Nobody can accuse Leeds United of not going full tilt on their return to the Premier League after a 16-year absence, both on the pitch and in the transfer market. The board have backed maverick manager Marcelo Bielsa with an eclectic mix of new signings.
Besides bringing last season’s loanees Helder Costa and Illan Meslier in on permanent deals and extending Manchester City-owned Jack Harrison’s stay at Elland Road, some future prospects for the developmental squad have also joined. There are fresh faces for the first team too.
Former Bolton Wanderers loan capture Rodrigo only managed one goal during his first taste of English football a decade ago. Having since established himself at Valencia, the Brazil-born Spain forward has at least matched his tally for the Trotters at Leeds already.
Reinforcing defence was also a priority of Bielsa’s, although the expansive and open style of his team does not exactly lend itself automatically to clean sheets. Nonetheless, two full international centre backs in Robin Koch and Diego Llorente have arrived from Germany and Spain respectively.
The latter was part of an overachieving Real Sociedad side that finished sixth in La Liga last term and reached the Copa del Rey final. Koch, meanwhile, helped Freiburg progress from battling Bundesliga relegation to just missing out on European football for this season during his three years with them.
These are defenders on the up, then, and – provided they continue to improve in the crucible of the Premier League – they should serve Bielsa well. It appears as though Leeds have learned from Championship heartache and struggles to get back up into the big time.
Bielsa also has new wide options to support Rodrigo or Patrick Bamford who has the central striking berth for now. The wonderfully named Crysencio Summerville has been prolific for the Netherlands Under-19s, and the winger of Surinamese descent rejected a new deal at Feyenoord in favour of moving to Elland Road.
Brazilian wide prospect Raphinha arrived on transfer deadline day from French Ligue 1 outfit Rennes too. The 23-year-old has already played for Sporting Lisbon, one of the biggest clubs in Portugal, earlier in his career. If these options on the flanks can provide service, then they add value to the side.
Maintaining the high-intensity style demanded by Bielsa in what is a shortened season means the depth of the squad is key. Leeds have eight points from their first four games. Keep that average up, and there is nothing to worry about.
One or two transfers fell by the wayside, however. Bayern Munich’s midfielder Mickael Cuisance returned to his native France on loan at Marseille after a move to Elland Road broke down. Bielsa also missed out on creative compatriot midfielder Rodrigo De Paul from Udinese.
Despite that, the feeling is that Leeds may have done some smart business. Fans are firmly behind Bielsa after he did what managers with infinitely more experience of English football coming into the Elland Road hot seat failed to do. The adventure continues.
Straight after his release by West Ham, former Arsenal star Jack Wilshere – still only 28 – has taken to social media to stress that he’s been fit and ready to play top level football for months. All he’s been lacking, according to his statement tonight, is the chance to prove his worth. So it’s quite obvious that what Wilshere is looking for is a club at the top level who will give him that chance. Could the club be Leeds United?
Naturally, there are doubts. We don’t know what the issue has been at West Ham, if there’s no chronic injury or lack of fitness or desire. Hammers fan Jack’s not saying. But maybe, in his particular circumstances, he’d be willing to accept a pay per play deal, as the chance he’s been craving to prove that he’s still able to do a job at the top.
This blogger thinks it’s worth a punt. A fit and firing Wilshere would be a quality addition to any EPL squad. I’m sure some enterprising outfit will give him a go and, barring any other CAM option presenting itself, I’d like Leeds to show a bit of faith, which Wilshere could then perhaps repay.
Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything thinks that this would be a chance we’ll worth taking. Your (polite) thoughts?
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.
Nobody does weird like Leeds United, that’s understood. However, with the news that the seemingly 99.99% complete transfer of Michael Cuisance may well have fallen through, it seems possible that the Whites may have out-weirded even themselves.
So strange does this apparent conclusion seem, after “done deal” was flagged up across the various social media platforms over the past twenty-four hours, that we at Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything decided to dispatch our intrepid investigative reporter Rob Schreibermann to Munich, and find out what’s really going on.
