bournemouth 1 – 3 leeds united: winning reputationsBack
Leeds reputations are made and lost in Bournemouth.
It’d be interesting to see how Howard Wilkinson would be regarded now if Lee Chapman hadn’t headed in that cross on the final day of 1989/90; if all the forward momentum he and United had built up had come to a sudden, juddering halt. Wilko was wearing the away kit that day, the same as the players, and for that he is an all-for-one one-for-all genius; but what if it hadn’t worked? Nobody needs a manager sitting in the stands wearing the same shirt as the players if the players are losing: that’s just weird. Fortunately, it’s all hypothetical. Wilko is a great, and Bournemouth has a lot to do with it.
Of course some would say the whole club earned itself a reputation in Bournemouth that weekend, and certainly the town hasn’t forgotten our visit.
It was Brian McDermott and Ross McCormack’s turn last season, and our 4–1 defeat sent their stock in opposite directions. For McCormack, his goal in that game is exhibit A that argues just how much McCormack got being a Leeds player; rather than slouch sleepishly back to the halfway line after scoring a barely wanted or deserved no-consolation goal, he visibly demonstrated to the fans just who he was scoring that goal for. Of course the visibility of the demonstration was also part of Ross’s reputation, but that only reinforces my point about Bournemouth.
For McDermott, even after Rochdale, even after Hillsborough, even after Bolton at home, Bournemouth will always be his nadir; the night when attempts to keep defending him from the takeover crossfire were dealt a fatal blow. Brian was a nice guy who deserved to be treated better, true, but what about Bournemouth, eh? McDermott in a nutshell: a nice guy, but what about Bournemouth.
Bournemouth can even do it for ex-Leeds. Ian Harte was the first of O’Leary’s babies to appear in the first team, in January 1996, before Kewell, before Smith, before Woodgate and the rest; back before O’Leary was even manager. Hell, it was even before George Graham was manager; back before we knew Harte had no pace, back before we knew he could take a special free kick. Eighteen years later he’s still going, but far from being the special team liability that we kept around for his goals even while Craig Bellamy tore him apart twice a season, Harte is now a seasoned pro, a valuable member of a Bournemouth team aiming for promotion this season.
Which brings us to Giuseppe Bellusci. Peppe came to Leeds with nicknamed The Warrior and had the reputation to go with it, and the high price tag: £1.6million to turn his loan into a permanent move before he’d even kicked a ball. He was sent off pretty much before he’d kicked a ball too; an attempt to get fancy with a dropping ball on his debut led to a red card and a penalty that set Watford up for an easy win – and pushed Hockaday closer to the door. So it wasn’t all bad.
Since he came back after suspension Bellusci hasn’t done much more to inspire faith in his ability. Against Bournemouth he again let a dropping ball from on high outfox him, although this time at least it just bounced under his foot and away without anybody getting hurt. More painful was when he switched off against Birmingham and let Wes Thomas in to break the net; and somewhere in between have been the missed tackles, the lost runners, the misplaced passes and the poor clearances.
He just hasn’t looked that great, which is annoying, when your club has just spent £1.6m on him and you want to get yourself some Signor Warrior t-shirts done. From what we’ve seen so far Liam Cooper, about a million pounds cheaper and a million times easier for Jason Pearce to understand, has looked like he combines all the defensive solidity we need with a continental ability to dribble upfield and pass; which makes you wonder whether it’s favouritism, the price tag, or the harrowing way Pearce struggles when moved to the right side to make way for him that is keeping Cooper out and Bellusci in.
Or maybe it’s the free kicks.
Souleymane Doukara had already set the bar. The first half had done much to buffet Neil Redfearn’s reputation as the coach we all prefer over a World Cup finalist; with Austin and Doukara in for Mowatt and Sloth, United reverted to Hockatype and let Bournemouth walk all over us. When the main positives at half time are that you’re not losing by more and that your new keeper just gets better and better you know it’s not been a good half.
A half-time reminder that we are allowed to play up near Bournemouth’s goal seemed to do the trick, though, as Leeds looked much more dangerous – to others, now, rather than to ourselves – in the second half. Sharp and Antenucci still seemed to be avoiding each other like sulky teenagers after a row, but Leeds were getting to the byline, and getting in behind Bournemouth’s defence. That’s where Doukara was when he produced a snapshot from almost nothing that skimmed at a clip into the far corner of the goal to equalise.
Bellusci hit the same corner with his strike, but somehow he got the top of the corner, from twenty-five yards out, with a free kick that didn’t so much power it’s way into goal as float really, really fast. There haven’t been many moments to make the heart beat this fast for Leeds for a long time; there haven’t been any moments in a midweek game for about three years. And not since the days when Snodgrass was hammering them in against Hull all the time can I remember the ball flying into the net for Leeds with such power and grace.
What are a few defensive mishaps, compared to changing the whole mood of a club with just one dead ball brought to life? Bellusci’s free kick could be a watershed – it certainly inspired the momentum Leeds needed to get Mirco Antenucci off the mark and grab the third – or could just be one moment in one match that we’ll never forget. But it will be the making of Giuseppe Bellusci.
Even if Bellusci scores a hat-trick of own goals on Saturday, even if he drags down three Huddersfield players at once and gives away football’s first multi-penalty, even if he merely executes another trademark miskick of a high ball, Bellusci can’t be dropped now. Sure, he’s just walloped a back pass through Silvestri’s legs and now we’re losing. But what if we get a free kick?
That sort of reputation made Ian Harte a mystery to opposition fans for years, who only saw his goalscoring record and didn’t have to suffer him crawling back from the halfway line in David Beckham’s wake on a regular basis. And players like Harte and Bellusci do present a quandary; the fantasy solution for Harte at Leeds was always special teams, to be able to bring him on for free kicks and then hurriedly haul him off again, and so far if we could change the rules to allow something like that for The Warrior, that’d be ideal. Let him do his Warrioring to a stationary football, and let Liam Cooper do the defensive work.
Then again, Bellusci is new here, and with the confidence boost of this goal – and the adulation, which is falling just short of a ticker-tape parade to welcome him back to Leeds this morning – could help to settle him down and anchor some of those pesky defensive problems. Even Ian Harte, eventually, turned himself into a reliable and sturdy defender. Let’s just hope Bellusci doesn’t take as long.