at this stage of his career to help complete the return to the global stage of a former player in Leeds United, just as Gordon Strachan did thirty years ago, and just as Maradona did at Napoli?
As rumours go, it’s not a bad one. And at least we’re not speculating about the likes of Wayne Rooney, who found the task of revitalising Derby County a step too far. At a time when Messi’s Barcelona adventure is showing signs of turning a bit sour, maybe – just maybe – he might be looking for an inspirational challenge elsewhere – and under his favourite coach, too.