Tag Archives: World Cup

Massive, Defining Week Ahead for Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the next few days for Yorkshire‘s number one football club. The decisions due to be made by various parties could well dictate the shape, not only of the season ahead for Leeds United, but even of the next few years. A major change in management style and recruitment policy seems to be under consideration, with the abiding question being: and what happens if prime target Marcelo Bielsa doesn’t take the United helm?

That could of course turn out to be a question strictly for the pessimists and the more mischievous outposts of the press. While the glass-half-empty brigade on Twitter and the 95% of the media hostile to Leeds have done their best to stoke up doubt and despondency, the club itself, as well as respected journalists closer to the people in charge, exudes an air of businesslike calm. The expectation clearly exists that what initially appeared to be wishful thinking could actually happen. If it does – and we should know quite shortly now – then it could easily change the course of Leeds United history. And in a good way, too.

Interestingly, the betting markets still appear to assume that these great events will take place. And bookies have a vested interest in getting these things right. So this next week, so nearly upon us, could well be an epochal time for anyone with LUFC carved on their heart.

And if Bielsa doesn’t happen – well it’s still significant that Leeds are looking at that end of the talent market. There’s no reason to suppose that, should the volatile Argentinean decide that Elland Road is not for him, United will inevitably resort to the bargain basement outlets they’ve frequented before. The apparent change of attitude at the top of the club is at least as important as the names in circulation as possibilities as coach or new players. The intent of the club is the crucial thing, and we must presume that the nature of this intent will survive any short term disappointments.

So it’s still a case of “watch this space”, though not, you’d suspect, for too much longer. Sit back, and wait for great happenings to unfold down LS11 way. This could well be the first week of a whole new era for Leeds, maybe even one of a distinctly golden hue.

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Elland Road’s England Extravaganza Proves Premier League Needs Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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Southgate’s England win at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road

England‘s last stopping-off point before their Russian quest for World Cup glory was at a vibrant and atmospheric Elland Road – and the occasion told us plenty, some of it even about our national team and its chances this summer.

Talking about England first, this was a competent and dominant performance against a slightly jet-lagged Costa Rica team who were still nobody’s mugs. England pretty much won as they liked though, with Marcus Rashford, looking much more effective with better players around him, making a persuasive case for inclusion in the opening game of England’s group, ahead, perhaps, of Raheem Sterling. Rashford’s spectacular 13th minute opener brought generous cheers from the Kop, despite the lad’s day job, with Danny Welbeck‘s close range header near the end greeted equally warmly by the South Stand. In between the two decisive strikes, England passed prettily, defended well enough to leave their keeper Jack Butland largely unemployed, and a lively attack gave the Costa Rican defence plenty to think about.

But the signature note of the evening was struck by the occasion’s real star – Elland Road itself. For once in a very long while, the muted, apathetic atmosphere of Wembley was replaced by a thrillingly raucous fervour to urge on the national team, courtesy of one of football’s genuine, old-style cauldrons of white-hot atmosphere. That’s done nowhere quite so well as it is in this part of Leeds; the crowd lifted the England players to a degree that was obvious to anybody who’s suffered through some of those dreary friendlies in North London. This was dutifully acknowledged by commentators and pundits alike; Clive Tyldesley for ITV noted that the attendance was around 36,000, “but sounds like twice as much”. Indeed. Old Trafford, it’s worth mentioning, can do a similar trick – only the other way around.

Lee Dixon in his punditry role was fired with enthusiasm afterwards. This is what you need, he exulted, thumbing over his shoulder at the arena behind him. Let’s take England on the road. It’s a good idea, one that’s been around for years now, but the commercial lure of Wembley has usually won the day. Perhaps there will now be a rethink. It’s no coincidence that this was one of the better England “friendly” performances; the team responded to the crowd, the occasion, the unique atmosphere. Above all, tonight showed beyond doubt that the Premier League – currently stuffed with pedestrian acts like Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Watford – positively needs the return of Leeds United. The stadium, the club and the fanatical support are all wasted on anything less than the elite group, and the so-called Premier League has been diluted too far and for too long by elements of mediocrity. The return of United cannot come too soon, for the sake of all parties concerned.

For Leeds United fans, it was a taste of what might be to come, the stadium packed out and cheering on some top class footballers who may even be destined for great things. How the fans of Yorkshire‘s top club would like to sample that atmosphere, and witness this style of performance, on a more regular basis. It’s a dream, something to hope for and aspire to. And, you never know – those dreams do occasionally come true.

