One chilling phrase among a few sobering lines emerged from new manager Thomas Christiansen‘s debut press conference at Leeds United. Sad to say, the same old signs of fan expectations being carefully managed were all there – new players “but within our budget” etc etc. The implication was that the budget will be far from a bottomless bucket, but we all know that anyway. Leeds United has not been a “speculate to accumulate” club for ages now, despite the bounteous riches that await us, if we can only get over that hill and reach the Premier League Promised Land. So the promise of parsimony and caution isn’t exactly news to us fans. All that remains to be seen is the extent of the handicap we’ll be carrying, as compared to more ambitious and realistic clubs.
The really scary part, though, is what appears to this blog a sign of an almost deluded Elland Road view of the modern player’s priorities. I think it’s fair to say that we’re all aware of your average pro footballer’s top three most important things: in no particular order, they are cash, dosh and money. That’s a given, and any proletarian whinging will be met with a sharp volley of “it’s a short career”, “I’ve a family to look after” and so forth. The thing is, we’re under no illusions. Johnny Footballer isn’t motivated by love of club – he just wants to know what the bottom line is, and precisely how many high-performance motor vehicles that will put in his deluxe double garage with electronic drop-down doors.
So it’s acutely distressing to hear yet again the same old crap we’ve been fed before. This time, it’s from the persuasive mouth of Victor Orta – but it’s been said many a time and oft by various predecessors charged with explaining to the fans why we won’t be signing the kind of players Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and even Wolves will be aiming for. The dreaded phrase is “My task is to find players who want to be here, and not for money”.
Now, I could help Victor here. I could name any number of players like that, starting with my good self. I’d play for Leeds United for the inestimable honour of wearing that white shirt (XXL, please), and I wouldn’t presume to ask a penny piece. As far as that goes, I’m the Whites’ ideal recruit. The trouble is though, I’m crap at football, and I always was – even in my prime thirty years ago. But just to let you know, Victor – if you want cheap and starry-eyed, then I’m your man. And there’d be no shortage of players, with the name of Leeds United carved upon their hearts, equally eager as myself, but sadly equally crap. I guess you can’t have it all.
And therein lies the problem. Other clubs in the Championship have sussed out the truth in that ancient maxim: pay peanuts, get monkeys. Leeds United, undoubtedly the biggest club in the second tier, have consistently failed to live up to that historical billing. They seem to feel – and this is quite explicit in the hackneyed phrase trotted out by Orta – that players will be clambering over themselves to enter the hallowed portals of Elland Road, without caring a rotten fig for the amount of remuneration available. They seem to believe that players think like besotted fans. But – and this is dead obvious but really, really important – they don’t.
Professional players have dedicated their lives to getting to that point where a club like Leeds United might be interested in them. They know their worth, and if they don’t, there’s some oily git of an agent all too ready to tell them, for a mere 15%. They’re clued-up, eager to realise their financial potential and utterly unsentimental. They will, of course, trot out the usual fan-pleasing platitudes once they’ve signed for somebody (As soon as I heard Leeds/Forest/Newcastle/Chesterfield* were interested, there was no other place for me) – but we all know that’s just professional blarney. It’s expected – nobody takes it seriously. It’s all about how much wedge they stand to earn. *delete as applicable
One of two things is going on here. Either Leeds United, in the shape of their newly-hired management team, really do believe this guff about “players wanting to be here” – in which case, you worry for their knowledge and professional ability – or they’re spinning a line. And, in that latter case, we just have to hope that it’s the rest of the game they’re trying to spin a line to – and not us, the poor, long-suffering fans. If the club is trying to hide the true extent of their transfer pot from other clubs, in order to avoid prices being inflated, then they’re not being too subtle about it. And yet we might approve of such a strategy, if it gets us decent players for prices that aren’t too daft.
But if it’s us fans the club are trying – for the umpteenth time – to delude with tales of players unable to resist the honour of representing Leeds, despite being paid rather less than they might get down the road at some more cynical and sordid club where the belief is that you get what you pay for – then, frankly, it’s bloody insulting. But I just have this nasty feeling that might well be the case.
Only time will tell, and until these dark suspicions are proved correct, the new Leeds regime will have my cautious and conditional support. The proof of the pudding, as they say, will be in the eating – so we’ll just have to hope that the club’s movers and shakers are ready to sink their teeth into the transfer market, and give us a team to be proud of. Otherwise, I’m afraid to say, it’s difficult to see anything but a long struggle of a season ahead, with some or other degree of disappointment at the end of it.
As ever in this gloomy mood, I do hope that I’m wrong.