Tag Archives: Yorkshire

Multiple Incoming Transfers for Leeds as Bielsa Style Means Large Squad – by Rob Atkinson

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Bielsa – deep squad vital

If every transfer deal Leeds United are supposed to be working on actually came to fruition, then United would need to expand Thorp Arch to twice its current size at least. Most of the speculation, of course, is just that. It’s the sort of thing that takes off during the silly season, when there’s no actual football being played, apart from some prima donnas’ kickabout in Mother Russia. And right now, every sort of speculation has reached fever pitch around LS11 – due to the arrival of a certain allegedly deranged Argentinean, name of Marcelo Bielsa.

The difference Bielsa makes to our recent idea of normality is really twofold. Firstly, the pursuit and capture of a coach with a global reputation must be seen as a sign of serious intent on the part of Leeds United FC, of an ambition not manifest in recent seasons. Bielsa is not daft, and he’ll have made his position and his requirements abundantly clear during the tough negotiations that evidently preceded his appointment. His track record includes a sudden, early walk-out at Lazio, when el Loco felt that he had been lied to. United must have made promises about player recruitment and the manager’s involvement in decisions; they will have to honour them, or they’ll get the Lazio treatment from the maverick Argentine.

The other thing is Bielsa’s famed style of play. The high-pressing, fluidly attacking game makes heavy demands of the players attempting it; the outcome is that, particularly towards the end of a typically hard and gruelling Championship campaign, fatigue will lead to the full use of a necessarily large squad that has strength in depth going for it.

The inevitable conclusion is that, although as usual Twitter is all aflutter because little has happened so far, things will soon start to happen, because Leeds will need a major influx of the right type of talent into what is a patchy squad. I’d fully expect significant arrivals within the next couple of weeks, to allow sufficient time pre-season for the Bielsa method to be inculcated into his players. This coaching appointment simply won’t work unless proper investment and recruitment happens, and you can bet your bottom dollar that, behind the scenes, the activity is already frenetic.

It’s going to be an exciting time between now and the start of the season in August. Enjoy the ride.

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Marcelo Bielsa “To Sign Leeds United Contract Tonight” – by Rob Atkinson

It’s happening – Marcelo Bielsa will be the next Leeds United boss. I’m purposely avoiding the terms “manager” and “coach” as being, at this stage, too precise. But the implications of this appointment are that Bielsa’s stringent conditions and requirements have largely been met. In those circumstances, the continuing presence of Victor Orta notwithstanding, “Boss” seems like the best word to use.

The information is reliable, having been tweeted by the famously ITK journalist Phil Hay. So, United have got their man, a stellar appointment to put every other occupant of the Elland Road hotseat, possibly since Terry Venables, firmly into the shade. We must hope that the club intends to be fully honest and open in their dealings with Bielsa; they certainly weren’t with Venables.

Much more on this to come, obviously. In the meantime, we must wish our new Boss all the best, getting right behind him from Day One. This could and should be a pivotal moment in the illustrious history of a club approaching its centenary. From here, the only way should be up.

Welcome to Leeds United, Marcelo Bielsa. May you meet early with the success we all wish you.

Any News, Phil? Leeds United Reporter Phil Hay Suffers Torture by a Million Tweets – by Rob Atkinson

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Phil Hay, perennial Leeds United Twitter target info source

One man who will be particularly relieved, and who may indeed shed tears of joy, when the white smoke eventually goes up over Elland Road and Marcelo Bielsa becomes our anointed king, is the Yorkshire Evening Post‘s chief football writer Phil Hay.

Phil is the man with his finger on the pulse of Leeds United and his ear to the ground at Thorp Arch. It’s become an article of faith that any item of Whites football news can only really be believed when it’s been presented as fact by Mr. Hay, whose articles and revelations always carry that stamp of authenticity.

The downside to this elite and privileged position is that Hay, an endearingly prolific tweeter of the snippets all Leeds fans thirst for, has to put up with a phenomenal amount of Twitter queries, amounting to an ongoing Inquisition, with demands for more news, more verbatim accounts of what’s being said and, above all, urgent confirmation of that which has not yet been confirmed. Sometimes, the strain ever so slightly shows, when representatives from the dimmer end of the Leeds Twitteratti attempt to second guess our intrepid reporter. Then, such responses as he makes can be quite terse and dry. But, ever the pro, Phil does not engage in unseemly to-ing and fro-ing. That’s a lesson I could do with learning.

It’s not just Phil Hay, of course. The equally respected Adam Pope cops for his share of incessant nagging, the likes of “Popey, can you confirm… etc”. Lee Sobot is another target for this insatiable hunger for news NOW. Of course, people do know that you can’t report developments until those developments have developed – but you sometimes have to doubt that awareness. Our professional reporters are harangued 24/7, and it’d be no wonder if they got just a teensy bit sick of it.