An Angry Pontus Will be Better for Leeds United than the Meek Pontus of Last Season – by Rob Atkinson

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Bring on “Angry Pontus” for a Leeds promotion charge

If Leeds United are indeed to enjoy an annus mirabilis to follow the annus horribilis we’ve all just experienced, then a few changes will have to be made. One is underway; we’re currently gasping our way through the information vacuum between the termination of the hapless Hecky and the inevitable appointment of The Best Coach In The World™. Other changes are afoot too, with the acquisition of a striker recently valued at £20 million a distinct possibility for the princely sum of nowt. The snag is that Hull City‘s loss and our gain (and remember, we’ve already got one Hernandez) will require wages commensurate with his undoubted ability, failing which he might decide to join a Premier League relegation struggle at Wolves or Newcastle.

Still, these things are being dealt with, and some hard news will surely emerge shortly. But there are other areas of difficulty as well as coaching and the strike force: namely, goalkeeper, defence and a bit of steel in midfield – although the arrival of Forshaw has allayed some of the engine room anxiety, particularly if he can strike up partnerships with Messrs. Ideguchi and Klich. The goalkeeping problem is less taxing with the emergence of young Bailey Peacock-Farrell, though a more experienced keeper could well be added.

Which leaves us with defence, and the curious case of Pontus Jansson. There’s absolutely no doubt that Pontus, at his best, is exactly the sort of guy you would wish at the back, heading balls away to the halfway line, sliding in with murderous intent upon encroaching opposition forwards, and generally throwing himself about the park in the cause of Leeds United. That’s the Pontus we all remember, very fondly, from the majority of the season before last. The season just gone, though, was nothing like as impressive from Jansson. Deprived of a rock solid centre-back partner in Kyle Bartley, Pontus played through the recent campaign like a pale shadow of his former self, diffident, injury-prone, seemingly unable to get going when the going got tough. He occasionally got caught fannying about at the back instead of, as used to be his preferred method, clearing both ball and opponent far, fast and often. It was all most disappointing, and it sort of summed up our season, which flared briefly and then rapidly petered out into damp squib territory.

Now, Pontus is upset at the way certain recent remarks of his have been poorly translated, or misinterpreted, or taken out of context, or something. These utterances appeared to some fans capable of being seen as a “come and get me plea”, the implication being that Mr Jansson might be interested in various offers he might have been aware of, that would allow him to remain in England as he would wish, with just the hint that he’d ideally like to play in the Premier League. Seemingly, Pontus is irate at the way things have been lost in translation, claiming that he would “never talk bad about my club”. Doubtless, there is some inconsistency between the original quotes attributed to Jansson, and his more recent clarifications. You pays your money, and you takes your choice.

For me, though, the important thing is that, in hotly denying that he was angling for a move, Pontus showed a bit of fiery passion. Any central defender worth having should have this nasty streak in him, a part of his character that says, needle me at your peril. And it’s that irascibility, the flash of temper clearly apparent in the early days, that seemed to be missing in the season just past. Maybe it was the loss of Bartley, with the subsequent chopping and changing of defensive partnerships, or maybe it was just “second season syndrome”. But there was undoubtedly a difference, you didn’t have to be an ex-pro pundit to see that.

Now that he has, to some extent, nailed his colours to the mast, reaffirming his commitment and gratitude to Leeds United as the club that “saved his career”, maybe we can expect better things in the season to come – particularly if a certain Mr Bartley were to be lured back. We understand that Agent Ayling is on the case even as we speak. That better performance, though, is even more likely to come about if Pontus can harness some of that anger and attitude, the sort of thing he’s just displayed verbally, but that was sadly lacking in his on-field performances over the past year. A bit of anger might help restore that missing mojo.

Still, there’s a World Cup being held in the meantime, and Pontus will be hoping for more than a passing involvement in the colours of Sweden. And, if he happens to have a good tournament, then (at the risk of upsetting him) it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Pontus Jansson sidling towards the Elland Road exit door before August. I’ll just hope I’m wrong, and that instead, we’ll see Angry Pontus marshalling our defence as we challenge for promotion in 2019.

Leeds United’s Ambitious Transfer Plans Can Transform Club’s Fortunes – by Rob Atkinson

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Abel Hernández – possible Leeds addition?

Leeds United are talking the talk, so it is reported, ahead of what could and should be a busy summer transfer window. The question now, assuming that we believe some of the tempting names being bandied about, is: can they actually walk the walk, delivering signings that will radically reshape the squad ahead of yet another season outside the top flight?

