Leeds United: Marching On With Caution
It’s hard to deny that Leeds United fans have had to suffer for the past half a decade. It was always one of England’s biggest teams, in the 60′s and 70′s Leeds were in the same mould as what the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal are today. I won’t go into the downfall of things too much as I’m sure Leeds United fans are sick of hearing it and anyone familiar with English football will know that this West Yorkshire outfit is truly a big side. After several seasons of frustration in League One, the team finally managed to gain promotion that so many expected of them, although it ended up being quite a bumpy ride towards the end. The team didn’t win the league, despite being in a strong position in January and were forced to play out an agonising final day promotion match which they needed to win; otherwise they would drop in the playoffs once again. We all know now they did that and as per ever, due to Leeds stature, we got the usual whirlwind from the media suggesting that the club were now straight back on track and would definitely be challenging for promotion once again in the Championship.
I used to live in Leeds and I worked at Leeds United and they are fans who are unfortunate enough to often be misquoted by the media. Yes, this is a big club, you only need to look at how many fans turned up to watch them in League One on average to see that and the history of the club speaks for itself, but take it from me – Leeds fans know that they’ve just been promoted to the Championship and to challenge for promotion would be as much of a surprise as it was for Leicester last season. Can they challenge? Of course, but it’s not very likely when you consider that the club had poor form for the second half of last season and they will miss Jermaine Beckford big time, who has left the club to join Everton. With any team that gains promotion, you have to consider that time is needed for the squad to develop and although Leeds have a team that should be capable at this level, the board should understand that mid-table is an acceptable goal for Leeds in 2010/11.
Leeds may have caught the attention of many people who are new to the Premier League last season, as they managed to beat their bitter rivals Man Utd in the FA cup at Old Trafford and many people saw how much the game meant to Leeds. Beyond that though, the wheels started to come off and the club started to lose its hold on the league somewhat. I spoke to one of my mates about this a month or two ago as he has a lot of family members who are Leeds fans and he told me that he remembered at around January time, manager Simon Grayson was starting to speak about the 2010/11 season, almost as if they had already wrapped up League One. This may have shown a lack of focus from Grayson and he struggled to get consistently good form back in the side despite their eventual automatic promotion. I think Grayson might be a worry for the side, he had such a good start at Leeds but it seems like he may be struggling with some confidence aspects in his side; he recently apologised for his side’s 4-0 defeat to League Two outfit Bury. A good start to the season is very important to not only Leeds, but Grayson as well; the fans do have faith in their manager but a string of results similar to what Gary McAllister experienced and you have a board that won’t hesitate to give their man his notice. He’s recently signed a new three year contract and in this day in age, that is a lot for any manager, so if things are going badly for the Yorkshire club and they want to dispense with Grayson, it will cost them. I do however wish him all the luck in the world, as he is a young English manager and we unfortunately do not have enough of them getting recognition at the moment in this country!
As mentioned previously, Jermaine Beckford is a big loss to the club, despite that his exit was inevitable. Billy Paynter has come in as Beckford’s replacement and has a big weight on his shoulders next season and it remains to be seen as to whether or not he can shine for Leeds like his did alongside the highly rated Charlie Austin. I’m cautious on how Paynter will perform next season, as Austin was the key to a lot of his goals last season, you could argue that he scored one more than Beckford last season in a side with a smaller budget, but this is a step up for Paynter and he will be expected to the spearhead of the United attack many times. Grayson has made no secret that he wants to add another striker, so maybe they aren’t looking to rely heavily on one striker like they did with Beckford.
Leeds do have a handicap at the start of the season as Patrick Kisnorbo will be missing until around Christmas time, meaning the side will not be at full strength for half the season. There are also a number of other injuries that have been picked up in pre-season, meaning Leeds have a disrupted warm up towards their return to England’s second tier and more depth added to the squad would be welcomed by the supporters. Kasper Schmeichel has joined up after proving he was too good for the League Two level and he will continue his progression as a player and get an opportunity to take on a good challenge. Many Leeds fans will also tell you how under rated Rob Snodgrass is and he’s a player who has impressed me many times and has often lived in the shadow of Jermaine Beckford for the past few seasons. This could be his season to shine and I suggest you tune in to the opening round of fixtures on Saturday 7th August as Leeds will be live on T.V in a late 5.15pm (GMT) kick off against Derby County – a perfect chance for the likes of Snodgrass to show many what he is capable of.
I think Leeds will be OK this season, I think ideally for them mid table would be a fine finish, but currently they are lacking a goal scorer you can really bank on and although they’re often hard to find, Leeds are the sort of club that could appeal to many players. There is definitely a chance that they could challenge for promotion, but in truth it isn’t likely and the majority of Leeds fans will tell you that although they are optimistic (like many of us football fans are!) they aren’t expecting their side to take the league by storm this season. I do expect them to be great entertainment this season and due to their large fan base, you should probably be prepared to see them in live televised games almost as much as Newcastle were shown last season.