Many an evil tyrant has stood accused of the appalling crime of ethnic cleansing over the course of history; attempts to shape a race based on colour, religion, disabilities, even characteristics as trivial as hair type. Such acts define those involved as not only being fundamentally grotesque, sociopathic and disturbed, but also as weak minded individuals, leaders who are suspicious, intimidated even by those who belong to different groups to their own and often find it easier to persecute, rather than embrace the potential these ‘strangers’ offer.
Mercifully, in contemporary Western society, such attitudes, are for the most part at least, regarded as preserve of the unenlightened. In football too, great strides have been taken to make the sport a wholly more inclusive experience, where open-mindedness ensures that players are appreciated for traits such as ability, application, charisma and loyalty – the truest benchmarks of worth in this game we hold dear.
As in all sections of society, in football those leaders who are the most progressive, open-minded and steadfastly confident in their abilities are those who continue to flourish – Mourinho and Ferguson, the two most compelling cases for the argument. But for all those who embrace new philosophies and ideas, the new generation of great managerial hope – the likes of Martinez and Rogers to name but two – there remain others firmly rooted in the past; closed off to new ideas, doggedly sticking to their own dated notions and untrusting of those schooled in different ways.
Step forward Neil Warnock; a man who on the surface continues to bristle with a confidence in the his abilities, but dig a little deeper and questions start to arise about how much conviction actually remains.
Confident managers put plans into place in full expectation that they will be embraced, that each player, instilled with a confidence and utter belief in those ideas and their leader, will get on board – Warnock to me, smacks of a man who is no longer sure of himself.
While a constantly evolving squad is a pre-requisite for any club with designs of pushing forward and by necessity, a degree of revolution was required at Elland Road, a look at yesterday’s line-up against Bristol City is still telling. Working through the starting XI, although Aidy White, Tom Lees, Michael Brown, Ross McCormack and Luciano Becchio were all regulars in and around the first team before Warnock’s arrival, a look at the treatment of each player by the current manager suggests nagging insecurities about his ability to inspire those he hasn’t brought into the club himself.
While Aidy White remains a million miles away from being my idea of a good footballer, Warnock has continued to refuse him a run in the only position in which he may be capable of succeeding, indeed he’s recently gone on record as much to suggest that he doesn’t consider White a left-back. Meanwhile, Tom Lees, despite being by some distance, the best defender at the club has found himself on the bench or pushed out to right back in recent weeks to allow the lamentable Tate and Pearce partnership to ‘flourish’.
Up front, the story just becomes more bewildering. In a leaden footed side, Ross McCormack offers the only real degree of movement and (moderate) pace we have to open sides up, not to mention a goal threat, but essentially remains understudy to Diouf whose talents appear best suited to the latter stages of games. Then there’s Becchio…
Luciano Becchio, a player who above all others has come to embody the best that Leeds have been able to offer throughout our darkest times, our talisman, the player who’s probably single-handedly responsible for Neil Warnock still being in employment, now reduced to a scapegoat for unimaginative, feeble, listless team performances, archaic tactics and supporter unrest.
While Luke Varney was praised to the hilt for his performance as a forward at St. Andrews – the sitter he missed, passed by without reference – Becchio, despite being one of nine awful outfield players at Barnsley was the butt of all criticism. Some might charitably suggest that Warnock is cannily employing psychology, others, maybe more realistically might claim it represents the act of a man desperate to inspire more out of a player on whom the success of his playing style is so dependent. I’m beginning to suspect it’s now just because he isn’t one of Neil’s boys.
So we return to the list of the five players named from the starting line-up and who do we have left? Only Michael Brown. A man who may not have been brought to the club by Warnock, but played for the manager for so many years at Sheffield United. A player for whom Warnock can count upon as being in his corner; a believer, just as Paddy Kenny is and Michael Tonge.
Has Warnock become conscious that the modern game has evolved to such a degree that it’s leaving him behind? That his main, perhaps only hope of getting Leeds United promoted is by surrounding himself with players who have proven themselves as willing to buy into his dated philosophies? Is that why the likes of Peltier appear undroppable? Why Austin plays regardless? Why Brown is so often singled out for praise in games? Why Varney hasn’t been sold of to a dog food manufacturer?
It’s noticeable that even when Warnock has actually brought in players with some pedigree as cultured exponents of the game, they’ve quickly fallen out of favour – Adam Drury and David Norris have no place in his tried and trusted system. Only players who are willing to work hard, who don’t question the inadequacies of the ridged and inflexible system; who can be trusted to obey rather than to think or to question fall into the beloved category.
That is why we’re starting home games with Austin and Brown as our creative nub in the middle of the park and why Ross Barkley was pushed out to the right for the opening 45 minutes to accommodate this – nerves may have played a part in a poor opening half, but so did the team shape.
That is why the starting XI are shackled to into playing such a rigid system; that’s why doubtless, the trusted Pearce will return and Peltier resume his stint at left-back, that’s why expressionism is stifled, both by team selection and team orders. Warnock claimed that Leeds played with fear in the first half yesterday, but the truth is, the players play with fear every week. It is a fear to try something different, a rejection of the notion that fortune favours the brave, lest they fall out of favour – and this fear is transmitted from the top.
With Warnock these days, there is anxiety, a hesitation to be bold, to try something different to address the slide, to change a methodology that has failed throughout the season. It seems that he cannot evolve, or at least doesn’t back himself to do so. As a consequence, he’s increasingly all his faith in those personnel that are less likely to question his perseverance with failing tactics, rather than back those with the ability to transform the team into play-off contenders.
Leaders that hide from, rather than embrace change, that have a distrust of new ideas and retreat to sanctity of what they hold true, no matter how much it is failing them are the ones that perish; dinosaurs confined to the history books, stricken ineffectual and irrelevant by an unrelenting meteor shower of fresh, evolutionary thoughts.
Under Ken Bates, Leeds stumbled down a regressive path for nearly 8 soul destroying years; conventional wisdom from all other parties was thrown out. What supposedly worked once before(?) would naturally work again and those with the temerity to question otherwise or offer alternatives would be marginalised or disposed of.
Now Bates is effectively gone, the great irony is that the same mantra appears to live on in the dressing room. We now have new owners who appear to be embracing new ideas; maybe we need a man of similar mind in the dug-out? Football is a team game, but at the same time, in continuing to stifle individuality, by rejecting rather than embracing different perspectives, and in going along by showing the greatest loyalty to those least likely to question him, but also least likely to win us games, Warnock and Leeds United are going nowhere.
Closed minds never prevail in the long run. Leeds need a brave man for the new era.