The Sheffield Wednesday game typified exactly what Leeds United in 2018 have become; charitable. The Wendies were without an away win since boxing day, while Leeds had only one win to their name since the same date (a statistically unlikely victory over Brentford). Despite being one of the worst sides we’d seen visit Elland Road this season, we still allowed them to walk away with a win. I had joked on Twitter that perhaps we should capitalise on the opportunity to change our logo and simply use the Oxfam one – given our propensity or helping the misfortunate at our own expense. A follower amusingly also suggested that it would fit, because Leeds often get shafted by those that are supposed to help.
Leeds were mostly dominant in the Wednesday game, but were cut open all too easily. Too many players have lost their mojo this calendar year and were it not for a 21 year old goalkeeper, Leeds could have lost this game really badly. Equally, had we bought better players, we wouldn’t be complaining that Ekuban failed to score the 2-3 gold-edged chances he was gifted, instead celebrating a well-earned victory. But this is where our recruitment policy (which is fast becoming a lazy excuse, but a valid one I’ll continue to levy) has let us down. I cheekily tweeted during the game that had Leeds had the ambition to sign a player that fit Ekuban’s profile but with a proven record of converting chances (Dwight Gayle was my example), we’d have scored plenty this season. But because our recruitment has been done “on the cheap”, we’re stuck with a squad of gambled signings and mis-fires.
Forshaw is a great example at the moment of what buying proven quality does. He looks a mile ahead of the others on the pitch. Though, weak as Alioski may have been in recent weeks I did think he grafted well against Wednesday. It was (again) an inability to look dangerous up-front and fragility at the back that cost us vital points yet again.
So there are a few questions worth asking of Leeds.
Why buy the club if you’re not able to resource it properly?
I’m not “hating on” Andrea Radrizzani, I’m just affording him the same skepticism that all previous regimes have been subject to. Had Cellino or GFH conducted transfer business as poorly as AR has in his first season they’d have been absolutely crucified. It’s unfair on them to not enforce the same standards on our current owner. Had Nicola Salerno brought in players that capitulated as badly as this current crop, he would be subject to the same outrage that Victor Orta is now.
The valid question remains – why purchase a club with the expectation of Leeds United if you’re going to need to achieve the impossible and aim for promotion without the same financial clout that all our competitors are able to swagger about with? FFP is a troubling thing and without parachute payments, our income is significantly reduced. But even clubs without our £17m in gate receipts are performing better because they’ve recruited smarter and aren’t consciously trying to overachieve without sufficient funding. Leeds, however, are throwing £1m bids out into the world for players who “might” be useful, accepting that if 25% of them work then that’s ok. All the while, the playing side of Leeds United suffers because we’re finding out why the 75% aren’t good, as they concede soft goals, fail to score easy chances or get sent off for idiotic reasons.
Leeds United needs a sizeable overhaul of the playing squad, from the ground up, and that’s going to be challenging when so many of the “gambled” signings are on long-term deals. And then there’s the valid question of who leads that rebuild?
Why hire a manager with such an appalling win record?
There are extenuating circumstances, of course. You could put my Mum in charge of Man City at the moment and she’d have a terrific record without even knowing what colour they play in. Equally, putting Pep in charge of Luton Town is not going to suddenly make them Champions League material. But as much as we can excuse the situation he found himself in at Barnsley, what is Paul Heckingbottom supposedly bringing to Leeds United that Thomas Christiansen wasn’t? Sure, he looks less afraid of the playing squad and he makes more intelligent substitutions, but how do we address the nagging doubt that he’s an unsuccessful manager in a very prestigious position?
Does he know how to win? His record is all we’ve got to work from and there’s zero evidence of it. If he was brought in on the strength of his ability to “Pulis” a poor side into something better, then do we need to accept that he’s not capable of that either? The “new manager bounce” has obviously bounced clear over Leeds, because we’ve looked as unlucky, miserable and unable since he took over as during TC’s final games. What exactly is the point?
Is a man with only “making a rubbish Barnsley side a bit less rubbish” on his CV the right credentials to rebuild a failing Leeds United squad? Or will he simply be subject to whatever rebuild Victor Orta considers necessary (presumably with 1 proven signing and another dozen kids from around Europe) in the hope that it works this time?
What exactly is the strategy here? The word from the board is that there’s still unwavering belief that this squad is not only better than last season’s squad (which spent much of the year in the playoff places), but that it is of sufficient quality to be top-6. Seemingly, Radrizzani’s rationale for this stance is because the club have done everything the players have asked for. Which is fine, I guess, but using my earlier example, you can’t take the squad from Luton Town, give them everything they’re asking for and expect that to be sufficient for them to be able to beat Man City.
The players for Luton aren’t good enough, irrespective of whether they went to Tenerife for ‘warm weather training’ or whether you purchased 54 million thread-count sheets for each player to take home to sleep in. If the players aren’t good enough, no matter what environmental changes they request – it’ll never elevate them beyond their ability level. The way to address this is to have better players.
But how do you get better players? By spending money. Simple. Good players cost money. Retaining good players costs money. If Leeds aren’t able to do that, then we’re going to be stuck bobbing in the mid-table waters until we either get lucky (and go up) or get unlucky (and go down). It’s a life in purgatory that needs conscious and deliberate correction to avoid – and aside from Radrizzani sounding like his feelings are hurt because the players aren’t strong enough – we’re seeing very little to suggest that anyone at the club is capable of identifying problems and fixing them. AR is a PR man, so our community outreach work has been much better, but we’ve regressed 2 seasons in footballing terms.
Are we safe from relegation?
Probably. With 24 points left to play for we’re 17 points above the relegation places. That should be enough, but it’s worth noting that if our form over the last 14 games (getting only 8 points) were maintained for an entire season, we’d have the second lowest points tally of any club since 2010. Only Rotherham would have managed fewer. This current form would relegate Leeds every single season – comfortably from bottom spot, no less. Thankfully we won a few games at the start of the season so we don’t need to be overly afraid of relegation at the moment, but it’s mathematically possible so we should still be cautious. The footballing world would love no story more than another Leeds United implosion.
It’s time for the club to make some big statements of intent – especially if they’re expecting people to renew season tickets on the back of this season. It’s been a shambles of failed gambles and mis-judged risks. I’m exhausted by it and furious. Last season’s squad needed just a few augmentations to improve, yet we’ve managed to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Sheffield Wednesday didn’t end our season, it typified it.