the square ball week: not so fastBack
For a moment this weekend Leeds United might achieve, if not stability, balance. I’m not sure we could handle stability, anyway.
Instability has got us here, from May; if you remember May, May was when Neil Redfearn was in the home dugout at Elland Road and Steve Evans, wearing a sombrero like a pillock, was in the away; Massimo Cellino, having begged and pleaded with the Football League to be allowed to attend the game, had been given permission, and gone to watch Morecambe play Southend instead.
Rudy Austin shot from everywhere in a rushed attempt to score the thunderbastard we’d been promised for three years before he was slung out of the country; Aidy White ran around like a wind-up toy in a late bid to earn a comeback contract. Mirco Antenucci took a selfie in the stands during the players’ lap of, er, the players’ lap, claiming not to know what was going on.
The game finished 0–0. It was dreadful, as so much of the season was dreadful. Well might Cellino have slunk off to Morecambe. Now we’ve seen the effect a few boos had on him during the Blackburn game, who knows how he would have reacted to the applause given Redfearn as he waved goodbye.
On Saturday afternoon it will feel like somebody took Elland Road that day, put it in a snowglobe and shook it; and only now the flakes are resting so we can where things stand. Steve Evans will stand outside the home dugout; Neil Redfearn in the away technical area; Massimo Cellino won’t be there (unless, y’know, he changes his mind) but wherever he is, his bottom lip will be out; Aidy White, if he plays, will play for Rotherham; so will Paul Green. Brondby don’t play until Sunday so Rudy Austin won’t have a game; Mirco Antenucci will be lining up in attack for Leeds. I hope he’ll have some idea of what’s going on.
That’s what instability has brought us; a crazy kind of reverse balance, all the same elements but in different places, ying and yang side-by-side but regarding each other warily as if there was an argument last night that neither can remember. These are moments, when current and previous managers align on the touchline, that we could use to take stock, to review where the club is and where it’s been, and where it could be; but these moments are too brief — there’ll be a game on, so we can’t spend too long gazing dreamily at Redfearn’s badger-brushed jaw — and becoming too numerous.
If on Saturday we’re to pause and consider how things might have been had Neil Redfearn been allowed to stay, what are we supposed to do next Saturday; stare in horror at Neil Warnock on the lines at Loftus Road, wondering how that ever came to pass, wondering how it was ever allowed to cost us Luciano? I read on Thursday that Paddy Kenny had cancelled his short-term contract at Burnley after only thirteen days because he’d picked up an injury, and my first, cynical, instinctive thought was that it must have been sustained running to Shepherd’s Bush in his pyjamas to be reunited with Daddy Warnock. My second cynical thought was about why the hell I was thinking about Bury and QPR and their third choice goalkeeper cover.
But then, these ghosts are everywhere. Steel yourself for the shock when David Haigh, due to be released from prison this week, reappears at Elland Road; rattling his chains and rattling his bones as he resumes his boyhood season ticket, sitting in his favourite seat, just like he remembers it on the Jelldard Side in the 1970s.
Ghosts raise themselves up and walk among us during fortnights like these, when all the big boys go and play international football, and the pretend or used-to-be football clubs don’t do anything. Or they play Wycombe Wanderers in a friendly. We’ll find out against Rotherham whether that was a momentum-building tactical masterstoke, but for now it looks like a sensible move from Steve Evans; to keep the squad in a competitive frame of mind, and give players who have become used to competing with teenagers at Thorp Arch on weekday afternoons a taste of crowds, floodlights, and getting kicked by a League Two centre-half.
It was still weird, though. There’s something unsettling when your team’s left-back is co-commentating on the club radio station; it must be a low-grade match when Peter Lorimer can’t be tempted to attend, and Charlie Taylor has to leave his glandular bed and give an opinion on Lee Erwin’s start at Leeds (Charlie doesn’t think he’s had much of a chance, but likes the look of him in training).
