TFN Columnist and Leeds United fan Kyle Hulme takes stock of the season so far…
Whilst chaos clings to everything around Leeds United – in Massimo Cellino they posses a chairman with “elusive intent”, accusations of breaking United Nations Security Council resolutions and player complaints to the PFA – the squad has quietly being making progress on the pitch, with Neil Redfearn and Darko Milanič rubbishing Dave Hockaday’s claim that he could get “more out of these players than anyone else could”.
For the first time in a while, we actually look pretty good. Really good, even. Form has stuttered in the last few weeks since Milanič took the job yet this is no real cause for concern – it’s the first time he’s managed in England, and this is the first season in English football for seven of the starting XI. Not only are they adapting to the tempo and demands of the Championship but to the playing style of one another as well.
The new recruits are a cut above the players who featured in the last campaign – we started the season with Paul Green, Luke Varney and Noel Hunt playing for goodness sake – and are growing both in stature and in the minds of the fans with every game. Marco Silvestri has shown enough in goal to suggest he’s arguably the best goalkeeper we’ve had since our Premier League exile; Tommaso Bianchi is a terrific footballer with a sublime range of passing; Souleymane Doukara’s touch and finishing is reminiscent of another “Duke” we once had and Mirco Antenucci, though often found offside, is sure to get goals once his teammates recognise his off-the-shoulder runs a fraction of a second quicker.
Then there’s Giuseppe Bellusci.
He’s an odd character, getting sent off on his debut and looking out of his depth in the couple of games that followed, but any reservations about his ability were quickly forgotten once he struck home a 30-yard free kick again Bournemouth. He followed this up in his next game by racing up the pitch on a counter attack, hitting the bar with an attempted chip from the edge of the box before Antenucci followed it up. To put this in context – he’s a centreback. Never has a comparison with David Luiz been more deserving. He added to his tally last weekend, netting with a calm, side footed volley again Sheffield Wednesday before further endearing himself to the world by giving his shirt to a fan in a wheelchair, videos of which have gone viral. His cavalier approach to defending is undoubtedly going to cause a few heart-in-mouth moments, but that’s hardly a new feature at Elland Road.
These are only a handful of our new players, with the likes of Brian Montenegro, Adryan and Dario Del Fabro yet to make a first team appearance but have impressed in fixtures for the under 21s. Chris Dawson, a 20-year-old academy player capped for Wales U21s, looks set to join fellow academy graduates Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt – frozen out by Hockaday but impressing recently – and Lewis Cook in the first team, so it’s not a case of Leeds just being full of foreign mercenaries.
Speaking of Lewis Cook, it seems Leeds have unearthed a real gem. After winning the U17 European Cup with England earlier in the year, Cook has been one of Leeds’ most effective players this season, looking well beyond his years in the 10 games he’s featured in so far this season. He’s quick, tenacious and supremely confident on the ball, and looks certain to have a bright future in the game.
The talent is there for Leeds, and should they gel together quickly then Leeds might just find themselves in a play off spot. Realistically though, it’s very much a work in progress; Steve Morison spoke about how different the new coach’s approach to training was to previous regimes, with a heavier focus on tactical rather than physical preparation – the norm in Italy. Milanič has an impressive CV, winning his fair share of silverware and coaching in the Champions League.
All he needs is patience from the “manager eater” Cellino, a chance to properly implant his ideas and bond the team together, and the Leeds really could have a season to remember.
Meanwhile, Cellino continues to divide opinion amongst Leeds fans on Twitter, with the slightest criticism of him sure to generate a barrage of replies accusing you of being “anti-Leeds”, a “shit stirrer” and telling you to “get behind the team”.
It’s important to be critical, especially towards your omnipotent President who acts in a reckless, seemingly thoughtless manner most of the time. This is, after all, the man who hired David Hockaday and sacked club consultant Graham Bean only to then ask him for advice and was understandably told where to go. You’d think Leeds fans of all people would understand the need to scrutinise an owner, given how we fared under Bates and GFH.
(Whilst we’re on the subject of Bates, The Square Ball last night tweeted that he’d been given a box in the ground and radio rights for five years. If this is true, it will be interesting to see how “Celliebers” attempt to defend Massimo, when handing over anything as little as tea making duty to Ken Bates would be a disgusting affront to our fans)
There’s no doubting, as outlined in this article, that Cellino has built a more than capable team, but it remains to be seen whether the foundations he’s built it on are solid or not. If he purchased Elland Road – something he said he’d do a long time ago – it would be a real statement of intent and proof that there’s more to him than soundbites and standing in the terraces with the fans. It would show that he cares.
Remember former managing director David Haigh? The would-be Tory MP who claimed he grew up in Beeston and threatened to sue me for writing about him?
He’s currently in a jail cell in Dubai, where he’s been for the last 5 months without trial or charge. Though I think it’s best I leave it at that…
Finally, a note on tattoos and a thank you to Hockaday.
David’s lasting legacy at Leeds will be the decision not to sign Nile Ranger, a man whose tattoos have to be amongst the worst in world football. Instead, we signed Souleymane Doukara, a man who has this tattoo, representing the year slavery was abolished in France. A definite improvement on having your own named tattooed on your face, I’m sure you’ll agree.