Leeds United are 100 years old, yet you could compare us to a side 3,000 years old and still barely have half the stories we do. I’ve always wondered what the club would be like when we finally reached this point. As a child during the 90’s the very concept of 2019 seemed impossibly futuristic. Reading hardback comic versions of 2000AD and Dan Dare, mixed with iconic Hollywood science-fiction, we should have had an established moon-base and be well on our way to colonising other galaxies shouldn’t we? Hell, Space 1999 suggested we’d have a permanent moon-base before the Millennium, so 2019 would be flying cars, laser pistols and stuff, right?
So it didn’t really register until I was an adult that Leeds United being 100 years old would be soon, and that if the world moves slower than science fiction, then Leeds United move slower than glaciers (though we probably won’t have those anymore in 2119). Even in recent memory we’ve seen clubs like Norwich and Southampton escape League One and even the Championship in the time it has taken Leeds to realise that continually asset-stripping and hiring rubbish coaches doesn’t result in success.
I had rather hoped – as the date drew closer – that the stars would perfectly align. We’d get promoted to the Premier League in the 2018/19 season and our centenary would be our long awaited return to the riches of the top flight. The media would go mad for it, the sponsors would line up, we’d be able to design a beautiful kit and we’d be BACK. Back in people’s faces. Back in the big time. Back where everyone could hate us properly.
But (as you’re well aware) that didn’t happen. That’s okay though, we can celebrate without being in the Premier League. But here lies my concern (and it’s a petty one). Everything becomes a bit too much about Andrea Radrizzani.
I had this concern while watching the Amazon Prime Video documentary “Take Us Home”. Obviously this was a documentary that Radz himself had commissioned (such is how you get things picked up by video streaming services) but it did feel an awful lot more like PR than it did an honest account of what went on. With such a unique personality in Marcelo Bielsa in the club, and with someone so animated in Victor Orta, with someone so media-friendly as Angus Kinnear, was so much camera time with Andrea necessary? It’s a petty observation, I completely understand this, but I’m sensitive to Leeds United being used as a vessel for personal gain.
This is what we’ve seen with some players and certainly some owners over the years. Massimo Cellino wanted it to be “all about me” in everything he did and – though their methods are obviously profoundly different – Andrea isn’t vastly different.
I take nothing away from the changes he has made to the club. Leeds United is categorically a much more socially conscious and friendly organisation under his more affable stewardship. The vast inroads that have been made towards undoing much of Cellino’s egotistical self-destruction are of course worthy of celebration and thanks. But there are just a few areas that have made me uncomfortable over the last 24 hours.
Firstly there was the plaque outside the Salem Chapel (as per the main header image here, but copied again below for ease)…
Yes, this is the building where Leeds United came into being and it’s nice to celebrate a hundred years of existence with a plaque, but did it specifically need the Radrizzani stamp on it too? Does a plaque need a record physically on it of who unveiled it?
I always consider club owners to be temporary custodians. Especially in this case where Andrea has quite publicly stated that he cannot sustain the kind of losses that a club like Leeds incurs at this level, so if we repeatedly fail to get promoted then he’ll step aside for another owner to take over. We even started our centenary week with news of Qatari investment from QSI, such was how Radz’ PR machine had mobilised to ensure we’re in the press (and against the headline that this investment could make us “compete with Manchester City”). So it’s clear that Andrea doesn’t see himself as the long-term custodian of Leeds, even if he retains a partial role in the club after said investment has (or hasn’t) taken place. So I find myself a little uncomfortable with him ensuring that his name is immutably stencilled into a milestone that doesn’t belong to him.
Were this something related to achieving promotion to the Premier League then I’d have zero issue with it. The way that he has organised the club, the way he has invested where others haven’t, the way he has attracted a head coach who I genuinely believe I’ll think about for the rest of my life… If Leeds gain promotion and there’s a plaque to mark that moment, Andrea’s name deserves to go on there. But a plaque to celebrate Leeds’ 100th birthday? I’m not so sure. Even if you’re the man paying for it, the classy thing to do is to do it for the club, not for yourself.
I then had this slightly petty but sensitive nerve prodded again when eagle-eyed fans noticed something in the limited-edition artwork available to celebrate the centenary…
It’s a fabulous image that’s quite interesting to paw through. But above Liam Cooper’s head is an Eleven Sports logo. Whether a deliberate request by Andrea or a cheeky easter egg, it’s still another PR stamp on an event that doesn’t belong to him. Someone else also noted that 32 Red is the only sponsor whose logo you can properly see, as every other era of shirt conveniently has something in-front of it.
I don’t know. I’m of course pleased to see interesting spectacles happening for our 100th year but I’m just cringing that an event that transcends the current custodian, the current head coach, the current players… An event that should be above all of these things is subtly tinged with the PR fingerprint of Andrea. Yet no sign of Bielsa in any of this.
I’ll stop moaning. I’m hopeful that we find our form, find our feet, get promoted, get proper investment and we can rightly look back on 2019 as the last time we were ever uncertain about whether the club will find success again. I’m just a bit uneasy about the corporate PR machine that is weaving itself into everything we do.