Tag Archives: Talent

Could Spurs Flop Andros Townsend Benefit From Another Spell at Leeds United? – by Rob Atkinson

Andros, doing it for the (England) shirt

The boy Andros, doing it for the (England) shirt

Andros Townsend, former loan flop at Leeds and current first-team pariah and occasional sub at Tottenham Hotspur, scored a fine goal for England last night in Italy, bringing him bobbing briefly to the surface of the public consciousness from which he sank out of view some time back. Showing a characteristically warped sense of priorities, one of Townsend’s first moves after he emerged from the England shower/bath/jacuzzi/pampered poodle parlour – was to engage in a bit of social media one-upmanship, tweeting former England star and fellow fickoe Paul Merson to say “Not bad for a player that should be ‘nowhere near the squad’ ay?” Stinging repartee and worldie bantz, we would probably concede.

The thing is, young Mr Townsend really needs to concentrate on establishing himself in a first team somewhere, rather than making occasional cameo appearances in the Three Lions shirt, scoring the odd blinder and then promptly disappearing again. There’s a disagreeable odour about Andros, the oddly pungent stench of “attitude problem”. Talent he surely has in abundance; his approach to establishing himself as an indispensable part of a team is more open to doubt. The talent will serve to get him the odd spectacular goal in an international friendly; it is not on its own enough to make him a vital cog in a league machine. The conclusion we might reluctantly be forced to draw is that Merse – for once in a very long while – might actually have a point.

Perhaps a change of scene might benefit the boy Townsend. He’s been to Elland Road before and failed – would he have the character to try again? Could he bury that treacherous pride, buckle down and try to earn a berth for himself at a lower level, but somewhere subject to notoriously harsh pressures? Townsend wasted his time at Elland Road, seeming a dilettante type of player; one who flatters to deceive and lacks the bottle to cut it when the chips are down. When the going got tough, Andros shipped out, to the less demanding environment of Birmingham City, there to sulk and send petulant tweets to scornful Whites fans.

Then there was a brief golden period at Spurs, some sort of momentary redemption epoch when everything came easy to him – a situation you suspect Andros prefers, to actually having to graft and battle. And then he was suddenly in the England fold, and the sky was, it seemed, the limit. But his star fell as swiftly as it had risen; he has been superseded at Spurs by talents at least equal to his own and attitudes far superior – take a bow, Harry Kane. He’s still somehow in the Three Lions arena, but his hold on that status must be tenuous at best.

Could Townsend actually still cut it at Leeds – where wingers are required for the run-in, players to bring out the best of the youthful talent that is blossoming at Elland Road? Leeds United is, after all, a club of comparatively recent Champion pedigree, something that Spurs have to look back 54 years to recall. So, self-regarding Andros wouldn’t exactly be slumming it – and at the moment, he’d have a fighting chance of actually forcing his way into a developing United team.

It’s an intriguing thought. Well, I think it is. Perhaps I just want to see the lad humiliated again, after his unforgivably casual attitude when he had the chance and that iconic United shirt before. But, from Townsend’s point of view – if he really wanted to shove Paul Merson’s opinion back down his throat – then a stint somewhere like Leeds and a bit of consistency would do a lot more to that end than one sweetly-struck shot against what was a second-string Italian team.

As the Merse himself might say – “Fink abaht it, Andros – fink abaht it.”

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Happy Birthday to Leeds Utd Legend Eddie “The Last Waltz” Gray – by Rob Atkinson

A dapper Eddie pictured in front of a dapper, all-standing Kop

A dapper Eddie pictured in front of a dapper, all-standing Kop

It’s “Legends Birthday Time” again, and today we celebrate the 66th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edwin “The Last Waltz” Gray, genius winger, loyal Leeds man through and through and thoroughly bloody nice bloke, as Tim Nice-But-Dim might say – only this time, he’d be spot on.  It was Don Revie who once said of Eddie “If that lad hadn’t pulled a muscle, nobody would ever have heard of George Best”. That’s certainly fulsome praise and a hell of a tribute to a lavishly talented player, surely one of the very best ever to pull on a Leeds United shirt.

The memories of Eddie are many, mainly as that gifted player who would torture full-backs with a genial smile on his face, but also as a manager at Leeds, in charge of a precociously gifted set of youngsters who could have gone far with just that little bit of extra investment – sound familiar? Eddie has also served his time as a pundit, commenting on the latter-day performances of his beloved Leeds United, always straining so hard for impartiality and endeavouring to avoid accusations of bias – indeed, some out here sometimes feel he tries a little too hard in this respect.  But I’ve had the honour of meeting the man a few times, and one of these was on the commentary gantry at Elland Road – when he was preoccupied by the need to find me a chair to sit on, much to my bemused delight – so I’m well aware of Eddie’s professionalism as a broadcaster, just as was the case in his days as a player, manager and most recently as the coach in those promising early David O’Leary days.

It is, of course, as a player that Eddie will best be remembered and revered by Leeds United fans of all ages.  Those who weren’t lucky enough to see him play in person may well have thrilled to video footage of his bravura performance in the 1970 FA Cup Final when, on an absolute pig of a pitch chopped-up by the Horse of the Year Show, he put in one of his greatest and most tantalising displays of sorcery out wide, reducing David Webb to a gibbering shadow of his normally efficient self.  Legend has it that Webb eventually had to be taken off with severe vapours and twisted blood – sadly he was to have his revenge in a replay gifted to Chelsea by the inevitable Sprake big-match cock-up.

