We might be s**t,
But we still love Leeds!
This was the chant that above all others, resounded out from the upper tier of the Cobbald Stand during the second half of yesterday’s clash at Portman Road. Rudimentary yes, but also concise and very much to the point. Leeds United are currently…or rather it should be said, still a complete shambles, both as a football team and as a club. But no matter, the fans still care, they care passionately enough to continue to sell out allocations at far flung destinations for games rendered meaningless by a meek run of results masquerading as a promotion charge; they care enough to again put the home support to shame, and doubtless they’ll still care enough to pack out the away end at The Valley next weekend.
To the supporters, the success of the club is all that matters and every bit of energy and emotion they expend, each sacrifice they make, the money they invest…it’s all in the hope of pushing Leeds United forwards. Like those players who’ve represented the club with such distinction in the past, the mantra ‘side before self’ is ultimately applicable to all those who continue to do so. Sadly at a higher level, the club are still seemingly handicapped by those for whom, self-interest continues to come first.
While fans continue to speculate and debate who the next manager should be, those in a position ‘to call the shots’ seem more preoccupied with their own concerns. Despite the miserable run of form, despite Neil Warnock exhibiting the sort of body language that suggests he’s long lost interest in his position and regardless of the common acknowledgement that our next manager should be afforded as much time as possible to plan for the next campaign, there seems to be little motivation, either on the part of GFH-C or Warnock to act, and quite honestly, on reflection why would there be?
While the current state of inertia is infuriating for the supporters and leaves the owners open to huge questions about their stewardship, could it be that GFH-C feel they stand to risk losing far more by doing the ‘right thing’ and acting now? Although the vast majority of Leeds fans want to see the back of Warnock immediately, from the point of view of Salem Patel and company, is retaining a well known (if unsuccessful) manager likely to make the club a more marketable proposition to potential investors, as opposed to one under the reign of a caretaker boss?
The ideal solution of course would be to bypass the need for a caretaker altogether and get a new man in immediately – surely the logical step, unless there’s the possibility of a new majority shareholder like Steve Parkin coming on board who have their own ideas for a new appointment? Of course, that logic flies in the face of all the fuzzy rhetoric in the owner’s statements, but then again, even the thoughts of GFH-C’s parent company seem to be odds with the official line.
Putting it simply, as unpalatable as it may be for Warnock to stay, every extra day he spends at the club is another opportunity for the owners to court fresh, alternative, more attractive bids – an ideal stalling device.
For Warnock, the motivations to remain are manifold; although his motivation for the job has clearly ebbed away, its highly unlikely that anyone would choose to walk away, when by going through the motions they can still pick up a pay cheque at the end of the week. Secondly, as a character whose ego cannot tolerate being tarred with the label of failure, the opportunity for him to fuel his own self-importance by presenting himself as some sort of ‘kingmaker’ at Elland Road will obviously appeal to a man who desperately wanted to make his mark in his biggest ever post; presenting any new appointment as part of his ‘legacy’, as another step he’s taken in laying solid new foundations at the club he’s leaving behind will doubtless pander to his needs.
Do the owners really need the advice of Warnock? Did they need him to tell them what most pundits and fans had already urged them to do in regard to approaching Adkins? Is there any point of Warnock making such recommendations if they are not going to follow them up by instigating formal talks? I think not, but yet he remains at the club.
In essence, at least until a majority investor steps in, the current situation prevails as it seems to suit those with the power to change things. For GFH-C on the grounds of fundraising, for Warnock on the grounds of face saving.
So as under Bates, it is the supporters, the team and the club who again have to suffer while those in charge look after themselves. The way Warnock is being painted as some sort of guardian of the managerial post may look sound and sensible to outsiders, but to supporters it’s a sham.
Tomorrow Leeds face Derby County at Elland Road, just 8 days short of a year since the teams’ last meeting there. On that day, Warnock famously told Nigel Clough to savour the 2-0 victory his side enjoyed as his counterpart would never face another Leeds side like that during his spell. In some respects he’s been proven right; Monday’s starting XI will have changed considerably, however, while last year’s defeat was part of a miserable end to the season that brought a haul of just 13 points from 14 games, Leeds will kick off the game having only accrued 11 points from their last 11 games – hardly progress!
This will be also be the same group of players that has now played 15 league games since scoring in the first half; if anything is a hallmark of a team that isn’t sent out with fire in their bellies, that is surely it? While Leeds will field a side that’s the product of an “necessary” revolution of playing staff, rather than a few tweaks – and few would disagree that squad required major surgery over last summer – do Warnock’s ebullient claims of laying solid foundations really stand up to close scrutiny?
Looking at yesterday’s squad, despite the arrival of 14 players on permanent deals (I’m choosing to exclude Habibou), only in three positions has Warnock really improved side; in goal Leeds are undoubtedly stronger: Paddy Kenny, while not quite living up to the hype, and Jamie Ashdown make for a far stronger pairing than we had last season; Stephen Warnock, although prone to being caught out of position is the best left back we’ve had for some time, and finally, once presented with the opportunity, Lee Peltier has proven to be a fairly solid presence in the centre of defence. Beyond that, Steve Morison is the only other outfield signing who can be truly considered a regular, but while he appears to have a better all round game than Becchio, will he score as many goals? The jury remains out.
Beyond those names, the only other bona fide regulars are Tom Lees and Sam Byram, the former was already established in the side ahead of Warnock’s arrival, while the emergence of the latter was more of a happy accident than a considered move, based on unplanned and eye-catching pre-season debut on Deepdale and a string of subsequent performances that continued to demand his selection.
In the midfield there is nothing; while Snodgrass’ departure was inevitable, the failure to remedy the complete lack of width all season has been one of the Warnock’s most criminal failings. Similarly, although Adam Clayton’s departure was not one to inspire heartbreak, he still remains a more effective midfielder than any of the multitude that have been brought in since. In successful sides, no player should feel like they’re guaranteed a starting spot as there’s always someone else ready to step into their boots, in the Leeds midfield no player is guaranteed a run of games simply because they aren’t good enough to justify it.
So that’s 14 permanent signings and only a handful who are making their mark. While Warnock has cleared much deadwood, he’s been as guilty as Grayson by accruing more. The case of Adam Drury remains a mystery to all, but then look at Pearce, Green, Austin, Varney, Tonge, Norris, Hall, Diouf (let’s assume Habibou will be leaving) – how many of these could be relied upon as regular starters in a promotion chasing side? Most are also around or over 30 years of age too. Where do these players fit into the ‘solid foundations’ laid by the departing boss?
Such claims of leaving a “great bunch of lads” behind whose efforts just “can’t be faulted” are essentially a myth, a fabrication created by a man who, as yesterday again illustrated, is only too willing to highlight the failures of others in an effort to detract from his own shortcomings. It is no coincidence that Tom Lees, like Becchio and McCormack before him isn’t one of ‘his boys’. Contrast his scathing condemnation of Lees with his rather more forgiving comments over the recent failings of Varney, Morison and Kenny. Dressing room harmony and player motivation appears secondary to scapegoating.
Leeds look set to end this campaign as they did last, in as much as a mess on the pitch as they were last April. It’s high time that GFH-C shipped Warnock out and acknowledged a football club is about a team and not just about protecting egos and balance sheets.