On the pessimistic side of this debate, it has to be said that, after the past several years, we’re getting used to “having our expectations managed” (some would call this “being lied to”). Time and again, transfer windows have opened to the accompaniment of earnest declarations of intent and ambition – only to slam shut again with promises unfulfilled and the squad either not noticeably stronger, or sometimes actually weakened. It’s annoying and frustrating – but maybe, just maybe, that won’t happen this time. So far, after all, under the stewardship of Andrea Radrizzani, more actual money has been spent on transfer incomings than for many a season past – though much, if not all of this could be said to have been funded by high-profile departures like Chris Wood. You might even argue that our cash has been flashed, not wisely, but too well – yet the real problem for United has been the stifling effect of the club’s wage structure, effectively ruling out many of the better performers, who sordidly insist on going to clubs where they’ll get more money.

So, looking on the optimistic side now, it’s mildly encouraging at least to hear whispers that the upper wage limit might just be less parsimonious this time around. That, if true, would provide a whole new dimension of possibilities for United’s recruitment process, in that we’d be able to attract a better quality of player – in theory, anyway. Some of the names mooted would seem to suggest that such a loosening of the salary purse-strings may indeed be under consideration. Both Abel Hernández of Hull City, and Birmingham ‘keeper David Stockdale currently command salaries that would have put them out of United’s reach in previous windows. But now, both are being talked about as serious prospects, with respected Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Phil Hay being quite clear that there is some substance behind the Hernández story. This surely indicates that a change of policy in terms of wages could indeed be possible.

By common consent, the Leeds squad needs significant surgery this summer, with some drastic snipping needed as well as some high quality grafting. Getting rid of what has been judged unhealthy excess flab in the squad may be a task in itself, with some unwisely lengthy contracts having been lavishly handed out during last summer’s mainly bargain basement splurge. And, clearly, the desperate need for quality in several areas of the park will not be met on the cheap. Or, at least, we’ll have to hope that the powers that be are not daft enough to suppose that it can.

On the face of it, the recruitment of Hernández and Stockdale would represent a hell of a good start, with perhaps the return of Kyle Bartley and a new deal for our tyro left-back Tom Pearce, a player who made such an impact towards the end of the season just gone, into the bargain. There are other noteworthy names in the mix, some of whom might appear more likely than others. But, overall, if only half of the possibilities being spoken of actually came to fruition, with a bit of dead wood clearance too, the Leeds squad would have a distinctly leaner and fitter look about it come August, and quite possibly a more generous smattering of quality. And that would be nice.

Always assuming, of course, that we’re not being toyed with yet again, having those expectations ruthlessly exploited and then dashed, for the umpteenth time. But, surely – they must know they can’t get away with that again, not and keep the 30,000 crowds coming, anyway. They really must know that – mustn’t they?

New from the White House: the alternate truths historical timeline since 1946

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Some hoary old myths of World and American history have been dispelled since President Donald J Trump moved into the White House, and that process is continuing with the ongoing alternative truths campaign initiated by the President’s loyal staff. Below, we summarise the alternate truth historical timeline as it is now understood.

Donald Trump was born in 1946, and by the tender age of ten had already gained first class degrees at both Harvard and Yale, reflecting his phenomenal IQ of 276. During his teens, he became a test pilot and then the leading combat pilot in the USAF, recording 65 kills in the Korean conflict alone. Moving into his twenties, Donald took up fighting and tennis, becoming undisputed World Boxing champion at four different weights simultaneously, as well as winning the tennis Grand Slam for five consecutive years. His sporting career went from strength to strength, culminating with a late bid to become a soccer star. He subsequently helped the USA win soccer’s World Cup in 1962, 1966 and 1970, scoring a hat trick on each occasion and being lauded by Pelé and Bobby Moore as their “most difficult opponent”. Trump rounded off his club soccer career by joining Manchester United in time to win them the 1968 European Cup, scoring all four goals at Wembley.

Moving on from sport into business, Donald founded ICI and the IMF and became a multi-trillionaire in the six months after European Cup glory. This enabled him to take up responsibility for the funding of the continuance of the Apollo program, in which he took an active part, becoming the first man to walk on the moon in July 1969. Not content with this, Donald not only became the first man to hit a golf shot on the moon, he also actually achieved a hole in one, finishing 24 under par in history’s first extra-terrestrial round of golf and putting one lost ball into permanent lunar orbit. 

Back on Earth, Donald’s achievements continued apace. In the early seventies he returned to combat duties for the US Air Force, reducing Vietnam to a vanquished enemy with his 754 successful fighter sorties, knocking down an average of 2.54 MIG fighters per mission.

Having become the first American to win two wars single handed, beating Errol Flynn’s record by one, Donald Trump somewhat belatedly entered the world of entertainment, winning best actor Oscars for his first seventeen movies. He is particularly remembered for his bravura performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars, Danny Zuko in Grease and the shark in Jaws.

