You can feel it, can’t you? That angry, bitter tongue at the back of your throat. You’re trying to rationalise everything in ways that allow you to continue thinking we’re moving in the right direction. Every team has its ups and downs, it’s just part of football isn’t it? After all, Andrea Radrizzani has done tremendous work in terms of repurchasing Elland Road and improving the club’s stance on community programmes, so everything is fine isn’t it? Then your heart takes over and angrily slams its fists down on the proverbial table.
Performances like the one against Middlesbrough simply aren’t good enough. They’re beyond excuse. I can accept losing, it’s not about the concept of not winning games… As everybody knows – losing is a part of any sport and if you considered the world to be ending every time a result doesn’t go your way, you’ll go grey, bald or dead very quickly indeed. What I can’t accept is the manner of the defeats that we’ve had to endure this season.
It’s hard to say that these failings don’t fall at the feet of the ownership structure – as much as you want to criticise Victor Orta’s recruitment it’s Radrizzani that has adopted (and maintains) this failing model. Whoever you choose to pin the blame on, Leeds’ transfer policy has been an abject failure.
Felix Wiedwald is a good example of where this policy hasn’t worked. While we can accept why Leeds didn’t sign David Stockdale in the Summer, the failure to adequately bring in competition for the place in January is just compounding our misery. It was clear that Felix wasn’t going to be of sufficient quality to protect the goal in a playoff battle, yet the club did nothing. Andy Lonergan isn’t good enough to meaningfully apply pressure to the sub-standard German meaning that for all his calamities and mistakes, Wiedwald is still the best we have. That’s a failing in transfer policy.
Failed Transfer Policy
Last season Leeds lost Chris Wood, Rob Green, Kyle Bartley and Charlie Taylor. Two of those were out of the club’s hands while the others were under contract and could have been retained; Taylor was able to leave at the end of his contract and Bartley returned to his parent club. Leeds elected not to negotiate an optional transfer fee for Bartley at the start of his loan and therefore missed out. They elected to sell Chris Wood to Burnley. We also elected to release Rob Green having brought in Wiedwald to be #1 (and Green didn’t want to fight for his place, he presumably felt he deserved the #1 spot after his performances the previous season). The squad was weakened by Leeds on the most part, and the inadequate replacements have not improved the squad at all.
I’m not suggesting that we haven’t signed players; we’ve signed quite a lot in fact. But there’s only really Saiz and Forshaw who you could comfortably assert are reliably good enough to play in a top-6 side. It’s in players like Klich where you have to concede that the policy simply doesn’t work. A player the head coach clearly didn’t want (because he didn’t get used) and has already been sold. While our individual transfer fees haven’t been large, the cumulative sum is surprisingly high. So it’s not that Radrizzani isn’t willing to invest, but the method is totally wrong. Or, at least, this current crop isn’t good enough.
This squad is worse than last season
When asked whether the Leeds squad is stronger this season than last, Andrea answered with a confident “yes, definitely” and the constant insistence that this is a squad capable of the top-6 shows how far off-base the owner is. This squad is woefully short of the quality (and the mentality) to be an effective top 6 side. We had a certain robustness and tenacity under Monk (before the wheels fell off), but I’d struggle to label this current crop of players anything but “brittle” or “folds very easily”.
We tend to start games well, but the method to beat us is now well known by sides. Probing crosses and long throws into the penalty area will undo us because the defence seemingly have zero faith in the goalkeeper and scrabble over each other to try and touch it away, meanwhile the keeper will flap at crosses or weakly punch the ball into a dangerous zone (if he makes contact at all). Our play at the back is a shambles and we are routinely exposed by it. Titles are won on good defences and while I think Jansson is a great player and Berardi is a competent full-back, it’s a long way short of the kind of back-line that wins titles. Funnily enough, a back line of Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson and Taylor was good enough. This current one isn’t.
Frail in Defence
Leeds have now conceded 46 goals in 35 games; just below the total we conceded in the entirety of last season (47). This gives us a projected final number of conceded goals for the season of 60-61. Leeds have gone from having a comfortably above average defence this season to a below average one.
All around the pitch we’re looking poor now. The only figures who escape scathing criticism at the moment outside of defence are Saiz, Hernandez and Forshaw. These are the only players who look capable of matching our ambition of nailing the playoffs. Peak Ronaldo Vieira is, too, but I’m not sure where he went. But when we need to watch a midfield duo of O’Kane and Phillips fail to control a game, match after match, it hurts my very soul. I like Phillips, but you can’t put him alongside someone like O’Kane and expect everything to be okay.
Leeds are appalling at the moment, despite short phases of good play. It all comes undone by the abject misery in our defensive line, primarily from the goalkeeper position. Without confidence in him, the defenders need to intervene in every single ball – which creates confusion and mix-ups at the back. Which makes defenders slip out of position, which makes it far easier for the opposition to score. I’m already cringing at what the Wolves game might look like.
There’s a wholesale lack of desire and passion, in my view. Under Monk we might have been 2-0 up and players would be throwing their bodies at the ball to block a shot, even if it would have needed a worldie to score, they made sure that even that far-fetched chance was scrubbed out. Rob Green would shout at his back-line and they would know what to do. Midfielders would tackle hard and make effective use of the ball. Now, every set piece we try to defend is carnage, the goalkeeper may as well be a supporter pulled from the crowd (for all the confidence it gives the rest of the squad) and players pull out of challenges instead of making them. Yet, they’ll make ridiculous challenges when not needed and get sent off.
I’m sick of this football club at the moment. We were playing good football at the start of the season but there’s a real lack of drive and tenacious spirit in the squad (or so it seems). The fault of this wasted opportunity falls at the feet of Radrizzani. We’ll now limp ourselves to mid-table mediocrity and hope that he’s got a better set of ideas for next year because the footballing side of Leeds United is fundamentally no better than when Cellino was here.
I don’t say this lightly and it hurts my soul to utter the words, but Silvestri was a better player than Wiedwald. If he doesn’t improve quickly, Felix will be resigned to the same joked nostalgia that keeps Paul Rachubka’s memory living on.