Armed only with his passport, bus pass and a vacuum-wrapped Schnitzengruben in case he felt peckish, our man set forth, determined to find out the truth. And, already, we can report that the stumbling block seems to be a long-standing feud between Leeds and Bayern dating back 45 years to 1975.
Astounding as it may seem, it was Leeds United’s insistence that Bayern finally hand over the European Cup, of which they have always maintained they were robbed in the 1975 Final at the Parc des Princes in Paris, that finally killed the deal, as Bayern steadfastly refuse to make a gesture that would expose them as cheats. Although this explanation verges on the very outer limits of credibility, it must be said that it’s many times more likely than the bizarre Daniel James from Swansea fiasco repeating itself quite so soon.
Whatever the background to this development, the Cuisance deal seems to be dead, and Leeds are now faced with having to find a suitable alternative target. Unless, that is, cash-strapped Udinese have decided their bluff has been called, and have made a phone call along the lines of “Let’s talk de Paul for £25m, Victor”? Stranger things have happened, after all.
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.
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.
Certain things in life just aren’t done, usually for very good reasons. “Never draw to an inside straight” is an old poker aphorism which has entered the wider language with the approximate meaning of “don’t take unnecessary or unwise risks”. Away from the gaming table and into polite society, etiquette demands (inter alia) that port should only be passed to the left, and the fellow who has the bad breeding to do otherwise is marked down as a low cad. These are situations to be avoided; common sense in the former case and fine table manners in the latter mean there is no other choice, if you wish to be accepted as a person who knows what’s what.
Similarly, in other walks of life, behaviour is dictated by what can be accepted as exemplary upbringing, good sense, respect for your elders and betters and – by no means least – tact. Tact is extraordinarily important, for anybody who wishes to get ahead without ruffling too many feathers along the way, always bearing in mind the need to be nice to people on the way up, lest you meet them in a vengeful mood on the way back down again.
It will be a good few years before Brighton’s promising young defender Ben White has to worry about what will happen to him when he’s over the hill and on the slippery downhill slope that awaits us all. Ben’s best years are ahead of him, years in which he will wish to realise his massive potential and maximise the rewards he can hope to gain from what should be a stellar career. In order to do that, White must surely realise the importance of getting the best he possibly can in terms of education and experience in the formative phase of his football life. His magnificent season as a loan star in the colours of Leeds United will have brought it home to Ben that what he can gain under at least one more year of Marcelo Bielsa’s tutelage, combined with the guarantee of playing time that would not apply at a “top six club”, is highly unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. In short, right now, Ben White needs Bielsa’s Leeds just as much as Bielsa’s Leeds needs Ben White. But, sadly, it is impossible, for reasons of tact, to put out of joint the nose of Graham Potter, the coach at White’s parent club Brighton.
Egos, self image, prickly sensitivity and envy – all of these play a part in any competitive environment, professional football more than most. The last thing Mr. Potter will wish to hear from young Ben is that he feels his professional development will be better served under Bielsa at Leeds than in his current situation in Sussex. As admirable a club as Brighton undoubtedly are, and whatever the merits of the manager who has seen fit to put a price tag of £40 million on the head of a young lad he deems unworthy of a top contract “until he sees him in training”, you can’t blame Ben White for identifying Bielsa and the culture he’s nurtured at Elland Road as the prime mover behind what has been a meteoric rise to prominence since his United debut at Bristol just over a year ago. Clearly, Ben wants to prolong the experience, that’s utterly understandable. But how do you go about explaining this to current employers who have you in a contractual bind? Tact forbids being too pointed about such a business, and that’s the dilemma facing Ben White.
Those of us with the best interests of Leeds United and Ben White at heart – and those interests are arguably identical – will hope that a way can be found through this maze of conventions and manners, tactfully of course, towards a solution acceptable to all parties. And Graham Potter’s feelings needn’t end up too bruised, it’s just a matter of him being able to accept that, whatever his talents, he’s no Marcelo Bielsa. After all, who is? Perhaps White’s agent can find some tactful way of making the situation as perceived by his client crystal clear – without ruffling those seagulls’ feathers too much.