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the square ball week: casper sloth endures

the square ball week: casper sloth endures


Casper Sloth endures. Serene, calm; characteristically, lazy, but that might be hearsay or an illusion.

We’ve all seen him. But none of us can remember anything he’s done. And yet Casper Sloth endures.

And Brian Montenegro prospers. A sharp intake of breath at the memory, like when you rummage for an old pair of shoes and find a postcard from a grandparent long dead. Oh, him! If Brian were to write us a postcard now, it would be from Paraguay, where he has returned to his old club Nacional Ascunión:

“Hey guys!” he would write. “Hey Redders!” Bad news can be slow reaching people who are enjoying life. “Hi Mr President, hi Terry! Brian here. Having a lovely time! I’ve played thirteen games for Nacional since I got back, and scored six goals.

“Five in the league, and they were all matchwinners: two when we beat Sol de Americana 2–1; the first and third goals when we beat Deportivo Capiatá 3–2; the only one when we beat Cerro Porteño 1–0.

“In fact when I don’t score, Nacional don’t win, so I guess I’d better score some more ha ha ha! Okay, better go. By the way Ercole is here on holiday he says hello. Love from Monty xoxo.”

Zan Benedicic and Dario Del Fabro are reunited, almost. Como vs Ascoli will be played in Serie B on Saturday, a clash that is probably not being billed as a meeting of the two ex-Leeds reserves. Zan Benedicic has left AC Milan for good, the way Eleonora Cellino left him; not by starting a new Instagram account and retreating to the arms of his brothers, but by signing for Como. There’s a new woman in his life, too, and presumably a new knee; Zan played for the Slovenia under–21s in June, a second half against Andorra U21s, and has managed some substitute appearances and one start for his new club.

Del Fabro has taken longer to recover from being a Leeds United player; he returned first to Cagliari, but after making the bench once in Serie B, he’s been loaned across the league this week (“Two newcomers in the house”) and will presumably travel with Ascoli to Como. If you want to keep track of his progress you can, via the official Ascoli website’s updates on the daily training sessions: “In the morning the group was divided into two parts and, alternately, was done work force in the gym and a session tactics on the field; Mr. Petrone in the afternoon, after heating, did perform an exercise on ball possession and a series of matches on a theme.” Mr Petrone may give Del Fabro his debut against Como and Benedicic, assuming Dario can be found and isn’t hiding, disguised as a hipster Marx Brother.

And while we’re about it, we might as well check in on Andrea Tabanelli; after seven games on loan at Cesena in Serie B last season, they’ve given him a permanent deal and the number ten shirt, and he’s got injured and gone to Milan Fashion Week, while perfecting his idosyncratic but fire Monopoly game.

And Casper Sloth endures. He plays some beautiful football, though, according to Massimo Cellino this week; or that might be Lee Erwin, who is also a beautiful player; to add to Jordan Botaka, who in the nutmegs-at-the-station video we looked at the other week, didn’t do so many nutmegs, did one that was very beautiful.

There is, by the sounds of it, a lot of beauty in the Development Squad. Even Souleymane Doukara flicked the ball up for himself and cracked a volley into the back of the QPR net this week, before Lee Erwin added two more goals in a 3–3 draw. His first was a tap in, after Doukara shrugged off a QPR defender as he charged down the wing and passed a low ball across the six yard box; the same side, the same source, and a bewildered goalkeeper stood miles out of his goal wondering why the backpass never came let Erwin score his second a minute later. A dangerous strike partnership; admittedly they both also missed a bunch of sitters against a young QPR defence (that bewildered keeper is 20; the defender Doukara beat both times is 19) on a 3G pitch, but they scored three beautiful goals. And they scored them together.

Mysterious things happen in the reserves. Mysterious, beautiful things. Perhaps that’s why Massimo Cellino, talking again, this week to Adam Pope, sounds so reluctant to let Lee Erwin leave. Even for a bit. “Sometimes the player is better if they stay here, and they grow with the team, instead to send them away and you lose them,” says Cellino, who appears to have abandonment issues.