Another vivid memory is of Eddie’s bewitching dance through the Burnley defence in a league match at Elland Road, when he took on and beat opponents just as he pleased before drilling a sublime near-post finish past a bewildered Peter Mellor in the Dingles goal.  It is this match that brings out Mr Gray’s slight perverse streak; he scored two that day and he always insists that it’s the other goal – a superbly-judged 35 yard lob at the Gelderd End – which he remembers as his best.  But nobody who has seen the way he destroyed a top class defence with that mazy run, will ever forget it.  It was a bit like the famous Ricky Villa goal for Spurs at Wembley – except much better.

More generally, it’s the characteristic hunched shape of Eddie Gray that you remember – never totally reliant on speed, he would beat his man with pure skill, manifesting itself in a variety of tricks, shuffles, stepovers and other sundry pieces of magic. His long-term thigh injury, sustained as a mere youngster, led him to rely far more on technique than pace and mobility, although he was no laggard either. But such were his sublime skills that he stands as possibly the last great example of the old-fashioned tricky winger, a man who could play an entire top-flight defence as a toreador plays a bull, a player of prodigious style, skill and elan.

Mere words cannot, of course, do justice to Eddie Gray the player or Eddie Gray the man.  Leeds United have been privileged by the service and unstinting support of both, and they have not always played fair by him in his various roles at the club.  But Eddie Gray’s place in the Elland Road Hall of Fame is as secure as that of any other Legend in the whole history of the club; he is synonymous with Leeds, which is after all the place he has lived and worked for most of his life since the age of 15 – not that anyone could guess this whilst trying to understand his impenetrably Scottish accent.

It was my pleasure and privilege to watch Eddie Gray weave his magic for Leeds United many times between 1975 and the end of his playing days, by which time he had become a cultured full-back who also managed the team.  His long and illustrious career gives the lie to Brian Clough’s infamous remark that, had he been a racehorse, he’d have been shot – a jibe at that long-standing injury.  This was surely the most oafish remark that Clough – a quite legendary oaf – ever made.  Even Gray, that most mild-mannered of men, took exception – reminding Clough, who was his manager at the time, that his own career was ended by injury and that he should, therefore, know better than to say anything so crass.  I’d have given plenty to see Old Big’ead’s face when that shot went home.

Eddie Gray – genius, magician, legend – and not least of these attributes, the nicest guy you could wish to meet.  Happy Birthday, Eddie, and many, many happy returns.

How Did Leeds United Miss Out on Talented Sevilla Prospect and Local Lad Reuben Smith? by Rob Atkinson

Leeds Fan Reuben Smith - On The Books at Sevilla

Leeds Fan Reuben Smith – On The Books at Sevilla

At the tender age of eight, Reuben Smith was offered terms by Sheffield United FC – a massive step forward for any young lad who wants a career in professional football.  But Reuben – who had dazzled anyone who’d ever watched him play football, almost as soon as he could walk – had other ideas.  He’d been going along to Elland Road with his dad since he was a toddler and his heart was set on wearing the famous white shirt of Leeds United. That such a desirable link-up – for Reuben and perhaps for Leeds – never happened raises worrying concerns about the scouting system that can let a diamond slip away right from under the nose of – supposedly – one of the finest youth set-ups anywhere.

What actually happened was a phone call out of the blue from Portuguese giants Benfica, who had obviously heard good things about the lad from Featherstone near Pontefract, just a few miles from Leeds.  Benfica’s interest alerted top Spanish club Sevilla and, after completing his GCSE’s at St Wilfrid’s High School (my daughter’s school, so she is partly to blame) Reuben took a plane flight alone to Malaga, made the cross-country coach trip to Sevilla and is now a part of their youth academy.  He is being guided by Jesus Rodriguez de Moya Conde, a man who had been instrumental in uncovering the talents of Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid, Antonio Reyes late of Arsenal and recent Man City capture Jesus Navas.

Any young footballer who can earn himself a place in such a talent factory must have quite a lot going for him.  His dad talks about the boy having a sense of space, time and rhythm from an early age.  It’s no coincidence that he shows talent in other areas too; when he plays the drums it’s apparently “like watching a jazzman from the ’50s”.  “Our Reuben has a rhythm that needs to be played out somewhere,” says proud dad Dean, “and he’s playing to a different beat, his boundaries are not limited by where he’s from, just where he’s going.” This sounds like just the sort of combination of gifts and instinctive ability that could flourish in the artistic tempo of la Liga – but it is undeniably frustrating to think that the boy’s real desire was to wow the Gelderd End at Elland Road.

It’s to be hoped that such local promise does not too frequently go un-noticed by the region’s premier professional Football Club.  Leeds have shown themselves to be no slouches when it comes to nurturing young talent from raw potential right through to the first team.  Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt are testament enough to that.  But there’s no such thing as too many talented young players – and particularly those of whom it could truly be said that Leeds United blood courses through their veins.  To see a young prospect like Reuben Smith benefiting from top quality coaching in the the best league anywhere makes you pleased for the lad – but also disappointed for Leeds that the Yorkshire giants appear to have missed out on such a chance to polish another diamond of their very own. It could turn out to be an expensive oversight.

Good luck, Reuben Smith, wherever your career takes you – within reason.  And don’t anyone be surprised if, in a few years time, their Premier League status firmly re-established and operating once again alongside the country’s top clubs, Leeds United find themselves shelling out a good few million quid on a stellar talent that they could have had for nowt.