The Square Ball Week: Broken Dreams & Bellusci
Leeds United as owned by Andrea Radrizzani so far has been like an office kitchen as catered by Willy Wonka; it’s been impossible to conceive of a downside to all this candy.
Compared to the idle dreaming inspired by press links, the excitement of YouTube videos of our new signings, the optimism of our head coach’s esoteric background, the repurchase and redecorating of our home ground, compared to all that the first preseason friendly, against Harrogate Town, effectively a training match at Thorp Arch, was an earthly bump.
Football? It’s why we’re all here. And it can be such a killjoy.
We’ve had to rethink expectations of Leeds United this summer; progress has been replaced by rebuilding. The two sides that lined up against Harrogate Town made that horribly obvious, popping with more flash than a kit launch lightbulb. It was like turning up to see a new mansion being built, only to turn up on the day when the rubble of the old house was being chucked in a skip. Thomas Christiansen, Mateusz Klich and Felix Wiedwald are exciting grand designs. Toumani Diagouraga, Paul McKay, Lee Erwin? Sure, everybody starts the new season with a new coach with a new slate. It’s just some players have more chalk than others.
Change will take time. Chris Wood and Pontus Jansson are still easing their way back after a busy summer; last season Jansson didn’t turn up until autumn, and swiftly became a hero. We still press our hands together and pray for a hero, Kyle Bartley, to return, and shuffle the likes of McKay away from the first team. If not Bartley, then somebody, because even if there ain’t nobody, there’s still a lot of work to be done to assemble Christiansen’s first team. Work that Victor Orta is no doubt hurrying on with.
In the meantime we just have to take the hits: Diagouraga at centre-half is preseason purgatory that only bad luck will convert into Championship season destiny, so even if it means Leeds United’s social media accounts are easier to watch than the football team for a few weeks, perhaps that’s just the price we have to pay for the good times happening off the pitch. At least, this summer, we’re getting something in return for all the paying.
Then there’s Giuseppe Bellusci. The thing about Diagouraga, Erwin, McKay, Liam Cooper, Souleymane Doukara, Marcus Antonsson, whoever, is that while fans have questions about their roles in the brighter days ahead, they also have hope, and a sense of willing. Nobody would mind if Diagouraga blossomed like a modern day Alfie Haaland, who was on the edge of a transfer from the midfield of Leeds reserves to Manchester City when he switch to the centre of Leeds’ first team defence instead and started bossing Roma around in the UEFA Cup. If Lee Erwin could translate his goalscoring form from last season at Oldham to this season at Leeds, or if Marcus Antonsson could deliver on his early promise, shirts would fly out of the Elland Road Superstore with their names on. Probably more Erwins that Antonssons, but Yorkshire people are tight.
Bellusci? There’s not even hope at this point, because voodoo dolls wield more influence than that. There are some fans, either incredibly deluded or incredibly charitable, who continue to claim that he could be a good defender for Leeds United, but even they qualify it now. If he keeps his mind on the game. If he cuts out the mistakes. If he acts a bit mature. If he stops being a relentless shithead. Normally by this point the original point has become to look as ridiculous as it should in the first place, with bonus points if Peppe’s promotor was suggesting playing him in midfield.
To deal with his football ability first, I can put a stop right now to the risk that while out of sight at Empoli Bellusci might benefit from a rosy tint around his skills: I watched him play for Empoli, and he was shit. Admittedly I only watched one half, but by half-time Empoli were 3-0 down, and everything Bellusci had done was so reminiscent of watching him in a Leeds kit I felt like I was having a waking nightmare and had to switch it off. Shirking his marking job, playing Hollywood passes out for throw-ins, giving teammates the ball under pressure after getting himself into trouble: it was the same old cowardly show-off shit.
It’s ironic that his return to Leeds should have involved a preseason game against Harrogate, as I distinctly remember summer 2015, when he was resolutely bullied by Harrogate’s striker and then got into a shouting match with Leeds fans unhappy to see him back and unhappy to see him struggling against non-league players. Although in this week’s match Bellusci was played into trouble by Gaetano Berardi, it was still sadly unsurprising to see Peppe outpaced for what turned out to be a Harrogate goal, and to see him attempting to fix it with a desperately poor shot. From the half-way line. The guy is an awful, awful, awful footballer.
And the footballer is an awful, awful, awful guy. Which might be his own salvation. That Giuseppe Bellusci is a tremendous dickhead seems to be so generally accepted now that it’s a universal truth. Even his raters don’t try to suggest that can be compensated for by his contributions on the pitch: perhaps he could do a job, it goes, if his every breath wasn’t so completely toxic.
As Leeds United reassemble under kind-smiling Christiansen and dazzling Radrizzani, inviting fans in to talk and reconnecting with the Ladies team, the club this summer is one polite garden party. Elland Road next season promises to be a riot of banners and positive slogans, and I half expect the bag searches at the turnstiles to be replaced by the Kop Cat checking faces for smiles. This is all very well, but there’s a thin line between nice and bland, and it’s a line I’m not comfortable seeing Leeds United cross.
There have been nice people at the club before. Remember Ramon Nunez, with his check blazers and bow ties? Lovely chap. Lurking in the shadows then though was Kenneth William Bates, if he was not the shadow himself, and one only held Nunez the harder imagining protecting him from the flapping gums of the toothless monster of Chelsea. Tom Lees: lovely lad, things on his mind, deserved better than being yelled at by Neil Warnock for nothing. Casper Sloth seemed nice, but Massimo Cellino refused to let him leave on loan, preferring to lock him up in Thorp Arch like Bluebeard collecting wives.
But I can’t ever remember a time when everyone at Leeds United could legitimately fall into the category of a nice guy, and I feel we could suffer for the lack of contrast. The way our all-white kit (usually) benefits from a subtle touch of blue and yellow, our all-clean image could benefit from a little smidge of Macron piss-yellow (but perhaps not glossy Kappa lamé). If Bellusci can’t find a club — and the only reason he’s back is he can’t find one, the only reason he’s playing to keep him fit for his next one — and has to stay, he could perform a useful role as Leeds United’s Official Hate Figure® 2017-18.
Even if results go against him this season, I can’t imagine ever hating Thomas Christiansen — any parting will probably be amicable, followed by an invitation to a relaxing dinner that night in a quality restaurant. After buying Elland Road back Andrea Radrizzani would have to burn it to the ground for the fans to turn on him. If things don’t go well in the early part of the season, with Erwin and Antonsson misfiring upfront and Diagouraga struggling in defence, the fans will have anger, but will look in vain for somebody on which to vent.
Dragged out into the centre circle in stocks, targets on him front and back, while the Kop Cat dishes out rotten fruit to the fans. It’s literally the only circumstance in which I can imagine being glad to see Giuseppe Bellusci. Radrizzani has been good at granting wishes so far. I wish Bellusci wasn’t here, but this is the next best thing.
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