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leeds 1 – 1 sheffield wednesday: reputation management

leeds 1 – 1 sheffield wednesday: reputation management

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Reputation management is a difficult business. Exhibit A glowered at Elland Road from the away dugout on Saturday: Dave Jones will never be a popular man in Leeds. 

On the pitch, there were three more reputations on the line, of more immediate interest to Leeds fans. Diouf, Poleon and McCormack are all finding that having a high profile and a big reputation can bring rich rewards, but it also brings a downside.

El-Hadji Diouf is the easiest to deal with. Towards the end of last week the signs were that Diouf could be on his way from Elland Road in this transfer window, although Brian McDermott promptly denied that and named Diouf as a substitute. He still seems the man most likely to make room on the wage bill: as Phil Hay pointed out in the Yorkshire Evening Post, the man with the chrome-plated car is more likely to attract attention – and more importantly, bids – than Danny Pugh. Diouf didn’t add much when he replaced Poleon for the last few minutes but he did get the reception his name and status merit; Leeds’ next home game is against QPR, two days before the transfer window closes, and it remains to be seen whether Diouf will have taken his reputation elsewhere by the time that game comes around.

With just a handful of games to his name, Dominic Poleon is facing a different problem to Diouf: making himself known. Referee Roger East, though, seemed to have heard of Poleon, and not heard good things. It looked like he had something against Dom, anyway. Poleon was lively from the start, with the pace we’ve been crying out for and a willingness to charge towards Wednesday’s goal that had them terrified. The Sheffield defenders’ response was to try and bully him: barges and shirt-tugs were the weapons, and it would be worth giving away a few free kicks in order to put the youngster in his place. Except the free kicks never came, and when Poleon responded by getting in some rough stuff of his own, the Wednesday players must have been unable to believe their luck when the free kicks started coming their way.

We’re used to Leeds-hating referees at Elland Road, but this didn’t seem to be about Leeds: it seemed to be Poleon in particular. Dom got some unwarranted attention at the end of last season when his challenge on Ikechi Anya set off a chain reaction that put Watford keeper Jonathan Bond is hospital, and Mr East seemed to have arrived determined to put The Championship’s most dangerous winger in his place. On Saturday The Scratching Shed compared Poleon to Max Gradel, and Poleon does have something of Gradel’s scampering style – he’s frenetic and frenzied rather than elegant – and that means he’s all arms and legs when chasing the ball. But the merest hint of a raised arm meant a free kick against Poleon, while the Wednesday players did to him what they wished: “I concluded that Poleon must have a wasp on his collar, or maybe a stain or an interesting tattoo on his neck,” wrote Leeds En France, wondering how the pulls and grabs could not be given as fouls.

If Poleon had attempted the goal Ross McCormack equalised with, he probably would have been whistled for a foul: Ross seemed to have been watching Poleon’s push-and-chase attempts, and decided to have a go himself. The result was fantastic: McCormack’s goal was the moment of what was a dreadful match. That’s why he’s not for sale: because as the wind swirls rain and plastic bags around the pitch and Paul Green and David Prutton exchange misplaced passes in midfield, it takes McCormack to bring the bit of skill and imagination needed to save post-match discussions from giving way to weary glances. That’s why he’s not for sale, but it’s also why he’s there to be bought. Teams want him.

McCormack insists he doesn’t want to go, or at least, that’s the gut instinct reading of his post-match interview. Since then, the soundbite has been replayed, argued over, forensically analysed and generally treated like some new found footage of the Kennedy assassination. Perhaps McCormack should have referred the interviewer to his goal celebration, which said in sign language essentially what he said in the interview: he doesn’t want to go, but the chance exists that the people in the director’s suites might sell him. “The actions of a man content at his club, but possibly not secure there?” wondered Adam Jubb at Fear & Loathing in LS11.

That gesture was characteristic of McCormack. This time last year his contract was at issue, and Snodgrass had just been sold; after tucking in a penalty against Shrewsbury, he ran to the Kop miming a contract signing. Later in the season he closed the Neil Warnock era by coming off the bench to score, and included a sharp retort to the manager in his celebrations. Now we have another transfer window, another McCormack goal, and another goal celebration; Ross could get a reputation for this kind of thing.

It’s potentially troublesome to have a player so often apparently at odds with his paymasters, but personally, I love it. While the new Premier League season struggles to convince us that top level footballers are characterful young men living lives of drama and interest, McCormack really does stand out from the automatons that populate so many of our top football clubs. What the future of McCormack comes down to is a question of how much power a footballer really holds: does he have enough of a say in his career to refuse a move to Middlesbrough if a bid is accepted? While most players will go meekly where they are told – and enjoy the increased wages once there – Ross McCormack’s reputation suggests he won’t go quietly. He’s a rarity: he’s a footballer with passion. And that’s one more reason why we shouldn’t sell him.

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