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the square ball week

the square ball week

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Image from www.howsonisnow.com

We were looking for a bit of fizz before the transfer window closed, and it sure looks like we got it this week. I was going to write about Dindane coming in; then I was going to write about Habibou signing; or Warnock S. as a new left back. Then on Wednesday night the story all became about the exciting and prodigal return of Max Gradel – unbelievable, as they say, scenes. I should have known. I just should have known.

From 9pm on Wednesday to 3pm on Thursday; sixteen hours were all it took for the most gasp-worthy new signing story of the year to turn into the most groan-worthy and sadly inevitable chop-slap since the last one. A year to the day since Howson was sold, yet another sodding official statement announced that Luciano Becchio has requested a transfer.

“What people are looking for now,” chirruped Peter Lorimer in the YEP the same afternoon, “is the signings we need to finish off the squad before the January transfer window closes.” What we’ve got instead – again – are the sales that will finish off the club if they carry on.

It’s hard to know what to make of the Gradel talk in this context. Phil Hay in the Evening Post was confident in his report that an enquiry was made by Leeds about re-signing Max. I can well believe it. Gradel is mentioned almost every other day as a player the fans would love to see back, and as a solution to the ever-falling attendences (and as a source of ammunition for Luciano) Gradel would be an obvious fit. With an expectant crowd to win over, a call to Gradel’s agent – Max himself being in South Africa at the Cup of Nations – might have elicited some welcome news in a ‘Would you sell Cantona, at all?’ style.

More likely, the fee, the wage demands, and the fact that Max looks pretty happy where he is, thank you very much, will have put a swift end to that particular ‘How do we cheer the fans up?’ brainstorming session.

What the Gradel story did do was inject some anticipation into a transfer window that has remained stubbornly frosted over. Matthew Brown-Bolton at Right In The Gary Kellys rounded up the week’s rumours, and they were a fairly uninspiring bunch; that doesn’t even include Aruna Dindane, an ex-Portsmouth (of course) thirty-something (of course) striker (of sorts) whose rumoured arrival was greeted by Leeds fans like a portent of coming apocalypse. That scrabbling around in the bins of football was once again United’s lot seemed to be confirmed by Alan Tate’s comments to TalkSport after his return to Swansea, collected on Twitter by Andrew Haigh: “I enjoyed it, things went well but obviously with the money situation up there, I couldn’t stay any longer.” If the ‘money situation’ means we ‘obviously’ couldn’t sign Tate, what odds Gradel?

Like I said, we should have seen it coming. Tate spilled more beans about the Becchio situation: “I know he had interest from China and from Wigan. It’s down to him what he wants to do.” China, on the other side of the world, would account for one of the foreign offers referred to in the club statement; Wigan, on the other side of the Pennines, would be the other.

Aged 29, it is of course down to Luciano what he wants to do. The man owes Leeds United absolutely nothing. If anything, the club owes him. Leeds was the making of him, after he arrived an unknown outside of a few lower league Spanish clubs and the Barcelona B team, but he more than contributed to making his own name here by forcing his way into the Leeds top ten all-time scorers chart and helping our promotion back from League One. He signed a new contract with the minimum of fuss (for Leeds, anyway), and season by season he has just got better and better. The service to Becchio this season has been ridiculous: a player who thrives on crosses, left upfront on his own in a team without wingers, he has still scored sixteen times, heading in almost from outside the box if he has to. With over forty percent of our goals, it’s hard to know what more he could have done this season. Given that our two next highest scorers have four goals each, he could have used some help.

If we had a squad of players that matched Becchio’s contribution, we could be clear at the top of the division by now, and Luciano would be looking forward to a Championship medal, a promotion bonus, a shot at the Premier League and a healthy new contract. But we don’t, and we aren’t, and none of that is Becchio’s fault, and there’s no reason why he should have to pay for the management’s failure to build a team to help him. Becchio could score forty goals this season and Leeds still won’t go up; that means for him another season in the second division, a season that would take him over 30 years of age, and would see any chance of a big contract in a top division disappear.

Worse players than Luciano Becchio have put in considerably less work and been rewarded much more handsomely by football. “Financially,” reads the club statement, “he believes his best interests are served by a move away from Leeds United.” He’s damn right. As ever these days, a good player has to look away from Elland Road to be given the rewards he earned while he was here.

Normally at this point I would round up the best independent reports on the most recent Leeds United games, but I can’t see any good reason to put you through it this week: if you want to relive Bristol City, Three Colours White, Girl in the Gelderd and Travels of a Leeds Fan have you covered. And if that’s the kind of thing you like, here’s Jennifer Berry’s last word from The Square Ball issue six (which is still on sale here), which I think you’ll sympathise with. I’ll also point you to the new episode of The Square Ball Podcast, on iTunes here, which is the first of a mammoth two parter to celebrate our return from a winter break. That, and we had a lot to moan about. We also have the mighty Finchy as our new voiceover man, which we won’t be moaning about, as long as he doesn’t interrupt us.

But as it’s Friday, let’s not even think about Spurs have in store for us; let’s just get to YouTube. Middlesbrough, 2010; and the interview. Doncaster, 2012. Chelsea, 2012. On the pitch after Bristol Rovers, 2010. Here’s the best of the League One years. And here’s the best of the lot: Millwall, 2009.

Let’s just cross our fingers and hope he stays. Who else do we have to sing about anymore?


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