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the square ball week: start again

the square ball week: start again

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It must be tempting to play jokes on Massimo Cellino. And easy.

Walk into any High Street pub and find two blokes who look like Dave Hockaday and Junior Lewis. Give them a fiver each, and sit them on Massimo’s sofa. Then watch how Massimo reacts when he wakes up and staggers his bleary way around his apartment, half-blinded by the early afternoon sun, and comes face-to-face with the Rosencrantz and Guiderstern of his Leeds United.

Or, with the help of a child size raincoat and two bulldogs stacked one on top of the other, pretend Verne Troyer is back to visit.

Move his keys. All the time. Rearrange the furniture as often as you can manage. Slightly undercook his pasta and stand back as the penne flies. “Sorry, Massimo, I didn’t know you had a special recipe.” Ha. The hell I didn’t.

Jokes can get serious; and Uwe Rosler can get to the wig shop, and to the voice coach, and get some hair, and a new accent. While Cellino has been in Italy dealing with his court cases, Rosler has been riffling through the Yellow Pages, looking for a sign writer to change the name on his office door.

And then Cellino returns, marching through the Elland Road corridors, whacking lightswitch after lightswitch, yelling about the bills, and demanding to know that his drinks cabinet has been replenished; and as he nears, Rosler opens his office door, steps into the corridor, and extends his hand.

“Mr President,” he begins, in a strained Home Counties accent that betrays elements of Dutch. “Thank you once again for this great opportunity. I’m really excited to be getting started.”

“Who this guy?”

Uwe speaks up before Terry can get a word in.

“Ewan Roslin, Mr President. Ewan Roslin, your new head coach. I’ve already been cracking on with some of the ideas we discussed on the phone.”

“Phone?”

“Yes Mr President. It was a little unorthodox of you to call me at four in the morning to tell me I would be taking over from Herr Rosler, but I was very clear by 6am about what you wanted to see at this football club and am excited about putting forward your vision.”

“This football club? Is Cagliari?”

“Leeds United, Mr President.”

Cellino looks at Terry, but Terry just shrugs. Well, it’s happened before.

“Great! What your name? Don’t care. You good looking guy! We win things with you my friend, I feel that already. Press conference, when we have press conference?”

“Oh we did that Mr President. Remember?”

Well, that’s happened before too. “Okay. You great guy! Keep up the good work!” Massimo returns the handshake, marches off in search of the next money-draining lightswitch, leaving Uwe contemplating the ‘kick me’ sign taped to the President’s back.

With a deep breath, Uwe returns to his office, and flicks on the live feed of Jurgen Klopp’s latest press conference, scours the notes he took while hidig in a tree in Liverpool watching the Normal One take training. The new guy always gets at least a month. Fine. He’ll be the new guy, and start again.

It feels like enough time has passed during this international break for such Scooby Doo schemes to actually have a chance of success. Cellino has had legal affairs back in Italy to distract him, while the lack of Leeds United involvement in the international games, save for Dallas with Northern Ireland and Botaka with DR Congo, has me hankering for a game again. Wig or no wig, Saturday just might bring us a fresh start.

What it will bring us is Brighton, the only unbeaten team in the league, and a tougher test than the Middlesbrough team that beat us or the Birmingham team that beat us. It would be unfair to judge Rosler on the result against Brighton tomorrow, although we — and he — desperately need a home win. But we might be able to draw some conclusions about how he’s planning to face up to the next stretch of games.

It’s not so much about starting again, as starting at all. There have been bright moments under Rosler, but they’ve generally only been moments; an hour at Bristol City, a half at Derby; Botaka’s cameo last weekend, that really had nothing to do with Rosler and everything to do with the rare presence of a free spirit at Elland Road. The rest of the time has been spent waiting for the ‘project’, to use a Kloppism, to gel together.

That was never going to happen over night, and it’s still a work in progress. It’s all very well saying Rosler has the wingers he wants, but he’s only had two of them for about two weeks, and it’s perhaps a bit of a blow to any tactical reimaginings that the two most impressive so far are the two that have been absent on international duty. And he was perfectly within his rights to see if Bellusci or Wootton could offer something to the defence that Hockaday, Milanic and Redfearn couldn’t get out of them. Hopefully Rosler has the answer he needs there.

The project will not last without a win here or there, though, which makes the next few games a tough test for Rosler. He needs to get some points on the board, and has admitted that he might need to adjust his philosophy to make that happen. But he also, if he’s to be manager here for a long term, needs to have courage in his project and his methods and trust that it will work out in the long run; especially now that he has had players brought in specifically to make that approach work. Even if a wingerless diamond was the silver bullet for our season, that’s the one team selection that would ensure a bullet from the President and end his time in charge.

The biggest danger to Rosler at this stage is indecision. I’ve mentioned before how, with his fondness for rotation, Rosler’s teamsheets are statements in themselves, and the selection against Brighton is going to be as important as the result. An hour before kick-off, it’s the game he needs to win first. Like a wisened gypsy looking into a teacup and cursing Leeds United, I should be read the future in Rosler’s teamsheet; to see it and know, this is the plan.

For me, that plan must include Antenucci, for form, and Botaka, for fearlessness. Botaka in particular could have an important role to play through his ignorance; he didn’t seem to know too much about the recent history of Leeds United when he joined, and that’s good, because Leeds is a club where too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

It seems to only take a small thing — like the complete undermining of a popular coach by a megalomaniacal owner, or the public slating of a home-grown player — to dampen the spirits of the players who have been here long enough to grow mould; and the winless home run will be like a lead anvil in the home changing room. Botaka, judging by his performance against Birmingham, will leap atop that anvil and dance on it, and that’s something Leeds United have lacked.

It shouldn’t be bust for Rosler if we lose to Brighton, but there should be pressure on him this weekend, the pressure of an opportunity there to be taken. Win tomorrow, against the league leaders, and Rosler has it made for the next few weeks. There’s a confidence boost within reach, a fresh start, a chance to stand up and say, “I am Uwe Rosler, and Leeds United have won at home.”

And to hope the President doesn’t turn to Terry and say, “I think I liked that Ewan guy, his hair so lovely, thick. Where’s Ewan?”

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