Are you used to this yet? Because I think we’ll need to get used to this for a while yet. Before the game, this didn’t look like a game that ought to worry Leeds United – it’s only Bournemouth. Memories of 1990 and a tiny ground in a south coast seaside town make three points a mental box ticking exercise.
But then the doubts creep in. Rochdale, Sheffield, Bolton and Reading. And Bournemouth are a deceptive side; their manager might look surprised not to be running a uni boat crew, but he’s got Bournemouth nearer to the play-offs than us, and with players like Lee Camp, Lewis Grabban and even Ian Harte, they’re a tidy team.
Then there’s the journey. A long coach journey – of course, in our millions days, Leeds would have flown – and a long time for players to reflect, and talk, and gossip, and moan, and bicker.
Brian McDermott says the takeover saga is affecting the players, who are wondering if they’ll be paid, wondering if the club will be going into admin, and surely wondering – like the rest of us – if the people running the club have a clue what they’re doing.
Perhaps it’s true to say that it shouldn’t affect them – all they have to do is play football, and let the business side take care of itself. But that’s eerily close to the attitude Shaun Harvey took to Leeds fans’ complaints about Ken Bates: “Players play, managers manage, and supporters support.” And the guys with the accounts just do what the hell they like, right Shaun?
Then there’s the matter of Lee Peltier; not to mention Connor Wickham. Wickham was bantering like a good ’un with his Leeds team mates on Twitter on Saturday night; on Sunday night he was hooked back to play for Sunderland.
Peltier was the club’s captain last season, a regular in the team this; now he’s nowhere, with Leeds insisting he’s Nottingham Forest’s responsibility and Bolton trying to prise him away from both. If anything dominated the conversation on the coach down to Bournemouth, apart from wages and Italian takeover, it would have been the plight of Pelts, and his shoddy treatment by the powers that be – that still be, whether they like it or not – at Elland Road.
None of which excuses what happened to Leeds United when they got to Bournemouth, and this is where the players and fans diverge, when they need to come together. I imagine – or at least I hope – that the booze was flowing more freely on the fans’ coaches than on the players’, but whatever the reason, United’s fans arrived in Bournemouth up for it, and the players did not.
There’s more leeway for fans in these situations – our shoes can come straight off when we’re unhappy, while all Ross McCormack can do is score the odd goal out of five and run to the supporters. But the players have a different outlet for the same proud defiance that the fans feel, and it’s in exactly what Ross did – score – and in exactly what they didn’t do – not conceding loads.
It’s widely seen as McDermott’s job to inspire and lead the team, but that’s the one part of the job he shouldn’t have to do – because the fans do it for him. Nothing McDermott could have said in the dressing room could have been as powerful as the non-stop singing from Leeds United’s fans in the second half at Bournemouth, and if that kind of performance from the fans can’t inspire an equal performance from the players, what hope does McDermott have?
The finger is yet again pointing at McDermott for that, but again he can make a valid claim to be as frustrated as us; he sets the team up and sends them out to play, but I doubt he tells them to leave their passion in the tunnel, not to mark anybody at corners and not to bother tackling.
Playing for the shirt or playing for the badge doesn’t mean going hell for leather into every tackle, hunting down Ian Harte like a pack of lions picking off a slow moving wildebeest. But it does mean not getting straight off the bus into the changing rooms, sticking a Leeds kit on and then letting Bournemouth score straight away.
Brian agreed after the game that his situation as the manager that rose again could have affected the attitude of the squad; it would be interesting to know if he has anyone in particular in mind. It would be interesting because we could then try sacking them late one Friday night – or at half time, as Hisham Alrayes tried to do at Hillsborough – and see what effect removing the bad from the club has on the manager’s ability to do his job.
I’ve said before that McDermott should be kept as Leeds manager because, when things are bad, you need to get rid of the things that are bad and keep the things that are good. McDermott’s record at Reading and his demeanour throughout the last four months suggest he is capable of good; but not if he is being eroded from above and below.
The erosion from above remains of paramount importance. You can’t only have one level of competency within a club, and if the players aren’t doing what they’re told on the pitch, while the board are compiling dossiers that warn them off potential purchasers and then doing business with them anyway, what chance does Brian have of doing a competent job in between?
A manager and his squad are a bubble within a football club, but that doesn’t mean they’re in a safe zone where they can quietly get on with playing like Barcelona while all around them goes to hell. Bubbles are transparent; and it doesn’t take much to burst them.
The worst news of this week was not that Cellino’s takeover was blocked, or the result in Bournemouth, but that a deal is in place between GFH and Eleonora Sport for the latter to fund Leeds United for six months whether they’re allowed to buy the club or not.
Leaving aside whether the League would actually allow that now Cellino has been disqualified, it tells you everything you need to know about GFH’s intentions for Leeds United. David Haigh could confidently tell The Yorkshire Post that even though the club is losing money there is no danger of going into administration, and he could tell them that truthfully because he knows that somebody else will be paying the bills, and he and GFH won’t.
Eleonora might be paying the bills – although I’m sure they’ll be trying to find a way out of it – but they won’t be doing more than paying the minimum amount each month. That might be enough to keep the club out of admin, but it won’t move the club forward one inch; and it’s a deal until June. Rival consortiums are waiting for the situation to develop at Elland Road, but do GFH have any urgent need to sell if owning Leeds will cost them nothing until the summer?
That’s why we might need to get used to this. There might be calls for McDermott to be sacked this morning, or for players to be dropped or shipped out, but nothing is really going to change. We know Cellino isn’t shy of paying off managers from his time at Cagliari, and was happy to do the sacking at a club he was about to buy – but even he would baulk at picking up the tab for the manager of a club he’ll probably never own now.
We either get used to this level of performance, or get angry at the right people. The football club, its manager and its players and its fans, are all on pause, waiting for an endgame and waiting to see evidence of support. All GFH have done in response is to forward their bills for the rest of the season to Signor Cellino, c/o Eleonora Sport Ltd.
Gulf Finance House have the money and the means and the power to fund the club themselves, to remove all doubt about wages and administration, and to either sack McDermott or give him the tools to do the job properly in the summer. Instead, they are doing nothing, and for as long as the fans continue to stand for a lack of performance from GFH, we’ll have to stand for a lack of performance on the pitch, too.
From The Square Ball Magazine, 2013/14 issue 09