“Erwin has just arrived, it’s too much, eight weeks in Leeds, he’s come from Scotland. He’s just getting used to Leeds … if you send a player to loan because he didn’t play in the first two months, it’s dangerous to run a club like that,” added Cellino, the words resonating like a caption in a silent melodrama; “If I didn’t wait [for] players, if I didn’t give trust to the good players I used to have in my life, I never had important players…”

…and here we’ll leave Massimo, because his wrestling with the language has him tied to train tracks wailing weirdly for the good players in his life and I think his point is made: it’s better for a young player, just arrived from Scotland, to stay in one place with one squad and know that if a chance comes up in the first team, he is trusted to play. Well, not trusted as much as Doukara, but the sentiment is admirable and the sense of it is mostly sound.

But Erwin himself says different. “I would enjoy going out on loan if there’s no chance for me of getting first-team football here,” he told the official site. “After getting first-team football last year, it’s a lot better than playing Under–21 football. Hopefully I can get the chance to prove my point. The main thing for me is just to develop. I’m still just 21.

“Obviously you want to play football but at least I’m getting 90 minutes here [with the Under- 21s].”

You can almost hear the sighs. And of course what prompted all of this was Uwe Rosler suggesting that Erwin and Sloth might go out on loan to get some first team football, a view that he might regret not discussing with Mr Cellino first since their different approaches to development have become clear.

It might be worth, in the circumstances, listening to what the player himself thinks. Cellino is right that it’s good for Erwin to feel trusted to step into the first team, but that trust will only be valuable if it is put into action. Chris Wood was injured and couldn’t play at Middlesbrough, but Erwin got no nearer the first team, Leeds travelling light up front. Erwin has also, previously, been trusted to play in the Scottish Premier League, where he scored goals in front of passionate crowds and shrugged off an infamous scrap with Rangers’ Bilel Mohsni. The 3G pitches at Thorp Arch, where every strike wide results in that meshy sound of ball against chain link fence, is a big step down for someone used to playing in front of a crowd.

Maybe there’s a middle ground; if Cellino is right that keeping Erwin close to the Leeds United family is the way forward, perhaps the Leeds United family needs to go to him; the South Stand crew, this weekend supporting the national Twenty’s Plenty campaign, could organise for a few thousand to get up to Thorp Arch and take the crowds to Erwin. Flares, banners, flags, songs; Lee Erwin won’t want to go anywhere, and it could be very beautiful.

It might do Casper Sloth some good too. Because while there are options and possibilities about how best to develop Lee Erwin’s career, Sloth endures. And Sloth must hang from a tree some days after training, looking out at the River Wharfe, wishing he had only come here on loan with a view to buy, too. Perhaps he could have gone back to his old club, like Monty, and recaptured his best form, the form that made him a Danish international; perhaps, like Dario or Zan, he could have picked up his boots and started again somewhere else. Perhaps if he’d paid more attention to what the other lads were saying about Instagram.

But it’s hard to see at this point what good it does to confine Sloth to barracks any further. He was included in Cellino’s list of the beauties of Wetherby, but while the route to the first team is short but loaded for Erwin: Antenucci and Doukara are ahead of him, pretty much; even Cellino seemed to lose heart in what he was saying about how Sloth might get a chance. Cook, Mowatt, Byram, Dallas, Botaka, Buckley, Murphy, Adeyemi, Bianchi, Phillips, and Sloth, patient — very patient — but probably wasting his time.

He’s wasting his time until summer 2017, when his contract runs out, and when he can finally leave; a more thorough Derek Lilley impression than even Lee Erwin is managing so far. But it might be time, now, just to let him go. He won’t be abandoning us, Massimo, and we won’t be abandoning him; there are things called recall clauses, in case the ten midfielders ahead of Sloth can’t all make it for a game and we trust Sloth to step in.

Not all players make it at a football club, for whatever reasons, and with last year’s stick-pin transfer policy, Leeds United had more new names and more disappointing failures than most. Most of them have started new lives, though; even Ngoyi and Cani have new clubs. But Casper Sloth continues to pay for his year at Leeds; continues to pay for the limits on loan players that were presumably behind his permanent transfer. The loan that never ends; the signing we all forgot. Casper Sloth endures, writing a postcard of his own in the shade of a tree at Thorp Arch. There are probably better uses of his time than playing for our under–21s and being beautiful.

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