The historical achievements were mounting up, and there seemed to be few fields left for this remarkable man to conquer. Becoming bored with sports, space exploration and movies, it was time for Donald to tread the boards of the world’s greatest stages, creating roles such as Lear, Othello, Lady Macbeth and the Grinch.

Throughout his life up until the end of the seventies, Donald felt that his incredible singing ability had been rather masked by his mastery of acting. Now though, his gift as an operatic tenor came to the fore as he performed all the great roles in a decade of virtuoso vocal displays. Perhaps his greatest triumph was his definitive version of Nessun Dorma, which became the most widely admired operatic performance of all time, providing the theme to the Italia 90 World Cup in which Donald also made a sporting comeback at the age of 44, scoring another hat trick to win a fourth title for the USA as Germany were trounced in the Final by 5-0.

In the next two decades, Donald relaxed slightly to concentrate on his personal life and establish a reputation as the world’s greatest lover and most attractive man. During this time, Donald was heavily in demand by all of the world’s most beautiful women, all of whom wanted to bear him a little Trump to improve the planet’s gene pool. It is estimated that Donald took 12,000 lovers in this period, whilst remaining a good and faithful family man and also becoming the first swimmer to conquer the Atlantic and the Pacific. In response to doubters, Donald later swam both oceans again, in one day, followed up by a solo trek across Antarctica.

Finally, for the crowning achievement of this extraordinary life to date, it was time for the Donald to bestow the gift of himself on politics. Starting out humbly as the power behind the Reagan and Bush dynasties, Donald also seduced Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain to ensure that the USA had a strategic platform off the coast of Europe and single-handedly causing the collapse of communism. Later, Donald became the Governor of every state barring Florida and Hawaii, reserving these for golf projects. When the time was finally right for him to run for President, Donald’s global reputation and skilfully developed power base would ensure him a landslide victory to eclipse any in history.

And this greatest of all triumphs is what we have just witnessed. Donald won all the states to romp home to the White House, gaining 99.86% of the popular vote and attracting 60 billion adoring fans to his record-breaking inauguration. In so doing, he has established a new American domination of global politics which is expected to last für ein tausend Jahre.

Hail to the Chief! Hail Donald Trump!! Hail, hail, Heil!!!

Forget George Best: King John Charles Was the Greatest British Player Ever – by Rob Atkinson

John Charles - the Greatest

John Charles – the Greatest

Ask any football fan to tell you who in their opinion was the greatest British footballer ever, and you’ll get a variety of answers. Danny Blanchflower, Tom Finney, George Best, Duncan Edwards, Dave Mackay, Billy Bremner, Kenny Dalglish, Paul Gascoigne – and many, many more, some with reasonable claims for recognition, others less so.  Probably most will go for Best, partly because of the hype that surrounds the self-proclaimed Greatest Club in the World and partly because Best himself wasn’t shy about telling everyone he was the best ever, anywhere, which must have given World Cup Winners Zidane and Maradona slight cases of mirth-induced hiccups.

The claims of Best tend to be perpetuated by the media, who have their own agenda when proclaiming superlatives about the game, especially these days when markets are so important and merchandise-buying fans must be kept happy.  So we hear that Man U are the biggest/greatest, that Old Trafford, the Theatre of Hollow Myths itself, is the finest ground this side of Betelgeuse, that the Busby Babes were going to be the greatest team in all four dimensions for ever and ever – and that Best was, well, the Best. It’s a self-perpetuating myth that glosses lightly over George’s many faults: his predilection for taking the field in important semi-finals tired and emotional as a newt, or not-so-fresh from some young strumpet’s bed; his dislike of discipline and inconveniences such as training; his waste of a massive natural talent upon early retirement and then a succession of ever more embarrassing comebacks.  This was the greatest player ever?  Really??  What does the word “great” mean, exactly?

If you ask a Juventus fan of a certain age, he’d probably have a pretty unanswerable argument to put for the unparalleled greatness of William John Charles (1931 – 2004). Proud Welshman Charles shone for several seasons in the top two leagues of the English game with Leeds United before a then British record fee of £65,000 was enough to take him to Italy.  There he scored on his debut for Juventus and never really looked back, performing with such masterly grace, skill, power and sportsmanship that the Juve fans took him to heart forever, dubbing him il Gigante Buono – The Gentle Giant.

In 1997, Charles was voted by fans of the Italian game as “best-ever foreign import” – this over and above the likes of Platini, Maradona, Law, Rush, Sivori, Gullit and Zidane (who had been at Juventus a year when the vote was taken). For a player to be deemed the best ever in that sort of company, and well over 30 years after he had left Italy into the bargain, argues for a truly special, unique performer, someone who possessed very great gifts indeed.

