Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham…scan through the paucity of treasured Leeds United memories and isolated iconic moments from recent years and the FA Cup features prominently; in fact, the Bristol Rovers promotion party apart, just about every commonly replayed moment from the last decade is based in some form of knock-out competition.
In the FA Cup we think back to 2010, to Beckford slipping the ball past Kuszczak at Old Trafford, then his brace at White Hart Lane to force a replay. Back in Leeds, Spurs were comfortable winners, but we still had that glorious Becchio equaliser to make us believe. Move on a year to The Emirates and we have that Snodgrass penalty that got us within minutes of another famous victory, in the return tie, another stadium shaking equaliser, a left footed long range effort that Bradley Johnson could never even hope of replicating ever again.
Move away from the FA Cup and there’s the play-offs – does anyone not remember exactly where they were when Howson’s last gasp second goal at spared us extra time at Brunton Park? Does anyone’s ears still not ring at the very mention of that glorious moment when Ben Parker and Luciano Becchio combined with poetic synergy and Wembley, promotion and the second coming seemed inevitable?
Finally we come to the moment of our recent history: May 8th, 2010 – Elland Road…Howson leaves the bench and curls in from 20 yards with more or less his first touch, then Beckford moments later, bundles in with more or less his last meaningful touch for the club.
So why the pre-amble? It’s all about making a point…a point about our recent history, a point about the games, about the players that matter. Look at the goal scorers – every one of them sold on…to a better club, for a better salary, for a brighter future – apart from one…well, at least for now. The great games, those iconic moments, all sold on as the balance sheet has always outweighed ambition, has counted for more than history, than identity, than what makes Leeds United what it is for the latest generation of supporters.
All of those heroes of the common man are now gone, bar one player – that one great, reassuring, reliable constant who’s been present since Gary McAllister’s first summer…our Luciano. In an era where we bemoan loyalty, the need to bring players up through the youth system and where we repeatedly question the motives of “foreign mercenaries”, the one man to embody everything good about Leeds United is an Argentinian striker…and the club are ready to dispose of him, just like that.
I ask the question: if Luciano goes, what is left of Leeds United? Our current identity is indelibly linked to his presence; if he is sold then what what remains at the club that screams “Leeds United”? Who else amongst the playing ranks can the supporters identify with and unquestioningly believe in? Who else can command universal adoration with a deft flick of the head or one sweet contact from the left boot?
Of the others, only Ross McCormack at the moment regularly commands a song and he can’t even be assured of a regular start. Sam Byram is the other obvious option, but perhaps world weary Leeds fans have shied away from idolising him having been hurt too many times by quick sales before?
Luciano is Leeds United’s only remaining icon; there are no other squad members who can come close, while the only other high profile, redolent presence of past glories at Elland Road, Peter Lorimer, remains a figure many rather forget than celebrate…without Becchio Leeds have no presence: no figurehead, no talisman, no hero, no connection with those few positives of our recent past and that last young, exciting, promotion winning side we could identify with. For a club that has become so detached from the football, Becchio represents our heart and soul; he’s part of the fabric of what keeps Leeds United so beloved to those who follow – a man who genuinely understands what it means to play for Leeds and is adored for it.
Becchio, for all his limitations has become more than just another player; he’s symbolic of what few remnants of LUFC remain precious and worth celebrating – he may not be Lionel Messi, but at our level his presence he is as fundamental as his Argentine compatriot. He’s limited, but he’s also integral to the ambitions of a Championship club with no apparent aid from a minted, mysterious benefactor.
Becchio may just be a footballer, but he’s Leeds, he’s ours, and as much as he might take stick, he ultimately delivers. His connection with supporters, his record, his critcical importance to our style of play…this makes his retention imperative – check the records: remove Becchio’s goals and we’d have a mere 18 points to our name this campaign – relegation fodder; take away his recent (openly criticised) contribution and Leeds failed to trouble the goalkeeper in over 6 hours following Somma’s consolation at Forest. Sometimes a player’s value transcends money – this is one such case.
Luciano matters. So much so that his immediate future may do as much, if not much more to define GFHC’s early agenda as any other signing, sale or PR exercise. As new owners, Haigh, Patel and Alrayes surely want to market themselves as progressive, ambitious folk with a keen ear towards the fan base and an unwilting respect for our past, yet it is Becchio, the one remaining beloved constant of our darkest period who appears the likeliest departure over these closing days of the transfer window.
Some people, quite depressingly, are only to willing to roundly condemn Becchio following the news he requested a transfer – does the Gradel saga not ring any bells? Does nobody remember Ben Parker revealing that Jonny Howson wanted to remain at the club? The likes of Eddie Gray and Dominic Matteo have already cast doubts about Luciano wanting to leave the club, despite what appears at least on the surface to be quite a sustained effort on he part of Warnock and Jones to ship him out.
Those who choose to slate him, to question his devotion, to cast aspersions of greed – they really ought to think twice about how the Elland Road PR spin machine functions.
Personally, if I was him; a South American man with a family to support and no experience of Leeds United as a ‘big time’ club, I’d naturally be looking to move on at this time – the fact that he remains; that he signed a new deal last time when doubtless, better offers were there, stands as testament of a commitment that is beyond what could be realistically expected towards a barely competitive Championship club – frankly, I consider it to borrow his infamous words, “fucking unbelievable”.
Never mind Luciano’s supposed demands, his wishes, those clubs who are sniffing around – GFHC this is your call. This is about valuing a man who’s remained loyal while all others have departed; a man who’s single-handedly kept the club on the fringes of the play-offs shake-up; a man as iconic, as celebrated and as likely to draw people into Elland Road as anyone.
So to Messrs Haigh, Patel and Alrayes – this is not about just about Lucianos’ ambition, this is the first test of yours. Even Ken Bates agreed to the club allowing Jermaine Beckford’s contract to wind down as Simon Grayson (rightly) felt him to be integral, come the end of season promotion shake-up…if you’ve any intentions of pushing for the top 6 in 2013, then this is your call to make.
Leeds United stands for so little football-related these days. Don’t strip us of our last remaining icon. He’s limited, he’s slow, but yet he always delivers…and he’s ours. Don’t lose him.