Tag Archives: Swansea City

Leeds United Planning to Perform All Blacks Haka at Home Games – by Rob Atkinson

Away strip

United’s Chris Wood – ready for battle

Today’s announcement by Leeds United of their new all-black away kit represents a departure from the gaudiness of the recent past and the return of the Elland Road club to their traditional black and white, all-or-nothing approach of more successful days long past. This new monochrome mentality will be backed up by the introduction, before each home match, of the traditional Maori war-dance, or “Haka”, as historically performed by the fearsome All Blacks international rugby union sides. Rumours that this has been written into United’s New Zealand international Chris Wood‘s contract, as compensation for not securing a £20 million move to Swansea City, have neither been confirmed nor denied.

It appears that there are mixed feeling among the United squad about the move to perform the Haka; some feel that they have enough on their plates mastering pattern of play niceties like blindside runs and a co-ordinated move out of defence, without having to learn a complicated war dance too. One individual though, who would rather not be named for fear of provoking a reaction among certain former team-mates at Ashton Gate, seemed eager to get into the whole ritual ‘eve of battle’ thing. “I can’t wait”, he remarked, licking his lips hungrily. “It’ll help get me in the mood to get some blood on me boots”. Elsewhere in the defensive ranks, an un-named Swedish international is rumoured to be practising the eye-rolling and snarling already, even though he will start the campaign under suspension due to various indiscretions during last term’s hostilities.

The generosity of Leeds United in paying tribute to former Championship rivals should also not be underestimated. Newcastle United, of course, are famous for playing in black and white, and also for not having won anything since the days of monochrome TV. There is a nod in the direction of Huddersfield Town, too, whose own glory days reside in the flickering, sepia days of Pathé Newsreels, the General Strike and the Jarrow march.

It may well be that the message being sent out by Leeds is a powerful warning to the effect that all this fancy dan bright and vibrant colours nonsense is to become a thing of the past down Elland Road way. Teams visiting LS11, especially in the depths of winter, will have nothing to look forward to but bleak weather, a hostile, oppressive atmosphere and cold naked steel in the hearts of the eleven assassins clad all in white. And the threat of the all-blacks on our travels will be, if anything, even more sinister.

White at home, black away, the green of the pitch, the grey of the sky – if we can just avoid too many red and yellow cards, we could be looking at some serious silverware come next May. Ka mate! ka mate! Ka ora, ka ora!  Bring it on.

 

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Leeds United Fans Savouring the Unfamiliar Taste of Optimism – by Rob Atkinson

Andrea

After the owner from Hell – is Andrea Radrizzani Heaven-sent?

The usual pre-season mood around Leeds United over the past few years has been an unlovely mixture of frustration and pessimism, both usually to be justified by subsequent events. Squad investment, the close-season preoccupation of the serious promotion contenders, was noticeable only by its relative absence down at Elland Road. Pre-season programmes were put together hurriedly if at all, the club more often than not being engaged in the search for another doomed occupant of the United managerial hot-seat. The fans looked on aghast, as the recipe for mediocrity was written anew each season before their horrified eyes. It was depressing, it was annoying – it was getting properly boring.

How things have changed since the recent shift of power at the helm of this famous old football club. The new owner, Andrea Radrizzani, seems able and determined to engage with the supporters, impishly keeping us in the loop as he sets about a recruitment spree the like of which we’ve not seen since the second millennium was brand new. All of a sudden, after the thin gruel of recent years, we’re being fed a solid diet of proper signings, players for whom a fee has been demanded, players we’ve had to compete for against other clubs of equal or even higher rank, players of pedigree who should be able to handle the pressure that comes with the famous white United shirt. It’s all most novel and unaccustomed but, by gum, it makes a very welcome change.

Now, Twitter is abuzz with incredulous Leeds fans rapidly running out of fingers to tally up the roster of new additions. The mood is bordering upon happy hysteria all over the vast world of Leeds United social media, fans are getting ecstatically greedy, wanting more presents from Santa Andrea before they’ve even unwrapped the latest quality playmaker with a distant but enthralling Real Madrid connection. It’s heady stuff. Not all United fans are easily pleased, of course. Many, having watched on breathless as the attacking options have multiplied, are urging Radrizzani to make the case for the defence. But you sense that the Italian has it in hand; his responses are urbanely tantalising, but the intent and ambition behind those responses are palpable.