Those tifosi know their football, after all – and in Charles they knew they had a world-class centre-half and a world-class centre-forward, all wrapped up in one modest and loveable package.  Who else embodied skill, strength, temperament, courage better than the Gentle Giant, a man described by the Juve club doctor after his transfer medical as “quite the most perfect human machine I have ever seen”?

John Charles was all that, and so much more besides.  He has been described as being simultaneously the best defender and best attacker in the world, blessed with heading power to surpass many a player’s shooting ability, a rocket shot in either foot, an incredible physique and amazing skill on the floor, especially for such a big and powerful man.

In the whole of his career, encompassing all those seasons in the physical battleground of Serie A, he was never once sent off, nor even cautioned.  That is perhaps even his greatest achievement, considering the attention paid to trying to mark him out of his attacking contribution – and yet Charles’ spell with Juventus was so honour-laden that he carried home many tangible rewards also.

His spell at Juventus must count as the John Charles heyday, although he had enjoyed considerable success in a mediocre team at Leeds United.  Several goal-scoring records fell to the giant Welshman during his first and most productive spell at Elland Road, and yet he’d had a long spell as a central defender, another position in which he was a truly daunting opponent.  Leeds were sometimes nicknamed “John Charles United” at this period of their history and none who saw him play doubted that here was the finest footballer in the world.

It was the versatility of Charles, his ability to excel in two such different positions, stopping attacks and scoring goals with equally deadly proficiency, that made him such a valuable asset to any team he played for.  In 1958, Wales came as close as they ever would to World Cup glory, falling only to Brazil in a match for which Charles was injured – the deciding goal in a 1-0 defeat being scored by a young lad known simply as Pelé.  To this day, Welsh supporters wonder what might have been had John Charles been available for that game. The phenomenal Welshman was a potential match-winner against any opposition.

John Charles died in 2004 after a prolonged spell of ill health.  My dad remains one of his biggest fans and due to this I got to meet him a few times – a more likeable, self-deprecating and gentle man it would be hard to imagine.  For him to declare himself the Greatest is impossible to imagine.  That sort of thing is for someone who’s indisputably the best around and a showman too – the likes of Muhammed Ali.  And examples of flawed genius like Georgie Best, that doomed Belfast boy, they might come out with such immodesty as well – but that sort of blarney can’t hide the truth about genuine, five-star greatness.

I went to Elland Road to see John’s funeral cortège complete one solemn, dignified circuit of the pitch as thousands stood in silent tribute to the King.  He had his greatest years on foreign soil and became a world star, but he always came back to Leeds, his adopted home, where he was loved and revered in equal measure.

Greatness isn’t just snake-hipped skill, it isn’t just about wonderful goals and flashes of brilliance that might make you forget for a while the drink and the women and the missed training sessions – the wasted years.  That is the tragedy of Georgie Best. Greatness belongs to a different magnitude of star, one who rises literally and metaphorically above all others, encompassing skill, power, dedication, athleticism modesty, respect for opponent and team-mate alike. That was the greatness of John Charles CBE, hero of Leeds United, Juventus and Wales.

The sadness is that, in these glitzy, Murdoch-funded, money-obsessed days, you rarely hear the name of Charles mentioned when the greats are discussed – maybe just a passing reference here and there.  Some of his contemporaries still get the plaudits – Jimmy Greaves, Nat Lofthouse, the tragic Duncan Edwards, who may well have developed into a player the equal of Charles.  Perhaps John himself is tainted, in the eyes of the chattering classes, by association with what they will always see as “The Damned United” – and doomed therefore along with Don Revie and all of his greats to be left out of the reckoning when hypocrites gather to compare memories.  That is indeed regrettable, but it’s a part of the modern condition that, just as the media need heroes to shove down our eager, consuming throats, so they need a pantomime villain – and just as the former will always be Man U, the latter is always going to be Leeds, whatever those of us who know better might argue.

So let them have their skewed discussions, their little lists of greats, their exclusive club of what they deem acceptable in the history of the game.  It’s a fools’ paradise they inhabit, and just as we Leeds fans can nod wisely and tell them all exactly which was the finest English club side of all time, so we can identify the greatest British player.  John Charles, il Gigante Buono, King John. Simply the best.

Louis van Gaal “May Need Surgery” Ahead of Man U Job – by Rob Atkinson

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Louis van Gaal – Ouch!

Alarming news for Man U fans is emerging from Brazil, where their club’s manager-in-waiting has charge of the Dutch squad as Holland bid to win the 2014 World Cup. It appears that Louis van Gaal will probably need lengthy medical treatment for what is being described as “acute peri-anal discomfort” consequent upon a stretching of more than just the truth by the English press corps – who have, of course, had precious little to write about since England’s meek departure from the tournament.

