The reality check is a common phenomenon in football; a universal experience that fans at every level can relate to. At the very highest level, it may come in the form of a humbling defeat at the hands of ‘inferior’ opposition, as Roberto Mancini on the back of his visit to Goodison Park would testify. At his level, the reality check functions as a moment of revelation that serves to shake people out of a mindset of complacency, informing future decisions and reinvigorating efforts in the drive for success. While Manchester City fans may fume in the aftermath of such a setback, they can also find solace in the truism that such moments remain as inevitable as their club’s continued prominence in the highest circles while Sheikh Mansour indulges his passion.
Lower down the echelons, a reality check for supporters can prove to be a far more sobering experience; it may involve taking on board awful, unpalatable truths – a complete reappraisal of their clubs standing in the grand scheme of things. Sadly, this is the case for those who follow Leeds United.
If a Manchester City fan was to “wake up and smell the coffee” today, it’d be some premium, speciality blend from the top end of Starbuck’s menu, at Leeds it’s more a case of a tepid, watered down serving of Mellow Birds, presented in a polystyrene cup from a road-side catering van.
While Leeds United remains a big name in football, while we still command the ability to compel the national media and the football public alike, we are sadly no longer a bigger club, in fact we’re nothing like it. The infrastructure is there, the fan base, the tradition, but the one key factor that dictates everything isn’t there – ambition. In the hearts and minds of supporters, it remains, but where it matters most, in the boardroom, there is none.
Ken Bates dreams of Premier League football. He expects Premier League football, but does so without any acknowledgement of his responsibilities in facilitating a concerted push towards this goal. Bates isn’t interested in team building – by his own admission on Monday, building a club is his priority – off the pitch activities dominate his thoughts, yet on the field success is expected to coalesce with his ambitions, regardless of such neglect.
Like it or not, we have to find a manager whose qualities, track record and experience can dovetail with the priorities and expectations of those running the club. As it stands, there is only one realistic candidate – Neil Warnock.
I can fully appreciate why the prospect of Warnock managing the club abhors so many Whites followers – by his own admission, Warnock is a man who exists to agitate the opposition and their supporters. However, is this not the same sort of character our fan base would embrace with open arms when he’s fighting for our cause, rather than against? Leeds United has always championed the rogues, the outcasts, the bad boys – who during the Second Division title winning season didn’t adore Vinnie? Who wasn’t devastated when he was subsequently sold on to Sheffield United?
I have seen a multitude of other names suggested, many of whom appeal greatly, but just aren’t realistic propositions. Roberto Martinez is a case in point; a man with a great footballing philosophy, a strong, promotion winning C.V. and currently in charge of ‘tin pot’ Wigan Athletic. It shouldn’t be inconceivable that a club of our stature could be capable of luring such a manager – we’ve done it before with Wilkinson – but such is the common perception of Leeds United from the outside in 2012 that any such rumour would be laughed at… a tragic state of affairs.
There have been other names mentioned too, some of whom may well be far more attainable. Karl Robinson at MK Dons is regularly mooted in dispatches while Paulo Di Canio also featured in the early betting. I would add the names of Dougie Freedman, Brian McDermott and Eddie Howe to that list too. These are managers who could be appointed with a view to the long term; young men entrusted and backed to build a team, and given the time necessary to create something that reflects their own vision. In more typical circumstances, I would be pushing for such candidates. Who, after all, hasn’t watched on with a mixture of admiration and envy as Swansea and Norwich have adapted almost effortlessly to top flight life?
Under Ken Bates however, thoughts of ‘typical circumstances’ can almost be precluded without any contemplation; a manager is urgently required who can galvanise a side, make them difficult to beat and hellishly competitive on the pitch; a man who can channel the general hatred of Leeds United and use it to fuel a siege mentality; a man who can take a collection of mostly mediocre footballers and fashion them into an efficient, competitive unit; most of all, a man who can make an instant impact and who can deliver promotion…and quickly!
As much as I’d love to see a Brendan Rogers-style revolution at Leeds or a Paul Lambert-esque fairytale, where a combination of boardroom backing and shrewd signings take an exciting Leeds United back to the ‘promised land’, neither the patience nor the financial will exist at the top. If Bates was to alter his philosophy to fit with either approach, then fantastic, but he isn’t. Regardless of his programme ramblings, he expects instant gratification from little arousal.
If the next incumbent in the hot seat is to survive under Bates he must secure the maximum possible returns for minimal investment. He’ll need to be an experienced, confident character to deal with expectations from above and on the terraces; he needs to be able to brush off the barbed comments and blame culture of Messrs Bates and Lorimer. What’s more, he has to be cheap and available. All things considered, it’s hard to see past a certain 62 year old Yorkshireman with a hunger for the job and a point to prove isn’t it?
Yes, I’m taking a short-termist view – I fully concede that point; but it’s a realistic viewpoint, one that’s done in consideration of those that run our club. As many have claimed, Warnock struggles once he gets a side into the Premier League, but quite frankly, that’s an argument that has to take a back seat. Leeds United needs to be in the Premier League as soon as possible; the chasm between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is widening at such a rate that club risks becoming a ‘never will’. Even just the promise of one season and parachute payments would at least serve to make Leeds a far more credible force at Championship level afterwards – and that’s the worst case scenario. On the other hand, with momentum and hitherto unparalleled backing from the stands, Warnock might just make his final hurrah his finest hour and keep us up.
There is of course one other scenario of which we all can dream: maybe, just maybe, promotion might well just attract (yet) another investor, but one this time who might just be able to make our despot an offer even HE can’t refuse!
Suddenly, short term thinking doesn’t seem quite so bad.