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the square ball week

the square ball week

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Cup runs, Christmas, takeovers and transfer windows; it has been difficult to focus a Leeds fans’ mind lately on that old-fashioned thing, the football. We can’t even take the traditional way out yet and concentrate on the league: the glitter of a trip to Manchester’s east end in the FA Cup shines like a stolen ring in the magpie’s nest that is the rest of our season, distracting from the twigs, sticks, and Kit Kat foil of second tier league football.

It’s time the club rolled up its sleeves and got the job in hand back in its sights, though. No more Christmas hangover in February; no more transfer window worries now business is done. Seventeen games remain for Leeds United to find a way into the play-off places, and we’ve no time to waste, and no margin for error.

We also have no clear direction or any evidence of a plan. The transfer window was meant to leave us stronger, but with our top scorer sold, his replacement was out injured, the new back up was out of his depth, and our new left back was deemed not ready to face Cardiff City. We always lose to them, but if an unlikely promotion is to be the result this season, we’re going to have to start getting some unlikely results from teams we don’t normally beat, and we’re going to need to be at full strength at all times to do it. Scratching the long-mooted idea of signing a winger and opting to leave it to chance in the emergency loan window didn’t help our chances against the table toppers, either, and the less said about the ‘approach’ for the £8m-rated Max Gradel, given we didn’t have £800k to pay for Chris Burke, the better.

Of course, plenty of people are happy with the work done so far by our new owners. I’d Radebe Leeds posted up their ‘Five Reasons Why GFH-C Should Be Backed to High Ell,’ citing GFHC’s “ethical” approach to the transfer window and the reduction in some ticket prices as successes so far; Right In The Gark Kellys, one of the select few who have been granted an on the record interview in the Malmaison hotel with David Haigh and Salem Patel since the takeover, also posted an article declaring GFHC to be ‘Comfortably Over the First Hurdle,’ pointing to the money spent so far: “Warnock and Morison dropping from the Premier League will command high wages reported 20k a week in some places. Combined with paying our summer transfer spending and lower ticket prices it’s been a successful start for GFH Capital … it’s shocking that there are any critics of GFH.”

While it’s true that there have been advances made in short order, I’m not sure that it puts GFHC beyond criticism at this point. Personally, I’ll reserve judgement on Warnock until he has actually pulled on a Leeds shirt, and the same goes for Morison – although the fight for my heart is not one he’s likely to win, whatever he does. As for Habibou, let’s just say we’ll need to take a second look. Neil Warnock had a lot to say about the last days of the the transfer window, but the net result of last Thursday’s work was that we lost another game on the Saturday and fell even further off the pace. It’s harsh, but if the talk of a play-off push is to be anything more than idle chatter then the team has to improve now, on the pitch, and not later in theory.

The changes to ticket prices and the approach to fan engagement – after the Twitter account, the Facebook page – are steps in the right direction, but these feel like transient gestures without a cohesive plan to put it all in context. The ticket offers are just that – special offers – with no confirmation that we’ll see prices like these longer term. Fan engagement is stepped up from the days of Twitter bans but so far is being kept at the brand meets consumer level – as Paul Keat of Leeds United Supporters’ Trust told BBC Leeds, there has been no progress with approaches to fans’ groups, of the kind that were proposed as the way forward at Parliament this week, beyond retweets and likes. Paul was speaking on Thursday morning following LUST’s first meeting since the takeover, the dominant mood of which was summed up neatly by Adam Jubb at Fear and Loathing in LS11: “It’s time supporters were made to feel like they truly belong again, that we matter, that we know where the club is heading and what this new blueprint is.”

Nobody would swap places with Nottingham Forest at the moment, and nobody expected an immediate Robinho-style signing as at Manchester City, but I would swap the current fistful of gestures for a decisive statement about the long term plans GFHC have for the club. The most coherent plan around at the moment comes, bizarrely, from Hull Rugby chief and ex-Leeds director Adam Pearson, who told Business Insider this week that Leeds United stand out as a club with huge potential. “Everybody in Leeds needs that club back in the Premier League. A city of this size should have a Premier League club,” he said. GFHC spoke of the Premier League too, convincing the Bahrain Bourse of the benefits of TV money to Middle Eastern investors, but Pearson’s version ties that success in to Leeds itself: “Having 30 Premier League footballers in a city, buying dinner and gifts, is like having 30 small businesses.”

Of course, that’s all easy for Pearson to say: he doesn’t own Leeds United, the eleven or more shareholders of Gulf Finance House do, and as their representatives Salem and David are perhaps finding out, saying and doing are two very different things once you have the keys to the club. Maybe patience is the watchword, and the lack and the fault is mine, but after the drawn out saga of the takeover and the patience-testing exercise that is the football at Elland Road this winter, I’m finding my virtues in short supply.

At F&L, Adam Jubb points out that not only do Leeds have teams like Cardiff up against them, but the fundamental laws of physics themselves; or, to put it another way, “without creativity and pace in the midfield and forward areas, victories will remain difficult to come by.” At Travels of a Leeds Fan Andrew Butterwick saw Cardiff’s organisation and Rudy Austin’s waywardness as the difference: “We deserved a point in a very tight and tense game … But Austin’s Sat Nav was seriously malfunctioning, and he seemed to be totally lost in the middle of the field.” With some Microsoft Paint diagrams and a deft piece of Zonal Marking style analysis, Amitai Winehouse showed at Spoughts why some more precision from Rodolph and co is required to capitalise on the excellent runs of Ross McCormack; while back at F&L, Scarlett Gray remembers a slightly less mobile forward of the late-eighties – less mobile than a lamppost, that is – in the gangling shape of John Pearson. It took 15 games for Pearson to notch his first goal for Leeds after dropping a division to move to Elland Road. Fingers crossed, as we face Wolves and Middlesbrough this week, that Steve Morison doesn’t take so long to get going. If we don’t have a new plan, let’s stick with the old one: score goals, win games.


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