I’m glad Steve Evans hasn’t tried to claim that beating Wycombe counts as three wins in a row, although I’m sure he’s filed it away for future self-defence (‘People forget that Steve Evans took this side to Wycombe and Steve Evans got a result there’). I wonder if Steve Evans might be realising that circumstances at Leeds United are going to take the edge off some of his bloodvessel-bothering bluster. If there has been stability over the last two weeks, it has been of the wrong sort, as the boardroom has been not just stable but static while Cellino answers calls from potential buyers night and day / sits waiting for the phone to ring while texting the press to tell them he’s answering calls from potential buyers night and day.
Perhaps related to that inactivity, the squad has stayed static too. Since his loan move was first spoken of as imminent, Liam Bridcutt has released his first novel, and is putting the finishing touches on another; the child Kyle Lafferty fathered when Leeds’ interest was announced is now a father himself. The goalkeeper that Steve Evans said was essential to push Marco Silvestri, or even replace him, has been seen only in a few black and white photographs from Scotland, what looks like a gloved hand breaking the still surface of a loch, photos so grainy that now even Steve Evans disbelieves.
“I think he’s been absolutely stunning for the last two games so I would not demean him by talking about a goalkeeper coming in,” said Steve Evans last Friday, talking up Silvestri’s confidence and praying he stays injury free, because he saw Terry going into Massimo’s office during the week with fresh new Uhlsport gloves on and feared the worst. It’s one thing to be pleased the Silvestri made some good saves against Huddersfield; he makes those all the time. It’s another to decide that one keeper with a broken ankle and another with no league experience are all the backup we need.
It’s more likely that he’s realised it’s all the backup he’s going to get. Down in Rotherham, Redfearn has managed to get two loan signings in this week, decent ones for the bottom of the Championship: Leon Best and Stephen Kelly. They’d already snagged Brandon Barker, the fever-inducing teenager from Manchester City it was rumoured in the summer would be gracing our wings. It’s not for us to be jealous of Rotherham United, bottom of the league, but at least they’re, y’know, trying.
They’ve let some players go out on loan, too, something Steve Evans said was important, but now says will only happen if he can bring other players in first. He’s clinging grimly on to Casper Sloth by the dungarees, desperate not to let another option disappear while the president is distracted.
Steve Evans has had several dinners with Massimo Cellino, but says they haven’t discussed the ownership situation, they’ve just joked about portion sizes and high-fived Marco Silvestri instead, for hours. I find that hard to believe. The ownership situation was preying so on Cellino’s mind after the Blackburn game that he as good as sold the club to Leeds Fans Utd the next morning as soon as they walked through the door, and we couldn’t get through this week without an announcement from nowhere (well, his lawyers) about plans to bother the European Court of Human Rights with his Football League ban. That he’s not used a five hour dinner with Steve Evans to whinge and whine is hard to believe.
Perhaps Steve Evans has developed the selective hearing necessary to dealing with Cellino; and perhaps he’s learning that this job isn’t going to be so easy as he made it sound. He’s talked with respect about the privilege of being manager: Steve Evans’ pride, Steve Evans’ emotions. But they guy who had sorted Sam Byram in two days, who told Gaetano Berardi to his face he didn’t rate him, who watched a few DVDs of Silvestri and started making calls to Premier League managers about their spare goalies has had his expectations clipped at every turn.
Sam Byram needs serious thought and attention. Gaetano Berardi is your staunchest ally and your only friend. Calling Premier League managers is fine until they say, ‘Great, I’ve been looking to move Joe Hart on anyway. So who do I speak to about the paperwork?’
Neil Redfearn spoke about his time at Leeds this week, and was admirably unbitter about how it ended; or bound by legal agreements and his partner’s court case. But where the frustration crept in was when he spoke about the job he could have done at Leeds United, if he’d only been allowed.
He said too that he had a long chat with Uwe Rosler at the point of their changeover, to give him a heads up on the club and what to expect. We’ve seen that sort of thing before; Brian McDermott and Neil Redfearn, deep in conversation at a game, while Redfearn was barely in charge at Leeds. Maybe Redders will talk into the night with Steve Evans after this one, because the last couple of weeks without competitive football, but with ghosts appearing all around him, might have given Steve Evans the first glimpses that he’s going to need someone to talk to. “Neil, did you see the side Steve Evans took to Wycombe? No? Well listen Neil, it was like this…”