The last couple of weeks have been a case in point, with “Any news, Phil?” becoming a catchphrase to rank alongside any in the world of alternative comedy. It’s being used ironically now, as Tweeters take the mick out of their less patient fellow online fans. If Messrs Hay, Pope and Sobot tried to answer every desperate plea for knowledge aimed directly at them, they’d have neither the time nor the energy to get on with their actual jobs.

With this in mind, it’d be nice to think that the manic tweeters would lay off a bit, accept that things happen when they happen or not at all, and generally give our faithful correspondents a bit of time and room to breathe. Not that any such restraint is likely to happen, of course. That imperious need to know is out there, and it’s voracious.

What I will wish is for the Bielsa story to be resolved as soon as possible, so that our chaps in the press room can take a bit of a rest. Then again, once Bielsa is in – well, all the transfer business will catch fire and consume us all, won’t it? Hmmm.

Erm – any news, Phil?

Leeds Bielsa Talks Now on Home Straight but Suffering Cramp – by Rob Atkinson

Having been in the last mile of negotiations for the past 24 hours or so, Leeds United and Marcelo Bielsa are now staggering up the home straight and expecting to reach the finishing line, which is in sight, at any time in the next hours, days, weeks or months.

The problem at this late stage is cramp. The home straight is slightly uphill and it’s been hot and muggy, so, you know. These things are never simple, and when you start tying up with the goal in sight, it gets really tricky. Fortunately, both parties have been able to take on essential isotonic supplements from a number of distinctly salty sources along the way.

More as we get it, but don’t hold your breath.

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.

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.

Leeds Should Bring Robert Snodgrass Back Home, Agree? – by Rob Atkinson

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Snoddy, come home

I’m sure this idea is out there, in light of what appears to be a sea-change of recruitment policy at Leeds United. It’s probably just that I haven’t seen it. But, surely, I can’t be alone in thinking that the time and circumstances are ripe for securing the return – even if only on loan initially – of former United talisman Robert Snodgrass.

It seems so obvious. West Ham don’t really want him. Villa definitely can’t afford him. And it would upset those Norwich and Hull upstarts, quite apart from adding significantly to the skill factor and firepower at Elland Road. It’s a proper no-brainer to me and, for the first time in years, it seems feasible – the kind of quality we should be looking to add.

I’m interested to know what readers of this blog think. Please feel free to comment as usual, giving your thoughts – but do also answer the poll below – a simple Yea or Nay.

Thanks and MOT.

 

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.

Pontus Jansson Should Buckle Down at Leeds and Show Us Why We Used to Love Him – by Rob Atkinson

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Pontus as we knew and loved him

It’s been a love affair like so many others, waxing hot with passion and mutual desire in that early, devoted phase – then cooling off, with indifference where once was there was adoration. Harsh words are spoken, third party interest rears its opportunist head, and whatever the formerly enamoured couple might say only serves to emphasise the widening gap between them.

This is how things are now developing for those two erstwhile paramours, Pontus Jansson and the massed support of Leeds United. In the beginning, it looked like true love, with frequent, heartfelt declarations on both sides. Pontus said and did the right things, and the besotted Leeds crowd swooned accordingly. Pontus headed away every threat on our goal, and occasionally sallied forth upfield for attacking set pieces, nutting spectacular goals that roused the support to a fever pitch of ecstasy and adoration.

Surely, this was a love affair that would stand the test of time, with Jansson living up to the lyrics of his love ballad by demonstrating his willingness to head away footballs, opposing attackers, bricks, meteorites if need be. Pontus did it all, and communed with the support after the final whistle sounded and battle was done. Great was the love that cascaded down from the stands for our Swedish hero. Pontus was Leeds, and Leeds loved Pontus.

When the rot started to set in, it seemed scarcely believable – but, in reality, it was that age-old story of love and then loss being retold in the football idiom. Leeds fans didn’t want to believe their idol had feet of clay, and spent months in denial as Jansson’s form faded and the occasional lapses of fidelity became more frequent. Pontus started to show a tendency to bail out when the going got tough; only a few brave souls, at first, invited charges of heresy by pointing this out. The support en masse waited for signs that the beloved Pontus still loved them and would return to his brick-heading ways of those passionate early stages of mutual devotion.

But a few – a significant few – feared that the magic had gone, that the magic hat no longer fitted a swollen head, that Pontus had lost his desire and dedication. Time and again, when things were going against the team, Pontus sought the sanctuary of the changing rooms, nursing some apparent injury that would miraculously clear up when easier opponents were in the offing. It seemed as though our hero had a streak of yellow in what had seemed to be a warrior’s persona, and his adoring fans fretted at this evidence of fallibility in a man who, not so long before, had seemed to epitomise all that was good and heroic about Leeds United and its fanatical following.

