Jump directly to the content

News Corp is a network of leading companies in the worlds of diversified media, news, education, and information services.

DREAM TEAM

Your Sun

A News UK Company
TOP
FOOTBALL'S FRONT LINE

What will it take to wake the sleeping giants of English football?

After narrowly missing out on the play-offs last season, Leeds look set for a familiar bottom-half finish

“We’re f**king s**t, we’re f**king s**t…”

The chant echoed out from the away end at Elland Road as Sunderland fans made light of their team’s doomed fate.

The reply from the Leeds fans in the South Stand closest to them seemed to take the relegation-bound Mackems by surprise: “And so are we, and so are we…”

Not famous anymore?

Getty - Contributor
11
Not famous anymore?

I watched the Sunderland game from the Directors’ Box courtesy of club owner, Andrea Radrizzani.

It was weird watching the game from the perspective of the men ultimately responsible for Leeds’ fall from grace many years ago.

Five minutes into the game I suddenly felt compelled to send Seth Johnson a load of money.

For those who don’t know, the legend goes that the midfielder was on £5,000-a-week at Derby and had been hoping for a jump to £13,000-a-week with a move to Elland Road.

When negotiations commenced, Leeds chairman Peter Risdale offered Johnson wages of £30,000-a-week.

Johnson and/or his agent were stunned into silence.

And then Risdale upped his offer to £37,000-a-week.

It’s not clear what proportion of this famous anecdote is fiction, but the story has come to typify the financial crisis that crippled a club on the edge of something special in the early 2000s.

Financial management for dummies, a book by Peter Risdale

News Group Newspapers Ltd
11
Financial management for dummies, a book by Peter Risdale

The wounds have just about healed but the scars may never fade.

A chorus of ‘You’re not famous anymore!’ can often be heard from the away end at Elland Road.

However, despite just one serious effort to earn promotion in the last seven seasons, Leeds remain a prize scalp for most Championship clubs.

Their away following ensure feverish atmospheres and they have a reputation as Sky Sports darlings.

It’s not uncommon for three or four Leeds games to be televised back-to-back.

But for all the chaos and attention off the pitch, this season, like most since the turn of the decade, is set to end with a whimper rather than a bang.

I measure the passing of time by Gaetano Beradi red cards

Getty - Contributor
11
I measure the passing of time by Gaetano Beradi red cards

This time last year, Garry Monk took Leeds to the brink of the play-offs and while a poor end to the season saw them miss out on the top six, the feeling that a sleeping giant was stirring gave many in Yorkshire a reason to be cheerful.

Monk’s unceremonious exit was cushioned by Thomas Christiansen’s bounce.

The man who had been Pep Guardiola’s team-mate at Barcelona in the mid-1990s, briefly emulated his old pal’s success in the dugout when Leeds’ early-season form led them to the Championship’s summit.

Once again, musings on Leeds’ long-awaited return to the Premier League made up the column inches.

But this proved to be yet another false dawn for a club who have tested their fiercely loyal fanbase’s resolve more than most.

Two wins since the turn of the year has left Leeds facing another bottom-half finish.

From 2011/12 – 2015/16, they finished 14th, 13th, 15th, 15th and 13th.

For club synonymous with passion and chaos, it’s felt stagnant for a while now.

Thanks for the tickets, Mr Radrizzani

PA:Press Association
11
Thanks for the tickets, Mr Radrizzani

Paul Heckingbottom is in charge these days and many fans I spoke to at the weekend have sympathy for the ex-Barnsley boss.

“The squad lacks quality,” said a middle-aged gentleman from Beeston. “Saiz and Hernandez are the only two who ever cause any problems.

“The young lad has done well in goal [21-year-old Bailey Peacock-Farrell] and we’ve got Pontus [Jansson] but the rest of the defence are all over the place half the time.

“None of the players are Hecky’s though. So I don’t blame him. I’m just waiting for the end of the season now.”

The latest in a long, long list of Leeds managers

MATTHEW CHILDS
11
The latest in a long, long list of Leeds managers

While some may be hoping for a busy summer in terms of arrivals, others are worried about departures.

