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Speak to most Leeds fans – and a quick look back at our forum poll - and it is the horrible predictability of it all that is most concerning, the nagging feeling as you shuffle through the turnstiles in August, that when we go out of the FA Cup on the first Saturday in January our season will be over. The biggest talking points from then on will be who will be the manager the following August, and which of our promising young players will we manage to keep hold of. Most bookies had Leeds 15th favourites to win the league last August. At the time of writing, that looks like it may well be bang on.
If we have a look again at the odds again, next August is there any likelihood that it will be any different next year? Either way, will there be many Leeds fans willing to put their money where their hearts are? Come this time next season, will we yet again be “building for the future” – something we seem to spend half our time trying to do, but consistently failing to achieve it. Probably because, for most of the rest of the time we systematically go about destroying any foundations – however shaky – we have actually managed to build.
The team going into the opening game of this season compared with that of last season’s opener was an improvement – not a huge one, but an improvement. The thing is, the improvements made by the majority of other teams were far greater, so although we did seem to be going in the right direction, we were still in danger of getting over taken or left behind. We had a new manager. This is something that happens so often as a Leeds fan, I doubt if anyone ever sees it as a new dawn, and Rösler came with a mixed CV. So on all this evidence, it was unlikely we were going to be in a relegation fight, but it was almost as unlikely that we would be pushing for the play-offs. The best I was hoping for, and I doubt if I was alone, was that we would build a good team; the new buys and youngsters would have gelled and shown promise; Rösler would have shown his Brentford form, not that from Wigan, and the seeds for a new age of stability would have been sown.
Scoring goals is something that has become a problem. Antenucci was top scorer last season with 10. Woods will probably limp past that this year. The last time we didn’t have a goal scorer notching up at least 19 in a season was the 2006/7 season.
I am not going to pick over the bones of the season, certainly not until the players – and myself – are on the beach, but our albeit small shoots of optimism have once again withered on the vine. Rösler didn’t make it to bonfire night; Byram went in the January window; we seem to be incapable of scoring enough goals to put anything resembling a run together and Evans doesn’t seem to know how we should play. In other words, back to square one.
The most worrying thing about all this however is that we are where we thought we would be. In other words, have we found our level? And how long until we get a main shirt sponsor, like we used to have once upon a time? 2011 feels like forever ago, although we keep waking up to groundhog day.
What is our level?
Every football fan’s view of their club is incredibly blinkered, no matter how pragmatic they believe their outlook to be. Anything that you are so emotionally (and financially) involved in is impossible not to be overly optimistic/pessimistic about the club’s current predicament and likely future. Because of who we are – the famous Leeds United - because of our history, because of the circumstances surrounding our dramatic slide down the leagues it is all too easy to believe we are in a false position. From proudly dining at the top table to be all of a sudden scrabbling around for scraps in the servant’s quarters just doesn’t seem right. The football landscape has changed dramatically since then though, and as a club we haven’t. Where we once plied our trade are the likes of Swansea, Bournemouth, Leicester and Watford.
If Leeds fans can be accused of Leeds of overly high expectations, we certainly aren’t the only ones. Everyone knows what happened when Charlton sacked Curbishley feeling that they should be achieving greater things than mid table in the premier league. Forgetting for a second what has since happened at Man City, the club – similar to ours in fan base and standing went through the mill for much of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
What’s happening at Leicester is a brilliant story, most neutrals will wish them well, but it also shines the spotlight on clubs like ours. If they can do it why can’t we. I imagine similar questions are being asked by CEOs in managers offices up and down the premier league and championship. It will also skew the expectations of Leicester fans for a generation.
Causes for Optimism?
Because of everything that has happened before, and for a lot of the reasons described above, it is hard to be too optimistic about the foreseeable future. The footballing world is changing faster than we seem capable of. Due to the all too well documented reasons we seem unable to find someone who is capable – and willing – to invest the money in the club that will give us a chance to get back in the EPL. The situation with Elland Road and Thorp Arch isn’t going to change anytime soon. The mess that Bates and Harvey left us in is something I don’t think we will ever understand the full extent of. Add to that the fact that it is now so hard, and so well documented to get out of the championship, it makes more sense to buy an established premiership club – someone like Everton who’s fans were wondering the same as us – why not us? The situation finally seems to be changing at Everton, so who knows, maybe our time will come.
So is there any cause for cause for optimism? Yes there is. Our one club city status will always be a massive draw. Despite everything else, there will always be that. We have one of the best scouting and youth set ups in the country, certainly outside the premiership. On the financial side of things, latest reports are that Cellino is starting to get a handle on things and turn them around. If he does nothing else in his tenure here but make us a more attractive option to buy, then – in my opinion – it will have all been worth it.
It is now 12 seasons since we were in the premiership. Three of those were spent in the third tier. If the next dozen years don’t see Leeds once again gracing the highest level of English football, I really do fear for our long term future. No more false dawns, we need to start building – properly building something that will give us the best possible chance of making a sustained challenge on the play-offs if not the automatics in the next two to three years. Whether Cellino and Evans are the men to do that for us… Like all things Leeds United, I hope for the best, but fear the worst.
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