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the square ball week: has it worked?

the square ball week: has it worked?

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Artwork by Joe Gamble - joegamble.co.uk

The questions have got a bit tougher for Brian McDermott this week, and he clearly doesn’t have all the answers.

What he does have, though, is the questions. The same questions everyone else is asking of him. Because very few of the questions at Leeds United should really be asked of Brian; he just happens to be the only one around answering any.

In yesterday’s press conference ahead of the Burnley game, Phil Hay of the YEP began a question about McDermott’s plans for this season. “You spoke at the start of the season about developing the training ground, the academy,” said Phil. “It feels as if that’s all…”

Brian didn’t let him finish.

“Gone,” he said. “That’s what it feels like to me … That’s all gone out the window and everything is [about] now.”

You sensed Brian could have finished off most of the questions being asked yesterday afternoon, because he’s been asking them himself. What has happened to the plan? Why did it all go out the window? The pitches were re-sized and Thorp Arch and the Elland Road dugouts swapped round, but has the club ever actually appointed Luke Dowling to the chief scout position McDermott pinpointed as vital to his plans? The laying of a 3G pitch that was halted when Leeds United couldn’t pay the bills has been completed, as David Haigh pointed out himself yesterday, but was it part of the plan to have the pitch delayed until the middle of March?

And does a completed 3G pitch signal a new start for the plan, the start of a different plan, or an easy way for the club to get an irate building firm off their back with Massimo Cellino’s money and shut up the people asking about it?

David Haigh was asked about it this week, by Richard Sutcliffe in The Yorkshire Post, and managed to blame the situation on the winding up petition by Andrew Flowers and Enterprise Insurance. “The 3G pitch has become a big issue to some,” said Haigh. “And the reason it got stopped was because of the winding-up petition, which meant we weren’t allowed to make certain payments … We suffered for a week or two because of that unjust petition.”

That it was an “unjust petition” was the argument used by the club’s solicitors, who refused to accept the club was liable for the money owed to Enterprise. That Haigh still refers to it as an “unjust petition” will perhaps surprise His Honour Judge Hodge QC, who ruled that not only were the club liable for the £1.5m (plus interest) owed to Flowers, but that they were so liable they should pay all the legal costs of the case, too.

In the same interview David Haigh claims to have managed a McDonalds at the age of sixteen; to have loaned nearly £2m of his own money – “money was to allow me to buy a house here” – to the club despite not being a multi-millionaire; and says that Cellino, “I think has many of the right attributes to take the club forward. I haven’t seen all of those attributes in anyone else while I have been here,” even though four sentences earlier he was talking about buying the club with Andrew Flowers, who presumably did not, in Dave’s opinion, have the right attributes to take the club forward.

All of which makes it hard to take Haigh’s assurances about the financial position – “The club is in good hands. It has money and there is no chance of the club going into administration. None whatsoever … I know this club is in good shape, even though at the moment we are losing money” – hard to trust. Apart from anything else, since he ‘severed ties’ with the club’s owners GFH, whether the club goes into administration or not isn’t Haigh’s decision to make. But there he is anyway, blithely stating the club is losing money and blaming talk about the financial situation on the winding up petition that “caused fans to panic.”

“I’m doing the talking,” said Brian McDermott at another point in his press conference. That’s one of the perils of a modern manager with a hectic fixture list and an obligation to be interviewed before and after every game. There’s no hiding place for McDermott; on Saturday evening and on Tuesday night, he had to come out of the dressing room and try to explain what had just happened to a live radio audience. The explanation on Tuesday night wasn’t great; Brian sounded rattled by the BBC’s Adam Pope’s refusal to concentrate on the positives of the last thirty minutes, wanting answers instead for the negatives of the first sixty.

His answers about the poor performance were inadequate, but it’s to Brian’s credit that the inadequacies weren’t hidden. Can he explain why the same team can look so abject while conceding four and then so up for it when scoring two? He can’t, and while it’s his job to find an explanation for it and fix it, he hasn’t got the opportunity to be anything but honest about his lack of an answer. “Leave it with me and ask me next week,” won’t satisfy the angry radio audience.

But Brian also sounded as if he desperately wanted to find somebody who is actually responsible for the mess of this season, drag them by the teeth down in front of the press, and make them damn well explain just what the hell has gone wrong. Some people at the club get to pick and choose the time, place and medium for their comments; still others think a platitude on the official website now and then will do. Others have to take a break from blaming Tom Lees (or whoever) in the dressing room and answer hard questions, whether they like it or not.

You can hear the frustration in everybody’s voice – from Adam Pope who knows he’s asking the right questions of the wrong guy, to Brian McDermott, who has questions of his own he’d like answering. “What is this football club about?” asked Brian on Thursday. "Is it about that vision?

“Well actually we are improving things. We are trying to improve things, we’re trying to make the team better, we’re trying to get results, we’re trying to get the training ground right, we’ve got young boys playing in the team, all of these things. But at the moment it’s popular to say you’re not winning, so you’ve got to take this. But my vision is still the same. Absolutely the same.”

Brian McDermott’s vision is still the same because Brian McDermott’s vision is that the club needs to change – and it hasn’t. “So many managers in a certain period of time – absolutely no stability at this football club. And has it worked? I keep asking that question.”

That’s one I can answer for McDermott – no, it hasn’t worked. The problem is only a fan will answer that question for McDermott, because at the moment only a fan has an interest in answering it. The statement from GFH Capital this week didn’t even bother to include any of the usual about “working hard for the good of the football club” – all they’re working hard on is selling it, because that’s really all that matters to the club’s owners at the moment – not owning it anymore.

“I’ve been here a short time,” said McDermott. “I’ve seen it from the outside over a period of ten years – I’m doing the talking, but we need a leader.” He might not always say what I want to hear, but for as long as Brian McDermott is thinking about our club in terms of ten years of getting it wrong that need to turn into ten years of getting it right, I’m happy for him to keep talking. And to keep asking questions.

Has it worked? There isn’t only Brian asking that about Leeds United.

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