Last night we saw a weird and wonderful thing in football – how Leeds can be both close yet far from effectiveness. It would be unfair to say that Leeds were entirely outclassed by Fulham, though we were for long periods of the first half, we held our own. Weaker man-for-man and lacking invention in an attacking sense, it wasn’t an uncomfortable match. I thought Leeds played well for long periods and had sufficient chances to at least draw.
The problem comes in fine margins. When Ekuban breaks through and is one-on-one with Marcus Bettinelli, he lacks the composure to capitalise on such an opportunity. So the ball is blasted into the upper-body of the onrushing keeper and Leeds concede from the resultant counter-attack. In the dying moments of the game, a deft Saiz cross is measured perfectly in the direction of Grot and Lasogga. Grot is un-marked and 19 feet tall, yet manages to head the ball in the most unlikely of places – over the bar. The two best chances of the game fell to Leeds and both were squandered.
This is what happens when you try to replace a £15m striker with £500k ones. They’re not good enough. They could be, one day, but the problem with buying players based on potential is that you have to somehow absorb the risk that they may never reach that potential, or at the very least accept that they’ll make a lot of expensive mistakes along the way. Most clubs do this with fringe players, whereas Leeds rely on unproven potential for our first team. So it’s no surprise that Ekuban and Grot aren’t composed finishers, yet in games like Fulham, they need to be. The increasingly tired (but valid) argument of labelling our failures on poor recruitment holds true here. Tyler Roberts might have done better, and he might be worth 5x what Ekuban is, but he’s still ‘potential’ rather than ‘proven’ and expecting him to be the immediate answer is just repeating the problem.
Lasogga would have been a better candidate to finish the chances handed to the other strikers, yet he doesn’t carry the mobility to appear in the positions they do. It’s a problem Paul Heckingbottom (or Victor Orta, I should say) needs to address this Summer. Chris Wood was a huge loss, not just because he was good, but he was the only good striker we had. Not adequately replacing him has cost Leeds countless points this season. Had Leeds managed to retain Bartley, Green and Wood – this squad would be significantly higher in the table. But we didn’t, so we aren’t.
Money talks and it’s increasingly obvious that to get promoted you either need financial clout, or good fortune. Cardiff are performing brilliantly without super-star halo signings, but a beautiful blend of tenacious spirit and togetherness. Though a successful campaign for them wouldn’t necessarily endorse this approach but merely highlight that you CAN succeed by wanting it more than others, but it’s a rare thing to succeed. Wolves, Villa, Boro, Derby, Fulham – all top forces in the league but able to attract the best players because of financial clout. If Leeds are sticking to this model of having mid-table expenditure, then mid-table performances are to be expected.
Radrizzani may talk about wanting to reduce the size of the squad in order to cut overheads and raise the wage cap, but it’s all rather moot if this just means we have a thinner squad and a wage-cap still 50% of what others may offer. Financial Fair Play is a tough variable in this equation and the lack of transparency to fans about the club’s compliance does little to stem rumours and annoyance.
The final topic flitting through my mind is whether we actually feel Paul Heckingbottom is a suitable steward for the club moving forwards. I’m unconvinced thus far. Aside from his more “direct” tone and lack of fear to drop players (if we assume O’Kane has blackmailed him into retaining his place), there’s little I’m seeing from ‘Hecky’ that we wouldn’t see from Steve Evans, Uwe Rosler or even Thomas Christiansen. The lack of the ‘new manager bounce’ showed that the problems either run deeper than the coaching, or the new manager isn’t capable of motivating the players. Performances haven’t been better, we’re still just “existing” rather than “living”. It’s a miserable existence and I’m yet to be convinced that Paul Heckingbottom is capable of taking us forwards.
But then nothing at Leeds seems to be working well at the moment. But, yet again, we’re let down by poor recruitment. Better strikers would have saved the game and that’s a depressing thought.