Here is a guy who has no intention of pulling the wool over our eyes, nor yet of leading us up the garden path. His promises have been terse, almost – but then swiftly fulfilled. To say that it’s been refreshing is hopelessly inadequate; single-handedly, Radrizzani has galvanised a massive body of support, with the effect of a powerful stimulant running through the veins of a formerly moribund subject. The followers of sleeping giant Leeds United have been administered a welcome shot in the arm; eyes are sparkling and sinews are stiffened for the challenge ahead. The general mood after so many seasons of “meh” is a decidedly positive “bring it on”.

Stern tests await in the remainder of the pre-season programme and, of course, in the campaign itself. More recruitment is necessary in the defensive third, especially in the likely and regrettable absence of Kyle Bartley, sadly confined to barracks in Swansea. Matthew Pennington‘s season-long loan arrival from Everton won’t be the end of that process, as at least one more experienced head will be required. But you have the feeling in any case that all areas of the club are relishing those tests, ready for the challenge, welcoming the task ahead. The attitude and morale of the whole place is radically different from the gloominess of other pre-seasons, and the old Leeds United fighting spirit seems to be reasserting itself. And not before time, with a historic moment fast approaching.

In two years time, Leeds United FC celebrates its centenary, a watershed in the existence of any football club. Where will we be in the game, when those three numerals tick over? I know what I wish for this great club, and I’m sure thousands upon thousands feel the same way. Let’s celebrate that centenary where we belong, marching on together in the top flight. That fervent hope might just have become a lot nearer being realised.

Leeds Have the Advantage Over Top-Flight Swansea in Kyle Bartley Chase – by Rob Atkinson

Bartley

Bartley – happy at Elland Road

Swansea City boss Paul Clement might be talking a good fight and looking to play hardball over his loaned-out defender Kyle Bartley, who has made such an impression during his season-long stint at Leeds United. But, especially now that the Swans’ Premier League status is assured, football economics and a dash of common sense will tend towards a conclusion that, if Leeds want Bartley – and if Bartley wants Leeds – then the situation will pan out towards a satisfactory conclusion for both player and the Elland Road club.

The fact is, despite Clement’s neat line about “welcoming Bartley home”, a lot will depend on where the player himself sees his future. There is only one year left on Bartley’s Swans contract, and Leeds fans will be familiar with how that scenario usually ends, from bitter experience of seeing favourites leave Yorkshire a year early for a fee, or stick it out and walk for nothing. Whatever success the giant defender has enjoyed this Championship season, his potential as a Premier League defender is unclear. He’s likely to enjoy more game time at Leeds, and on that account, as well as his friendship with Luke Ayling, would perhaps prefer a move to Yorkshire rather than signing an extended deal for the Welsh club.

As for Leeds, they’ve seen a highly promising central defensive partnership develop between the mighty Bartley and Swedish colossus Pontus Jansson; they’re more likely to be looking at supplementing those positions by the acquisition of quality deputies, to provide the strength in depth lacking in the campaign just ended, rather than losing one pillar of a towering twin rearguard.

There’ll be more talking done, of course, both between the clubs and in the press so that the fans can see how serious and committed their managers are. But at the end of the day, money talks – and Swansea would be better off banking a fee for a player they could otherwise lose for nothing next May. Whatever claims and counter-claims fly back and forth, the only real work to be done is likely to be a bit of dickering over money.

If I were a betting man (and my bank manager is grateful that I’m not), my dosh would be on Bartley signing for Leeds permanently, or at least securing another loan, with an option to buy – perhaps in the January window.

It should be a busy summer, with a new sole owner, the maverick, amateur element of club ownership gone, and some backroom talent already recruited. But the retention of this season’s centre-back partnership will be seen as an important part of all that and I, for one, would be extremely surprised to see Kyle Bartley in a Swansea shirt when next season kicks off.

