With the passing of the managerial baton at Elland Road from Simon Grayson to Neil Warnock, there appears to have been a sea change in attitude and philosophy at the club. I’m not talking about improvements on the pitch here, but rather something less anticipated – a new emphasis on image; is this man, initially perceived as a dour, no-nonsense Yorkshireman leading Leeds United headlong into a new metrosexual age of enlightenment?
Elland Road has proudly stood as one of the few remaining strongholds of resistance against the footballer as a modern man. If a player possesses a face that resembles the back end of a bus, cropped hair and considers tracksuit tops and jeans as sophisticated casualwear then acceptance is a given. Exposure to any other breed of footballer is almost universally met with mockery. Years spent in the football wilderness, in splendid isolation from the bright lights of the Premier League and a never-ending stream of sophisticated European imports has protected supporters against the influx of ‘image savvy’ talent.
Previously, only David Prutton and his luscious locks have been embraced in LS11; though a combination of Prutts’ disarming charm, self-mockery and credible resemblance to the son of God were all extenuating factors in his favour. More typically, players suspected of being driven by vanity are regarded with suspicion, both their commitment to the cause and masculinity questioned.
Has Warnock now appeared on the scene with a mandate to challenge such Luddite sensibilities? While the leaked photograph of his meeting in Monaco with Bates and Harvey had the internet buzzing over his appointment, I was far from alone in noticing him proudly sporting a man bag. Over the opening weeks of his reign has anybody failed to appreciate his perfectly maintained eyebrows, his beautifully moisturised skin and his repeated application of lip balm while in the dug-out? No wonder he exudes so much confidence in front of the cameras; offering a devilish smile, a joke…practically undressing the viewer with his lingering eye contact. Contrast that to the demeanour of Simon Grayson, portraying the shifting eyes and body language of a guilty school boy.
If anybody doubts the shift in attitude I would implore them to listen to Warnock’s interview from after the Millwall game; while discussing the defensive performance he remarks that there are “…not many good looking lads in our team at the back!” Is this a wake-up call for those players; a warning that looking the part is an all-encompassing term that stretches beyond merely displaying the ability to play?
My take is perhaps that the seeds of change were planted some time ago by our chairman. It stands to reason that for a man to whom Leeds United represents a vanity project, image would be such an integral concern. The tell-tale signs were there for all to see: an octogenarian deciding to undergo eye laser surgery, his continued references to Susannah’s influence on matters in the radio addresses, the ‘magnificent’ new East Stand boxes – ‘Leeds United: the beautification project’ is all systems go.
Under this scheme, Simon Grayson was the inevitable first victim. He returned pre-season with the appearance of a man with little concern for his image. As he stood on the touchline, donning a tight-fitting training t-shirt that did nothing but accentuate his growing stomach, he resembled a middle-aged dad who’d long since abandoned any notions or desire to impress the opposite sex; the selection of shorts over tracksuit bottoms, merely compounding the grave wardrobe selection.
Grayson was an ill-fit with these new found ambitions; high fashion and grooming regimes, untrusted bedfellows for a man perhaps now better suited to a post in a town that will re-assuredly shelter him from any such progressive notions. Ironic then, that the final permanent signing of his tenure is a pointer for the direction in which the club is going.
‘The Robbie Rogers’ is not so much a footballer, but a brand. He has his own website, his own corporate sponsors that include talent and global marketing agencies, and his own clothing line. His most recent ‘journal’ post effused about his new Spring Collection, particularly a line of lemon English twill shorts. Add to that his plugging of humanitarian housing projects in Brazil and we’re talking ‘GQ – Man of the Year’ material here. The photographs posted on his twitter feed, not so much a ramshackle assortment of images, rather a selected portfolio of poses, fit to adorn any Littlewoods catalogue.
So what are the implications for this Bates/Warnock/Rogers fronted narcissistic revolution? Will the influence spread to all areas of the club? After years of shambling around in a tatty leather jacket, is Peter Lorimer going to have a consultation with a stylist? Might Shaun Harvey track down Wayne Rooney to find out about his hair weave? Maybe Billy Paynter will finally have a tummy tuck? Are there implications for our summer recruitment strategy? Will targets now be selected on their potential to fit with a pulchritude-obsessed merchandise catalogue as well as the wage structure?
The commercial angle is the most intriguing. The scope is there for the superstore to introduce an entire range of beauty products. Luciano has to be the poster boy for shampoos and conditioners, Ramon Nunez (so I’m told) has skin to die for, so that’s the moisturisers covered – what are the chances of getting Tom Lees to start spray tanning? How about next season’s away kits moving away from black and Chelsea blue and being produced in seasonal pastel shades?
Then there’s Snoddy, a whole project in himself; beloved captain but suffering with severe complexion issues. A new regular LUTV show is surely in the offing here, following his transformation from ugly duckling to swan; a daily regime involving an oatifix face mask, ocean salt cleanser and tea tree water, followed by enzymion moisturiser from the Lush facial range could transform his oily, spot prone skin, providing an invigorated, warm and balanced healthy glow (thanks for the input, Lauren).
Oh, and we can never forget Ben Fry. How about doing away with the morally dubious tie-in with Sporting Bet and have Kenco sponsoring an on-pitch enema; the lucky contestants asked to name the contents of the discharge pan (all contents consumed in Howard’s restaurant) in exchange for a prized meal for two?
We shouldn’t mock though, this affects us all; if you think the beer is sub-standard and the steak and peppercorn pies are crimes against football catering, think on – next season it could be pinot grigio and feta cheese salads.
Prepare yourself for Leeds United 2012/13: If your nails aren’t manicured, you’re not coming in…