The Square Ball Week: Summer Babes
What I loved first about Marcus Antonsson was the imaginary version of him I created when I heard he’d signed, and then his hair.
He’s cut his hair now, which is a shame, because it means I have to focus on his finishing ability, which against North Ferriby United was a shame.
Fortunately his hair is still lovely, like a more tousled Morten Harket, although it’s not quite the alice-banded Davide Sommafest it was when he arrived. But then Antonsson was not the CF/AM LRC Championship Manager chance I pictured Leeds taking when I heard his name, his former club, his scoring record and his fee, so I’ve become used to reality not matching imagination where Marcus is concerned.
In many ways the reality is better. Even while he was missing five chances against North Ferriby, all from with the penalty area and all pretty much scoreable, he was showing the crafty movement that made him look so attractive in his first few appearances, especially compared to the immobile Chris Wood we were enduring before Garry Monk and James Beattie’s intervention. And he did score one; taking a high ball on his chest and past a defender, slotting it beneath the goalkeeper and into the net.
Does it matter that Antonsson was a bit rusty in a preseason match? Nah. Does anything matter in a preseason match, beyond players getting fitter and spraying WD40 on the rust? Not really. But it’s tempting, in these hyped up times, to rush to judgements anyway.
I don’t mean the kind of judgements that meant Giuseppe Bellusci was booed from the field against Guiseley last weekend. As my column here in the week before indicated, I didn’t have a problem with Leeds fans letting him know they didn’t want him at the club. Was it seemly? No. Helpful? Not really. Warranted? Well, it wasn’t for nothing, and over the years at Leeds Uwe Rosler has tried and failed to get rid, Garry Monk has temporarily got rid, he’s had altercations with fans during friendlies before, and was even rowing with Empoli fans during his loan period there. At some point you have to accept the common denominator, as Thomas Christiansen has accepted it. “Bellusci is already out. Everyone took this decision. It was clear. The situation was not easy but we understood that this is best for the team and the club.”
I mean the kind of judgement that is a kind of end of optimism, when optimism is the drug that jonesing Leeds fans have been mainlining this summer like never for so long. This might not be as good as it gets, but every day that Samuel Saiz, Ezgjan Alioski or Caleb Ekuban don’t play a football match for Leeds United is a day when we don’t have to indulge anything but our dreams about how good they might be.
At the time of writing Alioski hasn’t even signed yet, which is it’s own kind of perfection. I’ve snuck some looks at Mateusz Klich playing for Twente, and Saiz playing for Huesca, but resisted coming to any firm conclusions. For the record, in the games I watched, Klich played further forward than I expected, and Saiz scored an absolute belter; also the commentator called him ‘Samuel Saiz’ throughout, never just Saiz. Both names were printed on his shirt, so bear that in mind on your trip to the club shop. I wouldn’t like to offer any firmer opinions than that. And I’m torn between a need for more information, and not wanting to know anything that might dismay my illusions.
What if I watch a Huesca game where Samuel Saiz didn’t bang the winner into the top corner in the closing minutes? Does my Radrizzani induced vibe need that information? No it does not.
Give me, instead, Caleb Ekuban staring into a phone camera and telling me he’s “Ready… ready for your love.” (See folks, this is why Bellusci had to go; Caleb doesn’t need to know about the other side of our love.) Give me the extended version, in which Caleb adds, “Are you ready for one more?” and is joined in Angus Kinnear’s office, announced via a Snapchat story, by Samuel Saiz. “Ein nex!” he says, and if I hadn’t just watched him come up the East Stand stairs I’d think he was a Dalek sent to exterminate; but no, it’s just our bemused new attacking midfielder, wrapping his accent around the social media team’s request.
Best of all, give me Caleb Ekuban again, filming himself dancing around his living room to Shake It by Eminem, a routine I assume he’s made up himself, and rapping along to Nate Dogg’s verse. “I get more ass than a toilet seat!” he says to the camera, and while that kinda puts a different slant on how ready I am for his love, it makes me like him much more than if I had been watching him fluff five chances and score one peach against North Ferriby.
Add it up: Leeds United have spent north of £10m already this summer, all of it on footballers, and they’ve not even bought a dedicated defender yet. That means two things: there’s still a prospect of at least one more big signing, and Gaetano Berardi stands a chance of keeping his place, which he deserves, if only for the soulful gaze he’s directed towards every camera that’s been pointed his way this summer.
Weigh it up: how excited all this is making you, against how much you have seen of any of these players playing football. As we know, from olden days and recent history, football ruins everything. (See also: Lee Erwin, before signing and/or while out on loan, versus his imminent departure from the club.)
With that in mind, the gifts Leeds United, their video team and the new players themselves have been bestowing upon us this summer should be held gently in our hands and treasured. Hard to pronounce names, bewildering former clubs and leagues, high transfer fees, shoddy acting, selfshot dancing, inappropriate lip synced raps. Football is never more exciting than before it’s played. If the actual football this season is half as good as its summer build up, or a quarter as good as we can imagine, that’ll do.
Do You Want To Win?, a 364 page hardback book and DVD, are available to order here now. You can watch the trailer below.