Alas, the evidence against Pontus continued to pile up last season. Despite the occasional signs of defiance in defence, and the even more occasional evidence of lethal intent in attack, Pontus was, overall, the merest shadow of the Pontus we’d known and hailed as a defining hero the season before. Slowly, the truth was dawning on the Pontus fan club: here, just possibly, was yet another apparent idol who had flattered, only to deceive. We’ve seen enough of those before – but, with Pontus, it was supposed to be different.

Now, with his substandard contribution to Leeds United’s substandard season behind him, Jansson is away at the World Cup with his national team, and he’s making noises about his future that will not sound like sweet nothings to those who have worshipped him since those hearts and flowers early days. He wants to stay in England, we hear, but – despite the fact that he has a contract running until 2022, he’s not going to commit himself to seeing it out. He wants to aim for the Premier League, but if you read between the lines of his public utterances, he might rather achieve this through a transfer out of Leeds than soil his hands, feet and head by battling through another Championship muck and bullets campaign.

Maybe I’m doing Pontus a disservice, but perhaps I can be forgiven a slight bitterness. I loved Pontus too, as much as anyone, when he was doing it for Leeds and everybody was raving about this new juggernaut at Elland Road. And I’ve seen central defenders arrive on loan before, performing excellently and then, as soon as a permanent deal is signed, fading away to be the merest shadow of their former selves. It’s become depressingly regular – but I would have laughed at any suggestion of it being a route our Pontus might go down. And yet here we are, watching with horror as Jansson morphs before our eyes into just another Lubo Michalik. It’s just so sad to see a loved one end up this way.

Still, other relationships have hit rocky patches and still come through. It’s still possible for the Leeds support and their Pontus to rekindle some measure of the rapport that seemed to exist until comparatively recently. But it’s not for the injured party in these cases to make special efforts or resolutions. That’s for the one who strays, by word or deed – they’re the guilty element in the equation. It’s for them to renew their vows and attempt to rebuild bridges. Pontus needs to clear his mind, stop chelping about his club career until the World Cup is done with, and then settle down to win his admirers back by recalling the Jansson we used to know, possibly even – who knows? – with his partner of those heady early days, Kyle Bartley, once more by his side.

One more season of that partnership, together with improvement elsewhere in the squad, might enable Jansson to recapture his mojo, stop blaming others for his own failings and generally get back on the horse again and start heading away those bricks, to the left and to the right. If all that comes to pass, maybe Jansson will finally secure his passage to the Premier League. And it would taste all the sweeter, because he would have earned it. Along with, not incidentally, the renewed and restored adoration of his Elland Road fan club.

Pontus, you know it makes sense, and you know you owe us this – so make it happen. After all, every one of us wants the traditional happy ending.

Leeds United’s Gain Will Be Real Madrid’s Loss as Bielsa Heads to Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

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El Loco

It’s a topsy-turvy football world these days. Huddersfield Town occupy a higher league position than any other Yorkshire club, Manchester City are streets ahead of their Salford neighbours on the wrong side of the Pennines, Spurs are ahead of Arsenal – and Leeds United are set to appoint a coach seriously coveted for their own club by fans of European Champions Real Madrid.

Incredible as it might seem, the odds are ever more, as each hour passes, on Argentinian legend Marcelo Bielsa becoming the latest occupant of the Elland Road hot seat – with some well-placed sources claiming the deal is already done, all bar the work permit. To say that this would be a coup for United is to edge dangerously close to vast understatement. Anybody who can be suggested as the next coach of Real Madrid, as a feasible successor, mark you, to Zenedine Zidane himself – and yet not have that suggestion laughed out of court – must be hot property indeed. And then there’s the small matter of the opinion of Bielsa voiced by none other than Pep Guardiola – lest we forget, former Barcelona coach and current boss at runaway English champions Manchester City. According to Pep, Bielsa is “the best coach in the world”. Who are we to argue with Pep? Indeed, who is anybody to argue with Pep?

So these are heady days around Elland Road. Should the story be true, they’re liable to get even headier. And if the rumours are anywhere near the bullseye that such a coaching appointment also signals a stratospheric soaring of the United transfer ambitions, then the headiness will know no bounds. It’s safe to say that, in these circumstances, we’d be heading into next season on a high.

For the moment at least, it’s enough of a pleasing novelty to be linked with the likes of Bielsa, and of course Claudio Ranieri too. Things appear to be moving fast, though, and Don alone knows where all of our heads will be at in a couple of weeks or so. We could be celebrating, or we could be reflecting that we perhaps aimed too high. But I have a sneaky feeling that it’ll be the former state of affairs.

Roll on next season then, although – what with the World Cup as well as all of this juicy Leeds United speculation – the summer should be a lot more entertaining than usual for those of us with LUFC carved upon our hearts. One way or another, it’s going to be a very interesting next few months.