After the game, I sat at a table with a woman who I quickly deduced was Pontus Jansson’s wife after hearing her speak Swedish.

I asked her about life in Yorkshire, secretly digging for clues as to whether the couple planned on residing in God’s own country come the start of next season.

A friendly young lady, she seemed happy enough in Leeds: “The weather is the same as Sweden.”

When the big man himself emerged, I shied away from a Paxman-esque grilling — even in the comfort of the players’ lounge, he’s an intimidating bloke.

Bailey Peacock-Farrell has shown the benefit of playing the kids

Action Images
11
Bailey Peacock-Farrell has shown the benefit of playing the kids

I inadvertently participated in a potentially symbolic moment in the aftermath.

A little lad was kicking a small ball around the lounge and when it fell to my feet I went to pass it back to him.

However, my smart shoes meant my pass went astray (too much time watching Eunan O’Kane perhaps) and the ball rolled through the legs of Gaetano Beradi.

At the end of the game, the 29-year-old full-back had been sent off (again) and his third red card of the season meant he instantly incurred a five-match ban — a suspension that will last until the end of the season.

Beradi is a cult figure at Leeds but it’s possible we may not see him in the famous white shirt again.

Suddenly getting nutmegged by a journalist who barely holds his own at Thursday five-a-side feels rather poignant.

Please stay, lads

PA:Empics Sport
11
Please stay, lads

The fear is that the likes of Jansson, Samuel Saiz and England youth international Ronaldo Vieira will seek more than just atmosphere.

Although the club’s reputation is not to be taken lightly.

Even after all that has happened over the last few years, playing for Leeds still means a lot to the players.

The club’s gravity attracts talent and its ceiling reaches higher the most Championship clubs.

Leeds’ potential for promotion and an enjoyable return to the top flight is undeniable — the fanbase, the stadium, they even have a feeder club in the form of Spanish side Cultural Leonesa.

With the right direction and management, the sleeping giant can be awakened from its coma.

Marching on together

PA:Press Association
11
Marching on together

Mr Radrizzani bought Elland Road back from Teak Commercial Limited shortly after taking control of the club.

Reclaiming the club’s home, after it was sold in 2004, endeared the Italian owner to the fans and from what I can tell, he’s the right person for the job.

Many are less convinced about Director of Football Victor Orta, who many believe is behind Leeds’ recent recruitment.

Pawel Cibicki, Felix Wiedwald, Hadi Sacko, Jay-Roy Grot, Mateusz Klich, Vurnon Anita, Laurens De Bock, Caleb Ekuban and Gianni Alioski have all come in under Orta’s reign and have yet to convince the vast majority of fans.

The signing of Adam Forshaw from Middlesbrough has proved to be a savvy bit of business (in line with the aforementioned recruitment of Saiz and Jansson) but the list of flops far outweighs the successes at this point.

Orta is rumoured to be on Deportivo’s shortlist as they search for a new Director of Football.

And few Leeds fans, including myself, would shed a tear if such a situation were to materialise.

Is it summer yet?

PA:Empics Sport
11
Is it summer yet?

“We need to get rid of over half of the squad,” another fan told me after the final whistle.

“We had a good thing going [with Monk] but this is a bleak end to the season again.

“I go to most away games and all and some of the lads feel like they [the players] don’t deserve us half the time.”

Yet another overhaul is needed but whether money will be available to execute it correctly is unknown.

Oh yeah, we’re also in for some sort of new badge

11
Oh yeah, we’re also in for some sort of new badge

I sympathise with the fans who believe they deserve better.

Last season, it felt like Leeds had come out the other end of an underwhelming spell of tedium.

And so it’s no wonder 2018’s reality check has been met with an exhausted backlash.

To say that a lack of quality in the squad is the only problem is somewhat misleading because after all, that’s a significant hurdle to overcome.

But I can’t help but feel the Premier League is waiting for Leeds’ return, as much as the other way around.

After all, we’re all Leeds, aren’t we?

11

PLAY DREAM TEAM WEEKENDER Pick seven players to win £10k!


READ MORE FROM FOOTBALL’S FRONT LINE: