“Pacifism a wonderful conviction in theory, but only in theory. Real life has a way of eventually rubbing even the most altruistic nose in a steaming pile of “F**k that”.” (Anthony Beal)
This articulate, concise despatch of wisdom is something I read online the other day, and being a Leeds fan, and this being January, the first thought it brought to mind was the transfer window; more pointedly, the long established themes of underwhelming ambition and broken promises that pre-dominate every post-mortem discussion that follows its closure.
Like many, I’ve long despaired that Simon Grayson hasn’t fought his corner more forcefully, pushing Bates for more funds (I dare not contemplate that claims he’s actually happy with his budget are true, as that raises questions about him either having a stifling lack of ambition in terms of recruitment, or that he lacks the faith in his judgement to spend big), but in accepting that Simon will forever settle for pacification over the “Fuck that” option, I do have to lose a certain degree of sympathy for our manager.
Before I go further here, I would like to make perfectly clear my stance on Ken Bates. For a long time prior to his self-heralded arrival at Elland Road I harboured a deep-rooted dislike for Bates and his time at the helm has only increased that manyfold. Having sat in on the creditors meeting back in 2007 where Bates essentially threatened to liquidate the club, rather than let it pass into the hands of other bidders, I dare say I despise him as much as any Leeds fan.
I state this as a lot of people, especially on twitter seem to believe that Bates hating and Grayson worshipping are inextricably linked, that somehow, because Bates, in their belief (quite rightly) is directly accountable for the stagnation, pessimism, low ambition and declining crowds at Elland Road, serious questions cannot be asked elsewhere. While showing such strong degree of loyalty towards Grayson, is highly commendable, to admonish him of all blame for our current situation is equally ludicrous.
Like a number of others, I’ve held concerns about Grayson’s ability to motivate the team over recent months – and yes, to be fair, with the gloom that surrounds the club, I can accept the argument it must more be difficult – my main concern at the moment however, quite naturally surrounds his transfer market activities. Yes, Grayson certainly deserves greater backing, but if he isn’t going to get it, and more to the point, isn’t going to push for it, then it up to him to make best use of the modest resources he has.
For me, this is where Grayson has much to prove; while the fact the club hasn’t paid upwards of £500,000 for a player since administration is utterly lamentable, so is the amount of money wasted both on the countless failed loanees brought into the club, and the incredibly mediocre journeymen who’ve been snapped up and subsequently tied up on long term contracts.
Below I’ve listed all the players (apologies for any omissions) brought into the club by Grayson during his tenure at Elland Road, and highlighted the names according to how successful I think each individual has been. The players picked out in blue I would consider to be good, successful buys, those in purple, reasonable successes, while the players in green I would consider the jury to be still out on. Those names that remain in black, I would consider a waste of money, a criminal waste in some instances (Collins, Paynter, Bessone, Rachubka…need I go on?)
Amdy Faye (short-term deal)
Mika Varynen (short-term deal)
Mikael Forssell (short-term deal)
Now I appreciate my views are purely subjective and that there’s substantial room for disagreement in some cases, but even so, looking through my list, it shows that Grayson has something like a 1 in 5 ‘hit rate’ overall, which leaves a lot to be desired.
More telling is what can be concluded upon closer examination; most notably, the continued failure of our loans policy and the futility of wasting what money we do have on permanent deals for extremely average Championship players who add to our depth, to our wage bill, but rarely to the actual quality of the first XI.
Everybody has their own ideas on what currently represents our strongest line-up, I’d personally suggest that, all things considered, we only seem to perform consistently well with a 4-5-1 system, so would go with:
While I’d suggest that many members of this line-up would be much coveted by rival clubs, a rather less palatable truth is to be found in considering how many of them are actually Simon’s players; only 6 of those 11 have been brought to the club by Grayson, and that number includes Thompson who remains a stop-gap measure for now, and two loanees – that leaves three permanent Grayson signings as fixtures in the team. For a man responsible for overseeing the arrival of upwards of 50 players in various circumstances over the space of 3 years, that’s pretty concerning, almost criminal, even more so if like me, you’d consider our current ‘crown jewels’ to be Lees, White, Snodgrass and Howson – all four of whom were inherited.
In the same regard, it’d be wrong not to give Grayson some credit for the emergence of Aidy White and Tom Lees; his consistent practice of loaning out youngsters has doubtless been a key factor in their emergence, much like Davide Somma beforehand. Furthermore, having previously seemed reluctant to put his faith in youth, even as recently as August when he preferred an unfit O’Brien to Lees, Grayson does now seem to be getting a little bolder in his approach. Indeed, the average age of the side wasn’t lost on him when heaping praise on our defensive discipline in the narrow loss at the Emirates Stadium.
Hopefully this move towards a greater appreciation and trust in younger players will mark a much needed sea change in Grayson’s philosophy in this and future transfer windows. Successful managers build teams with an eye on the long term, rather than constantly opt to supplant a succession of quick fix, short-term solutions into their squads. Yes, Grayson is hamstrung by a restrictive transfer budget, but part of the reason for it lies with his own buys – the likes of Bromby, Bruce, O’Brien, Connolly and Paynter would struggle to attract a flurry of interest amongst buyers if they were in the shop window, week in week out, as it is, lurking in the shadows, playing the odd arranged friendly game, they now merely represent financial liabilities rather than commodities, haemorrhaging funds from the club and proving notoriously difficult to offload.
If Grayson looks at our strongest XI and also takes moment to reflect on those few players that have left the club against his wishes during his tenure, the prudence of investing in promise and potential is surely inescapable. The best players currently at the club were all either brought through the youth set up or signed for modest, even negligible fees and were trusted to develop; while our most notable departed servants during his reign: Beckford, Gradel, Johnson and Kilkenny – the first three of whom would still irrefutably be regulars – were all brought in for nominal outlays.
Yes, there is always the need for a degree of experience, but when Grayson does bring such a player in, they must be proven, better than we currently have, and still have a lot to offer; not another Michael Brown, not just more of the same – buying another couple of Danny Pughs just won’t wash any more. And yes, loanees still do have a role to play, but only if we sign quality and on a relatively long term basis – the half-season loan of Townsend, and imminent touted arrival of Delph are both encouraging steps in the right direction. But most, most of all, we need to BUILD a team, and seemingly do so on a tight budget; if Grayson intends to toe Ken Bates’ ‘brick by brick’ rebuilding party line, then it’s imperative that his team building philosophy mirrors that, a long term plan to model an effective, cohesive unit built around a firm base, rather than a muddled together collection journeymen assembled on shifting sands.
A quick fix will no longer do in the circumstances; to prevail would be to stagnate. Grayson needs a strong, positive, philosophy, a definitive vision that the players and the fans can readily buy into – if he can offer that, he can re-engender a tangible faith both in the dressing room and on the terraces, and we can ask no more…but he has to be given the time to do so.
Bates deserves no such period of grace; if he continues to fall short in this transfer window then the very least he can deliver is new deals for the few coveted players we have and a genuine public backing of the man who’s got us this far. Grayson has his faults, many in fact, as I’ve suggested, but as most Leeds supporters know, it is with the man at the top where the buck ultimately stops.
Having started with a quote, it seems quite appropriate to bookend this piece with another:
“The superior man blames himself. The inferior man blames others.” (Don Shula)
Ken Bates, take note.