A Dutch spokesman shared his insider’s knowledge with Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. “Louis was fine, just fine,” he confirmed, “Then England went out and everything just got weird. At first, the English press guys just sat around, making up stories about Ross McCormack of Leeds United. But then, a few of them remembered that Louis is due to be the new Man U manager and, before any of us realised what was happening, about half a dozen of them crawled straight up his arse, causing significant damage and no little embarrassment.”

This sort of rectal intrusion by press hacks from England’s seedier papers is sadly nothing new when it comes to Lancashire’s least club. Wayne Rooney, such a promising performer for England in his Everton days, made a pivotal decision to switch from being “once a blue, always a blue”, joining the Pride of Devon – with the result we’ve all seen only too clearly. Before long, he had four or five of Fleet Street’s finest lodged firmly halfway up his small intestine and, as we all know, he’s never really been the same since.  David Moyes also suffered at the start of last season, but the invasion of his fundament cleared quite rapidly as he demonstrated his utter cluelessness.

Holland’s medical staff are very concerned about the long-term damage caused to their chief’s lower digestive tract – and several are calling for some moderation of the press pack’s behaviour. “We expected a certain amount of over-the-top adulation,” said one, “We knew that Louis would suddenly be hailed the finest coach in the world, a superb tactician and man-manager, all of the usual malarkey. But to shoot straight up his backside like that….” The glum Dutch medico winced and shook his head, sadly. “It’s horrible, simply horrible. I doubt he’ll be able to sit down this side of Man U’s next FA Cup exit. This sort of press behaviour is uncalled for and should schimply schtop.”

Fans of the Pride of Devon had been looking forward to welcoming van Gaal to the Theatre of Hollow Myths in time for the Premier League also-rans’ opening League fixture – but it now seems certain that extensive therapy will be needed after the sycophantic excesses of certain Fourth Estate representatives. One fan, speaking directly to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything from his supporters club HQ in Exeter, expressed anger and betrayal at the actions of the press. “They’m be ruinin’ Yew-noited’s chaaaaances,” he retorted through a mouthful of zoider and a straw between his teeth. “We’m strugglin’ already to qualifoy fer Europe never moind win stuff as is our roight. Things bain’t goin’ to be any easier if the boss is huuurrt and in Aaaaaaarz-piddle, all becuz of this ‘ere koind o’ thing”.

The latest on this story is that van Gaal’s condition has “eased somewhat” in the wake of the Netherlands’ narrow victory over Mexico to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.  This is thought to be due to the re-emergence of one press hack from the Dutch coach’s fundament.  Mike Crap, of the Scum, re-entered daylight on the final whistle, admitting that he was no longer convinced that van Gaal is the best.  “A few of the boys have stayed up there,” he admitted, “Guys from the Mirror, the Sport, Sky TV and that. They’ll still be writing van Gaal up as the world’s best, but I’m not so sure. I wish now that Dave Hockaday hadn’t turned the Man U job down, but he simply had a better offer. We’ll have to keep the faith with van Gaal, but I’m not so sure after the Mexico performance.  Still, they got through – and there’s still this feeling that Man U really can win the World Cup.  And I can tell you for sure that Ross McCormack is leaving Leeds United – he’s bound for Fulham, 100% certain.  Or Sheffield Wednesday, maybe.  Or Newcastle, if we’re really going to take the Mick.”

Louis van Gaal is currently unavailable for comment, sitting on a rubber ring.

Paul Scholes Spot On About “Past It” Rooney – by Rob Atkinson

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Rooney – ordinary

I never liked Paul Scholes. As I’m a Leeds United fan, that’s hardly surprising – he was virtually ever-present in the Man U sides that took full advantage of favourable economic, administrative and refereeing conditions to dominate for the worst part of two decades. For a devotee of the real United – the Damned United and Last Champions of popular infamy, hated by prats everywhere, my dislike of Scholes was part of my DNA. Fine player though he was, I always felt some hyperbole was at play. Best midfielder of his generation? I think not. The indulgently fond media attitude to his “inability to tackle” made me want to hurl, too. Let’s face it, he was filthy, a thug. In any other team, he’d have been condemned as a Joey Barton with added skill.

However, all that said, Scholes has partially redeemed himself in this Leeds fan’s eyes by daring to think the unthinkable about “National Icon” Wayne Rooney. The Ginger Minger has come right out and, belying his normal quiet man image, he’s done a proper hatchet job on his former team mate. Past his best, Scholes stated. Three words which neatly sum up today’s Rooney who – let’s be brutally honest here – has not done it for England for a long, long time now. What Scholes said was viewed as heresy in many quarters, the sycophantic chattering classes who still ridiculously claim that the former lifelong Evertonian is England’s best player.

