leeds united 2-1 wolverhampton wanderers: absolute chaosBack
For an hour this game was the usual, and this report was destined to be more of the same, until Sol Bamba chested the ball not down but ahead, on the edge of the box, and swung one great boot.
Bamba hit the ball and it travelled as if fired from a cannon straight to the far top corner in front of the Kop; Bamba ran to the crowd and a group of small boys, perhaps emboldened by news of next season’s pricing for children’s ticket, broke from the centre of the Gelderd End to hail him.
When Bamba was released from their grip they ran back together to their seats at the front of the stand behind the goal and continued their own private party.
Then Toumani Diagouraga scored another goal. Then Jordan Botaka came on. He hit the bar. Stuart Dallas came on and hit the bar. The Leeds United fans sang, We’re Gonna Win The League, and Marching on Together rang out louder than it has at Elland Road for months.
And this, all this, is why I would welcome chaos as the next step in the story of Leeds United. Because it’s football, and because when you let them, wonderful things can happen. Sol Bamba can score with a twenty yard non-crossbar Yeboah. Jordan Botaka can skip past fullbacks with feet that dazzle and thrill. Lewis Cook can beat a player, then beat another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and pass the ball to Wood who passes to Botaka who hits the crossbar, and it’s all wonderful.
It’s like someone — nobody’s ever quite settled who — wrote in my favourite quatrain of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:
Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
If, like me, you stuggle constantly against a world of negativity to retain what you can of romantic optimism, then those are words you keep engraved somewhere in the pit of your soul, so that you have them as insurance against systemic disintegration, so that you know you can always, with love, exchange a slow falling apart for absolute chaos and emerge from it somewhere closer to your shared heart’s desire.
Or you can simply bring on Jordan Botaka as substitute. We’ve seen far too little of this type of play; play that resulted, first, in a goal for Wolves, because Botaka paid a classic northern English price for wanting too much to do well, and was punished for chasing down the Wolves keeper when his panicked clearance went down the wing where Botaka might have tracked back with Berardi and helped prevent the goal.
It didn’t matter. The next time Botaka had the ball it was in the corner and he should have had a free kick for how the two Wolves defenders prevented his route past them with exquisite close control; they couldn’t prevent him the next time, and with feet faster than any of us could watch Botaka carved out a gap between the defender and byline, charged into it, and sent a dangerous cross into the middle where Wood wasn’t quite to be found.
Then there was the shot against the crossbar, which was really all about Lewis Cook, who had an exceptional second half, and made Wolves entire team look daft as he beat them all on his way from penalty area to penalty area, where Wood set up Botaka. But it was a new, different thing to have Botaka was there for the shot. Wood was a problem for Wolves up front, good again on the deck as he was on Saturday against Reading, but his shooting was wayward and he was nothing like as lively as Botaka when he came on; even though, after putting Wolves’ left-back in his pocket, Botaka was then told to play down the middle with Wood and his impact became more about the hope he represented.
We’d already seen Bamba’s goal by the time any of that happened, a goal that could shatter any sorry scheme of things by itself, a moment that defied all convention: central defenders don’t score goals like that; central defenders who give the ball away to opposition strikers the way Bamba does don’t kick footballs like that; Elland Road does not have its torpor obliterated like that. Everything about it was wrong, but it changed the world from sorry to happy by blasting the very air around Beeston Hill from its heavy spring slumber.
Because the glorious effect of such chaotic outbursts was heightened by the sorriness of the first hour of this game; we don’t need to dwell on it, because it was much the same as we’ve seen all season, and to write about it would be to repeat much of what I have ended up having to write this season. The starting lineup and first hour of play felt like another occasion in which we had to give in to the system that rules Leeds United, that puts two rightbacks on the field in a half-empty stadium, that has a not-good-enough striker trying to prove his worth as a wide midfielder, that puts out a team that can’t find a way to play football better than the terrible shambles that came to play from Wolverhampton.
Massimo Cellino’s ownership of Leeds United is often called chaotic, but it’s not really a chaotic thing. It’s this; it’s a bunch of wrong decisions presented as serious propositions, a rigmarole of failure and incompetence that people watch in slow horror, hoping against hope for some fortunate event to save it from itself.
Cellino’s method Lee Erwin; bought after serious consideration at the beginning of the summer transfer window as an attacker around whom we could build a new look forward line, who has never looked up to Championship standard in his rare appearances and who seemed out of his depth when he got his starting chance against Wolves.
And our rescue is Jordan Botaka; signed at the last moment, a deal announced even while he was playing on a pitch for another team, spotted thanks to a chance tip-off from a Leeds fan on Twitter to one of Massimo Cellino’s sons; a player impossibly out of place in our pedestrian team but who contributed completely to one of the most cheerful ends to a game Elland Road has enjoyed this season.
They are two of the options ahead of us: to either carry on incompetently as we have been and are, or to roll the dice, to grasp things and smash them, sure in the knowledge that the thousand people you marched with won’t let the world you remould be any further from your heart’s desire than it is now, and optimistic enough to believe that it may be remoulded with a Jordan Botaka at its heart, or a Lewis Cook, or with Sol Bamba’s wondrous boot.
You can’t plan for Sol Bamba to score the goal of his life on the day when season ticket renewals — with big promises — are announced; only chaos can give you that. And only a goal like Sol Bamba’s can make you forget the system that has ground this season and the seasons before it into misery and make you want to write out that cheque. But if Bamba has scored the goal of his life, why sign up to buy a season ticket knowing that you’ll never see him do it again?
Because that’s the only reason any sane person watches football anyway: to hope that chaos breaks out.