Leeds’ Promotion Push Bolstered by £17m Worth of New Talent   –   by Rob Atkinson

Modou Barrow (left) and Alfonso Pedraza (right)

The Leeds United powers that be have thankfully shown a pleasing amount of last-minute transfer market acumen with the deadline day acquisition of two pacy, talented wide players whose effect will potentially be to enhance the attacking unit’s potency all the way across the forward line. 

With the “try before you buy” loan signings of Alfonso Pedraza from Villareal, with an option to buy in summer for £8.5m, and Modou Barrow (purchase option £9m rising to £11m) from manager Garry Monk‘s former club Swansea City, Leeds have not only added options out wide, they have made the whole offensive situation that much more fluid. Both new signings are able to play out wide or more centrally, but their addition to the squad frees up the likes of Roofe, Doukara and even Dallas, none of whom are natural touchline-huggers, to operate further infield in support of lone spearhead Chris Wood. The advantages of this increased flexibility could be considerable, both game-to-game and within games, to stir things up as may be necessary. And suddenly having two proper wingers could even reap a bonus in terms of increased effectiveness for the misfiring Marcus Antonsson, a good striker who has starved for lack of service on his rare appearances for the first team. 

The Leeds United Twitter timeline was a toxic place to be, though, up until the signing of Barrow, with much wailing, cursing, rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth. Even after the arrival of the Swansea man, there remained some truculence and discontent. But many more were quite happy in the end, with a window that had added two quality arrivals to a highly effective if hitherto slightly patchy squad. Among those satisfied, we can presumably count Monk himself, who had appeared somewhat tense and distrait as the transfer clock ticked down. He wanted two signings and that’s what he eventually got. We can surely assume that he has the plan to make best use of the squad now in place. 

So, attention now turns to Ewood Park on Wednesday, and the urgent necessity of dealing with Blackburn Rovers. The standard approach of concentrating on each three points up for grabs as they coma along will continue to serve Leeds well, and the club will be acutely conscious of the need to restore face after the embarrassment of Sutton United

Neither new signing is available for Wednesday’s encounter, but both will be up for consideration at Huddersfield on Sunday. Six points is a lot to ask from these two tricky fixtures, but the form of our play-off and promotion rivals makes it almost a necessity to secure a maximum return if at all possible. But, according to the Monk Mantra, it’s still one game at a time and steady as she goes. 

The rest of the season beckons, with no Cup distractions. The opportunity is there for Leeds United, suitably bolstered by increased pace and width, to write another glorious page of their illustrious history. A promotion charge is a clear and present possibility, one glance at the table confirms that. In the race for the top-flight, fortune will surely favour the brave. Bring it on. 

Who’ll Be the Next League One Club to Overtake Leeds United?   –   by Rob Atkinson

Time's running out for Leeds United

Time’s running out for Leeds United

Leeds United are now in danger of becoming a perennial Championship club: just a bit too well-resourced and well-supported to repeat the disaster of relegation to League One – or so we all hope and trust – but nowhere near good or competently-run enough to make the life-saving jump into the Premier League. And believe me, the clock is ticking on that jump. It’s an elevation that will become more and more of a formidable mountain to climb over the next few seasons.

The problem is, among many other Leeds United problems, that the reward for Premier League failure is about to go through the roof. Soon, clubs relegated from the élite top flight will be able to bank ‘parachute payments’ of around £100m pounds, allowing them a clear head start on their unsubsidised second tier competitors.

The clear implication of this is that we may shortly have what amounts to a closed shop, consisting of the usual permanent Premier League members, plus a small pool of hinterland dwellers, bobbing up and down between the top two divisions. The so-call Financial Fair Play rules will make it difficult for even wealthily-owned Championship clubs of long standing to break into this yo-yo fringe group, never mind the band of true aristocrats.

For the likes of Leeds United, and even Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and a few other genuinely sizable members of the new underclass, this could represent the start of a living death of perpetual mediocrity.