Last night, in defeat against Italy, that accolade belonged unquestionably to young Raheem Sterling of Liverpool, chosen from the start ahead of the unlucky Adam Lallana. Sterling looked like trouble for Italy every time he got the ball, quicksilver fast off either foot, jinking, twisting, tormenting opposition defenders. Meanwhile, the one-paced Rooney chugged his weary way through the first half, sulkily neglecting his left-sided defensive duties, leaving Leighton Baines exposed and unhappy.

Lallana really was unlucky to be left out of the side – until late on, when England were chasing the game and Sterling was tying up with cramp. The Southampton star is just what we need on this stage, someone who can receive the ball with his back to goal and go either way, baffling defenders, bringing others into play. There’s a touch of Dalglish there.

Ross Barkley, too, is acquitting himself well for a Leeds Warnock-era reject. The man who was only good enough for our reserves at Elland Road looks at home in an international shirt, powerful, incisive and deadly creative. Again, he was unused until it was just about too late, with Italy set on keeping what they’d got, retaining the ball, striking on the break. Both Barkley and Lallana would have been far better options than Rooney, who – one deadly left-wing cross apart – failed to influence the game. In the second half he screwed one shot horribly wide after a rare, powerful run; he missed an extremely presentable chance to equalise from Baines’ astute through ball – and he took a corner that would have had them laughing on Hackney Marshes.

Now England just have to beat Uruguay on Thursday, in a game the South Americans also need to win after their unexpected beating by Costa Rica. Suarez will be looking to bite the hand that feeds him and – whatever he and his compatriots might say publicly – they will be hoping that this over-the-hill and ineffective Rooney keeps his starting place.

England manager Roy Hodgson is truly on the horns of a dilemma. Scholes has put the alternative pro’s view of Rooney’s waning powers, something that many fans out here can see all too clearly. But while the establishment view remains that Wazza is our present-day Gazza, then little will change – unless the Boss has an unlikely attack of courage and faith in his own judgement. It seems unlikely. Immediately post-match, Hodgson stood there and chanted the mantra; Wayne had a good game. Well, Roy, we could all see how ordinary he was – but it looks as though he’s not run out of last chances yet.

It’s enough to give a Leeds fan a nosebleed to say this but – in the name of God, listen to Scholesy. At the very least, bench Rooney so that you might have the option of introducing him, angry, resentful and looking to wreak havoc, as an impact sub. That, surely, is his best deployment these days. But the complacent, untouchable, sure-fire starter Rooney, the ineffective fixture in the line-up that we saw so anonymous against Italy, is no good to this England team. The trouble is, you won’t get any of the inner circle, or the lapdog media, saying so.

Regrettably – amazingly – there’s only Scholesy out there talking sense. And as a long-time team mate of Wazza, he should know. Somebody high up needs to start listening – it’ll soon be too late.

Postcard From a Leeds Fan to Our Boys in Brazil – by Rob Atkinson

England's vital Leeds United connection

England’s vital Leeds United connection

Well – this is it, chaps. Our World Cup starts today and literally millions of us Back Home will be glued to TV sets tonight as you take the field (mostly sand and earth painted a tasteful shade of grassy green) against those troublesome Eye-ties. Much is expected of you, as ever. And, as ever, some of you will probably fail to deliver. Not to worry. It’s only a game, after all.

As those of you with a spark of intelligence may have surmised, the last two sentences of that first paragraph are utter bollocks. Of course it matters. And “only” a game?? Get out of here. It’s the biggest game on the planet tonight. Billions of eyes will be on you, courtesy of HD cameras poking at you from every conceivable angle. Every facial expression will be noted, amateur body-language experts by the barrowload will be analysing every twitch and every kick. Scary, eh?

But don’t worry too much. Try to relax and enjoy it, go out there and express yourselves. There’s pressure, of course there is. But you’re a well-remunerated group of young men in the peak of physical fitness, enjoying the privilege of wearing your country’s badge over the heart; something most of us out here would give their eye-teeth for. So think of all those people, the ones who wish they were in your boots tonight. And after all, it’s not exactly like huddling in a bivouac in Afghanistan, is it?

All you have to do is what each of you is extremely well equipped to do – apply an immense talent with a 100% level of graft and commitment. Doubtless Woy has already hammered this message home. If not, he should have done. Nobody in an England shirt tonight should take for granted the right to play. It has to be earned.

