Aidan White, Andy Gray, Jamie Ashdown and Rodolph Austin’s contributions are picked over.
Ah yes, our famous right-winger. It’s odd to think back a year to when getting White to sign his contract seemed such a priority; Celtic were the most strongly linked, Arsenal the oddest and yet still plausible rumour, Borussia Dortmund the real wild card in the large group of teams who wanted a piece of Aidy. Dortmund are second in the Bundesliga now, and I suspect if you offered them the chance to renew their interest this summer, they’d probably start looking at the floor and making excuses. Aidy’s not had a good season. And that’s not just this season, I don’t think he’s had one ever. Which is a shame, because after the brightness of his debut at sixteen, nobody wants to see his talents and obvious strengths squandered; but Aidan White has so far become a conundrum rather than a great player. Part of the problem is that his debut was so long ago – it’s been five years now – so his development has been exposed in a way that Sam Byram’s wasn’t, and as fans we can’t help but feel it’s time he shaped up. He is still, though, only twenty-one, and he’s just had a season under a manager who clearly didn’t give two fucks about helping him develop. The risk of letting Aidy leave would be that a change of scene might bring the best out of him, and The New Bale would do his baling for some other team. Let’s hope that McDermott can make all the scene changes necessary right here, because god damn it, I just really want Aidy White to be good.
Looking back, the signs that Warnock was on a fucking wind up were always there, weren’t they? At least he finally got his goal, and left without doing anything to damage his family’s excellent name.
The substitute keeper is a relatively recent phenomenon in football; the days of just two subs, 12 and 14, are not so long gone; Bert Trautmann carrying on in goal for Man City despite his broken neck still within living memory. You suspect that had City had Jamie Ashdown on the bench that day, they wouldn’t have taken such chances with Bert’s body. But if their manager had been Neil Warnock, he probably wouldn’t have named a sub goalie anyway – a waste of a sub, he reckoned, even though he rarely used the ones he named – plus it would take more than a broken neck for Colin to take Paddy Kenny out of the goal. It takes, in fact, a cup match, but only an early round, I reckon; I can’t imagine Warnock being one of these managers who lets “the lad who got us there” play at Wembley. “Fuck that,” he’d say, “Where’s Paddy?” Words which, despite some decent performances and the feeling that he’s probably as good if not better than Kenny, sum up Ashdown’s Leeds career so far.
You can look up a list of matches played by Rodolph Austin on the internet. On 27th November 2011, he played in Brann’s last match before the close of the Norwegian season, returning in the next campaign on 25th March 2012. In the fifty-seven weeks since, I reckon it that Rudy has played seventy-one games of football – more than a game a week for more than a year – and it would have been more if he hadn’t taken a couple of weeks off with what appeared to be a shattered leg. Throw in the fact that some of those games were for Jamaica on the other side of the world, that his game is about charging runs in the busiest part of midfield, and that he even found time to record a rap, and it’s no wonder The Beast is fucking knackered.
There has been a growing view that Rodolph might not be as good as we first thought. He looked like the answer to all our midfield problems at first; after Simon Grayson’s experiments with Amdy Faye and Michael Brown, Austin’s strength, power, aggression, and aura of being impossible to fuck dominated the ground while the ball flew back and forth over his head. The feeling when he was carried straight into an ambulance was that our season’s hopes were being carried with him, and in way they were, as even though he came back amazingly quickly we never saw that early Rodolph again. He has looked slow, lumbering rather than lungbursting, his shots veering whomping the advertising hoardings, his passes whomping Sam Byram’s face. He’s been rubbish, basically.
But good lord the man needs a holiday. Playing professional football constantly for fifty-seven weeks is bloody daft, and it’s no wonder he has begun to labour. It’s a shame the club wasted the ‘new start’ stuff on Warnock, because next season under McDermott already has a freshness about it, and a box-fresh Beast is something I’m really looking forward to seeing. Because I think he’s actually better than we’ve seen. He was already well into a season’s worth of matches by the time he arrived, and was put into a team that didn’t really know what its midfield was for; the chance to impress hasn’t really been there.
Part of that hope is just because I really like him. I love the head down bull-charges towards the corner flag. I love the hunched shoulders and long strides as he marches away from a mangled opponent. I love the fact that rather than petty trips, he deals in solid tackles, and that as a true hard man he wins the ball rather than just hurts the player. I love the Sterlandesque free-kicks from distance, no matter how rarely they go in, and the way that any time a free kick is awarded forward of the centre circle Rudy will stride over until McCormack tells him no.
A holiday, a pre-season, and a manager with an interest in midfield. The best of the Beast is yet to come.
From The Square Ball magazine 2012/13 issue ten.