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.
Managerial maestro Graham Potter has revealed that Leeds United target Ben White is an essential component of his masterplan for Brighton to achieve global domination by the end of the coming season, using their inimitable brand of attacking football, now rightly revered as “Potterball”, to crush all opposition.
A Brighton insider enlarged on the Seagulls’ plans to conquer football: “We are aiming to win the league and then the Champions League over the next two years, or sooner if possible. Ben White is vital to these plans, so much so that he might even get the odd game. His value to us is summed up by a price tag well into the billions, certainly more than a small club, a really really tiny, insignificant club by the way, such as Leeds could afford. And to show our commitment to Ben, we’re willing to pay him double what he was getting on our Youth Opportunities Scheme before we farmed him out to Newport”.
Asked if perhaps Brighton as a club have something of a chip on their shoulder where Leeds United and particularly Marcelo Bielsa are concerned, our man would only say “Well, you know how it is with Seagulls and chips”.
Meanwhile, the concept of “Potterball” is gaining momentum among the club’s dozens-strong supporter base. “These are exciting times”, said one drooling resident of Hove. “Potterball is where it’s at, and Ben White knows this. That’s why he’d prefer to stay and compete with seventeen other centre-backs, rather than return for another season under some Argentinian nobody. The world is at the lad’s feet – he’s incredibly lucky to have the greatest coach in the universe and £150 a week into the bargain. Read it and weep, Leeds!”
I make no apology to Sky Sports for nicking their “Leeds Promoted” image above. They owe us, I feel, for their snide and needless overlay of “Leeds Are Falling Apart Again” during their live lockdown coverage of a recent home game. Ultimately, Sky were wrong about the falling apart thing, as United clinched automatic promotion and the Championship Title, with two games to spare. A more apt motif for this season would be Angus Kinnear’s remark to the effect that we wouldn’t be dicking about with playoffs this season, and so we didn’t. Other teams have that nightmare before them, and they’re welcome to it.
Thanks go to Huddersfield and Stoke, both of which clubs I love very much, for making this weekend a riot of celebration and alcohol-based dissolution. You’ve been as wonderful for my spiritual well-being as you’ve been disastrous for my short term health; on balance, I’m deeply grateful.
All I need to do now is to add “As Championship Champions” to the above image, by dint of some PhotoShop type wizardry which is currently beyond me due to the effects of grain and grape. But I can do all that when I sober up, maybe sometime toward mid-August. In the meantime, I love all of you too, you’re my best mates, honest you are, salt of the earth to the very last Jack & Jill of you. Hic!!
Huddersfield Town – self-proclaimed “best of breed”
Leeds United have been dealt a potentially devastating blow to their promotion hopes, in the event of the current, COVID-19 affected season proving impossible to complete, as officials at the English Football League (EFL) appear set to accept the opinion of a rival club that they have better players, man for man, than the Elland Road club.
The controversial claim comes from Huddersfield Town chairman Phil Hodgkinson – pictured here 🤡 – who stated recently that the Terriers squad is superior to United’s on a man for man basis. Now, the EFL look likely to accept this as fact, given that Hodgkinson is a born and bred Town fan, being a member of the Young Terriers when he was but a pup, and that one of his companies is called PURE Legal Limited. EFL spokesperson Avril Primero, who admits to being a registered whippet fancier, was enthusiastic about the League’s likely endorsement of Hodgkinson’s opinion. “How can you doubt a man with those credentials?” gushed Ms Primero, waving a blue and white scarf above her head. “Phil is one of the good guys, certainly compared to certain shady foreigners we could name, operating as they do at a club without Huddersfield’s glorious record of success in the 1920s”.
Leeds continue to maintain that their only wish is to see the season completed, so that they can prove on the field of play which Championship team is the best over 46 games. Our reporter ventured to ask if the Elland Road stance would be informed by the fact that Leeds have murdered Huddersfield in both league games this season, but that query was met only with a polite reply to the effect that promotion and the league title would be decided over the full league programme, not by results against a so-called rival, and certainly not by recourse to any half-baked and embarrassing opinions offered when the person concerned was evidently high on Bob Martins Vitamin Pills.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – tempted by Elland Road but forced to settle for the San Siro
News has emerged that Leeds United held “concrete” talks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the January transfer window, with a view to bringing the prolific Swede to Elland Road for the run-in to a possible Premier League promotion. In the end, Zlatan settled for a less challenging option, moving to ply his trade in Serie A with AC Milan, but the important aspect of this remarkable story is what it reveals about the ambition being displayed by Leeds under the ownership of Andrea Radrizzani.
The January window was reasonably fruitful for United in the end, with the loan signing of Jean-Kevin Augustin, whose potential is beyond dispute. But still, the neghative end of the Leeds online support was as vocal as ever, accusing the club of dragging its feet and lacking ambition. It is now quite clear, with the audacious bid for Ibrahimovic – and with interest also apparently having been registered in the PSG sensation Edinson Cavani – that United are prepared to aim high in their efforts to enhance the squad. That kind of resolve, backed up by Premier League status and a vastly richer transfer war chest if promotion should be achieved this season, bodes very well for the Leeds squad development plans and prospects in a higher sphere.
If Leeds were prepared to think this big whilst still in the Championship, who knows what their targets might be as a top flight force? It’s a mouth watering prospect, however long the delay might now be until those ambitions can be realised.
Surely though, it’s now a matter of when, not merely if Leeds go up – and the ultimately unsuccessful enquiries for two major stars in January could well be a precursor to some extremely ambitious squad building in the run up to United’s first top level season in sixteen years.
It looks as though, when that glorious day dawns and Leeds are back in the big time, they might just be going for it in an appropriately big way – and this blogger, for one, can hardly wait.