I can only speak for us Leeds fans, but we certainly do love and warmly applaud a trier. Then again, we’re not as spoiled as some fans, enjoying as they do a galaxy of lavishly-gifted stars in their clubs’ colours, used to witnessing technically excellent football. At Leeds, we take to our hearts the lad who’ll run his guts to water, who’ll “get stuck in”. Some level of talent is necessary, of course – but you have to be born with that and it has to be honed by good coaching. But the graft, the application, the determination to work hard from start to finish – they’re choices. The players who choose to put the graft in are loved at Leeds, and the same should be true of any England fan – though, as I said, some of them are spoiled.

You lads in the England shirts tonight – you should have all of the qualities I’ve mentioned, and more – just to get where you are today as you prepare for such a massive game with the world watching you. Talent and ability are there in abundance, as they are for your opponents. The willingness to graft and fight for your country must also be in the DNA of every man who walks out there tonight with the Three Lions on his chest. The sense of pride you must have should be immense, something you can feel burning inside you. Talent, graft and pride. That’s the magic mix.

At Leeds, we count ourselves lucky if we have a few players who can show two out of these three qualities. An England international must have the lot, and it must show, it should seep from every pore. In other years, in other tournaments, that’s not always been apparent in every England player. Are you listening, Mr. Rooney? You’re under the microscope tonight, lad.

Just wear the shirt with pride, work your balls flat, be aware of the privilege and the responsibility of being an England man – and show no fear, have no regrets when the final whistle blows. Make that choice to give your all, to keep giving, as long as you’re on the field of conflict with your nation’s hopes and expectations on your shoulders.

England – and her finest fans here in Leeds – expects that every man this day will do his duty. More we cannot ask. Enjoy it, and win.

Simeone’s Tantrum Must Have Been Real-ly Sweet for Beckham – by Rob Atkinson

Mr. Angry "Cholo" Simeone

Mr. Angry “Cholo” Simeone

Atlético Madrid 1, Real Madrid 4 (aet) – Champions League Final 2014

David Beckham must have permitted himself the slightest of malicious smiles in the wake of his former club Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph over city rivals Atlético, who were coached by Beckham’s World Cup ’98 nemesis Diego Simeone. Those of a certain age will readily remember how the wily Argentinian fouled Beckham, who petulantly kicked out at his antagonist instead of getting up and getting on with it.

Beckham was foolish, but Simeone had exploited the situation to his best advantage, admitting later that he feigned injury from the kick in order to get the England player sent off.  That’s exactly what happened, and the gallant ten men of England ended up going out on penalties in a familiar hard luck story. The unfortunate if misguided Beckham was vilified at home for his immature reaction to Simeone’s deliberate provocation, something he took years to live down.  Surely he must have harboured some resentment ever since?

If he has, then that resentment might just have had the edge taken off it at the end of the Champions League Final in Lisbon at the weekend.  Leading 1-0 deep into stoppage time, Simeone’s Atlético team were cruelly pegged back by an equaliser in the 93rd minute.  In extra time, Real’s class told as they ran out 4-1 winners – all of which proved a touch too much for the temperamental Simeone, who completely lost it on the touchline and appeared to be trying to get at the referee or others on the pitch who had offended his sensibilities.

For Beckham, it must have felt like the ultimate pay-off.  He’d had quite a bit of his own back for the disaster of ’98 by scoring a penalty against Argentina to defeat them 1-0 in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup, which would prove to be Simeone’s last appearance on that exalted stage. But to see one of his former clubs in Real inflict such a hammer-blow on his old enemy must have been a moment of great satisfaction – human nature being what it is.

Simeone, who has had great success this season as his team won la Liga, consigning Real to the ignominy of third spot, felt this reverse as a bitter blow to which he clearly reacted bitterly.  It’s almost certain that he will face UEFA sanctions for his unseemly display as Atlético’s defeat was confirmed – and the way in which the baser end of his nature was revealed will long be remembered by those who were queuing up to praise him in advance of the Lisbon final.

It had even been suggested in that run-up to the game that a film should be made of the rise of the Madrid underdogs, with Burt Lancaster playing the part of coach “Cholo” Simeone.  Quite apart from the fact that Lancaster would find this a difficult role to play, on account of having been dead these past 20 years, it may now be felt that he wasn’t in any case an appropriate actor to portray Cholo’s complex mixture of passion, slyness and thuggery.

Vinnie & Eric

United old boys Vinnie & Eric

As to who possibly could play this demanding role – a cross between former Leeds United stars turned film actors Vinnie Jones and Eric Cantona might just be ideal, if impossible to find outside of this blog’s imagination.  It’s just a thought, after all – but apart from the errant Argie portraying himself, I just can’t think of a better candidate.