So it follows that Leeds really must get its act together, and get up there in time to be the beneficiaries of parachute payments, as opposed to being marginalised by their galvanising effect on others. Sadly, there is no real sign that our heroes are remotely well-equipped enough to move on up anytime soon. It seems more likely at this stage that we will be overtaken by lesser clubs, who will happily make hay while the sun shines everywhere except, it seems, over LS11. This is not an unnecessarily gloomy or unrealistic prediction. It’s already happened too many times. 

Look at the Premier League membership right now. It makes for worrying study. You will find five of our former League One opponents there, mostly well-established top flight members now, while we remain as strugglers one step above our historical low point. Behold the success stories of clubs Leeds United should leave gasping in their wake. Swansea City, promoted from League One in our first season at that level, have added a League Cup to their mantelpiece and have generally done well. Southampton, European qualifiers now after emerging from the third tier a year after we did, and looking to consolidate and hammer on that Champions League door. Even new arrivals Bournemouth are looking reasonably well able to hold their own among the giants, as are Norwich City. And look at Leicester City, promoted from League One in our second season at that level. As I write, they are sitting proudly at the summit of English football, Premier League leaders, for the moment at least, and looking thoroughly at home in such exalted company. 

Leeds could and should have done better than any of these clubs, each of them recent denizens of League One. All of them are far smaller than the Whites, but have benefited from positive commercial and football strategies, not shying away from the speculative investment it takes to accumulate league points. They are well run for the most part and demonstrably scornful of any perceived glass ceiling. What they have accomplished should have been far easier for a club the size of Leeds. But our five years in the Championship have been a story of abject failure and serial incompetence, all underpinned by a total lack of vision and ambition. It’s no wonder we’ve been left trailing by the likes of Southampton and Leicester, and it would sadly be no surprise to see other clubs of similar size, currently below us in the pecking order, overhauling and leaving us behind in the near future.

So, which clubs currently languishing in the murk of League One might yet beat us to the sunny lower slopes of the Premier League? Two obvious candidates are Coventry City and Sheffield United, both doing reasonably well in the league below us, both tolerably well-run now after hard times – and both the kind of club that would, you suspect, see promotion to the Championship as a signal to kick on, invest, and make the most of their upward momentum. Which is just exactly what Leeds United threatened briefly to do in that momentous first season back at second tier level, before the fire sales started and the club began to lose its heart if not quite yet its soul.

For too long, Leeds United has appeared more complacent than hungrily ambitious; more disposed to “manage” its supporters’ expectations, rather than seek to fulfill them. With clubs all around us – smaller but more beadily focused clubs – avid for success, recognition and, yes, those Premier League millions too, Leeds simply can’t afford to tread water for much longer. The Premier League is a top table positively groaning under the weight of good things, even for those forced to leave the party early. With the increasing likelihood that victims of relegation will be fortified by that generous parachute for resurrection almost immediately, it’s only going to get harder and harder for the less-privileged to gatecrash the feast.  The likes of Sheffield United and Coventry will be well aware of this, as will more immediate dangers like Forest and Wednesday at our own current level. Leeds United just seems to be drifting along, more concerned with internal crises than the need to better themselves, waiting perhaps for some divine right to assert itself and convey the club back to the Promised Land.

Well, it ain’t gonna happen, guys – as any long-suffering and knowledgeable supporter would be well able to confirm. They say the spectator sees most of the game, and it’s the Leeds United fans, as opposed to those entrusted with the running of the club, who appear most acutely worried about exactly how and when we are going to find ourselves back where we assuredly belong – and able to capitalise on the undoubted potential of the club in a much more financially conducive environment. For a true giant like Leeds – by far and away the biggest club below the Premier League (and bigger than most inside it) – the opportunity is there for the taking to re-establish itself as one of the big, swaggering kids on the block.

It will take bravery, audacity, sufficient investment, nerve and some cool heads to achieve this – all currently noticeable by their absence around Elland Road. But if we don’t sort ourselves out soon – and start making some serious steps forward – we may yet get trampled in the rush by our smaller, meaner rivals – each of whom provides in effect a blueprint for the approach we should have been taking all along.

Tick tock, Leeds United. Get your act together. Time is running short.

Swansea Beat Man United to Crown A Weekend Mirabilis for Leeds   –   by Rob Atkinson

Chris Wood milks the adulation of the fans

Truly it is said that, for a sports fan’s very best of times, it’s not quite enough that your favourites should win. It’s necessary also for a team you despise to lose, preferably after taking the lead and crowing prematurely. It adds the aromatic spice of Schadenfreude to the jubilant celebration feast of success. When everything falls into place like this, pleasure and triumph for the good guys, pain and suffering for the baddies, it arrives like Manna from Heaven or soft, gentle rain in a parched drought. Those joyous moments don’t come along often enough, sadly – but this last two day’s melange of high points is one to remember for a long time.

By any reckoning, such a very rewarding weekend is like a great big, gaudy parcel crammed with delectable goodies, wrapped in paper of pure gold and tied with ribbons of yellow, white and blue. What a transcendentally wonderful 48 hours it has been, first and foremost in football, with Leeds United beating our former tormentors Derby County in their own backyard. The victory was thoroughly well-deserved and sealed by a truly tonking strike from Chris Wood, who is looking more and more like the real deal. United seem set to follow up their breakthrough win with some quality additions to a talented young squad. The future finally looks bright for the Whites – at least for the moment. 

Wood's wonderstrike

Wood’s wonder strike

That victory at Derby was a significant result and something in which to take significant pride and pleasure. But in the grand scheme of this weekend, especially for a fan of both football and rugby league, United’s success was in the nature of a curtain-raiser to the top of the bill, an appetiser before the main course. Leeds Rhinos, indisputably the class act of Super League, had reached Wembley to defend the Challenge Cup they won last year against Castleford Tigers. The opposition this year would come from Hull Kingston Rovers, and the outcome was to be of history-making proportions.

Hull KR undeniably froze on their big day, while Leeds Rhinos were at their imperious best. The game was men against boys; Rovers barely threatened the Rhinos try-line, with Leeds surging through their ranks at will as the Final wore on, racking up 50 points without reply. Tom Briscoe scored a record five tries, including one superb 90 yard finish, in a man of the match display. Leeds Rhinos were supreme and irresistible; Hull KR utterly obliterated. 

By this time, your Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything correspondent was feeling pretty good about his sporting Saturday. There was even the merest hint of that Schadenfreude piquancy, with card-carrying Leeds-haters like BarnsleyHuddersfield and Sheffield Wendies all comically tasting the dry ashes of defeat. The only way the day could have been improved would have been a defeat from a winning position for man u, my much-despised, Pride of Devon, favourite targets. But man u didn’t play till Sunday…

And, lo and behold, it came to pass. Sunday provided the warm afterglow to follow Saturday’s twin climaxes of joy and celebration. It was like Boxing Day used to be when I was a kid; a buffer against the downer that sometimes follows an emotional high – one more fiesta day, parties, further celebrations, even more lovely presents.

The Panther celebrates his winner against man u

My very favourite Pride of Devon defeats are the ones where they’ve ridden their luck and then taken an undeserved lead. You can see the arrogance set in; they start to swagger and believe the media fairy stories about how wonderful they are. And then, every now and again, the opposition bites back and smites the Over-rated Ones hip and thigh. Defeat is snatched by the media darlings from the very jaws of victory. So it happened today, to utterly overflow my cup of pleasure.

With a deadly one-two any champion boxer would be proud of, Swansea City recovered from the blow of going behind and promptly smashed man u left and right, to leave them bleeding and bewildered on the canvas. And then, as always happens with this shabby lot, the arrogance was replaced by truculence; the Pride of Devon starting to moan even more at the ref. They snarled and they kicked, they looked for dodgy penalties, they brought on a beanpole forward and abandoned any pretence at beautiful football. And they lost. Joy unconfined, they lost!

So it’s been another highly enjoyable day to complete a miraculous weekend that’s had just about everything. In the mix, a first win for the Whites, a brilliant clinching goal, yet more silverware for the Rhinos as they continue to carry all before them, a bracing start to Sunday at Whitley Bridge car boot sale and, of course, that sadistic pleasure at the discomfiture and defeat of the hated rabble from the Theatre of Hollow Myths. Still to come: a celebratory Chinese takeaway with wine and a good movie in the very best company I could wish for. And, Lordy Lord, it’s a bank holiday tomorrow. 

I’m a very happy man right now, as you’ve possibly gathered – but, naturally, this too shall pass. For the moment I shall just enjoy it, and look forward to Deadline Day – and then the peace and opportunity for calm reflection that comes with an international break. 

See you at the next turn of the cards. This has been a better one than most!

MOT. 



Wigan and Swansea Doing Well in Europe as West Ham Struggle at Home – by Rob Atkinson

Bobby Moore Lifts the World Cup for the 'Ammers

Bobby Moore Lifts the World Cup for the ‘Ammers

It’s the advent of a New Order we’re seeing in European competition this week – Swansea’s highly impressive performance against fallen giants Valencia being the headline, but Wigan’s solid draw in Belgium also drawing praise.  These are not names we’re used to seeing as our various clubs sally forth to uphold the good name of English football by giving Johnny Foreigner a good old punch on the boko (figuratively speaking, of course).  The fact that most domestic teams consist of Johnny Foreigners in a ratio of about 8:3 is neither here not there.  They’re British clubs and as they stomp all over some hapless bunch of continental also-rans, we feel a surge of pride – don’t we?  Even Spurs are doing OK against some unlikely collection of Norwegian lumberjacks.

So what about the old names that have been replaced by these Johnny foreigner come latelies?  Forest, Leeds, QPR and Derby all used to campaign successfully abroad, but their recent domestic record is of failure; all are currently embarked on varying programmes of recovery.   And then of course, there’s West Ham.  Whatever happened to them?

West Ham, you will recall (or possibly not) had a real European Reputation in the sixties, and even a partial one in the seventies.  In three consecutive years from 1964 to 1966, the late, great Bobby Moore hoisted silverware at the old Wembley as West Ham won the FA Cup, then the Cup-Winners Cup and then famously the World Cup.  That last one is a bit of a joke actually, although Hammers’ fans tell the tale seriously enough.  After all, their captain lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in ’66 and their players scored the goals.  But as former Irons winger of the time Harry Redknapp admits, even with Moore, Peters and Hurst, the Hammers finished an average of about 17th in that period.  “It just goes to show how crap the other eight of us were”, remarked ‘Appy ‘Arry.

Therein, perhaps, lies West Ham’s real problem.  They’ve just never quite made it as a Big Club, various shiny baubles notwithstanding.  They have this East End identity, they reek of the Krays and Leslie Grantham and other criminal types.  But as a serious football institution, they’re not quite there.  Even their most famous fan, Alf Garnett, supports Spurs in real life.  So the Hammers are left as a club with no real grasp on greatness, one whose main defining characteristics are the Bubbles Song and being generally recognised as bigger than Leyton Orient.  That mid-sixties heyday was their zenith – by the grace of Ron Greenwood, a Pope John Paul II lookalike and future England supremo – and assisted by three world-class players who were content for a spell to be big fish in a small pond, the Hammers punched above their weight like some cocky rat boy from Bethnal Green.  It couldn’t last, but while it did we became almost accustomed to the sight of a Hammers side fighting to conquer foreign fields – although in later years there would usually be an unhappy ending at the hands of Anderlecht or someone as West Ham met their Waterloo, and the Bubbles – well, burst.

So nowadays, if you want to look beyond the Big Lads at the top of the Premier League – and pending the return of fellow Euro-fighters like Leeds and Forest – it’s Wigan and Swansea we’ll be cheering on against those cross-channel types, whatever our domestic prejudices might be.  It IS good to see British clubs doing well abroad – or at least most of them.  Sadly it seems that the days of our youth when the famous claret and blue was well-known in stadia the length and breadth of UEFA – those days are probably gone forever and the best chance of the Hammers being in Europe again is if there’s a war.  Still, you never know – and they certainly have a better chance than my beloved Leeds.  For this season, at any rate.

Well done Wigan and Swansea, you did us proud.