Saturday 12 January 2013

Warnock, it's time to go

When asked by FourFourTwo magazine what he'd do in a hypothetical world as manager of Sheffield Wednesday, Neil Warnock replied 'As long as the whole of my salary was paid within 28 days, I would buy so many tosspots and fuck ‘em up so badly. Then I’d retire to Cornwall and spend the rest of my life laughing my fucking head off.' Someone please remind him that we are not Sheffield Wednesday.

As the boo's rang around Oakwell's away end yesterday evening, it was hard to think that Warnock would see his position as Leeds United manager as anything but 'under pressure'. The 5,000 contingent sent Neil on his way with a blistering body-blow; 'Warnock, time to go' ringing from the rafters. 

A dismal performance which saw no positive play, no shots on target and a 2-0 defeat against managerless, bottom of the league Barnsley is enough to put anyone under pressure. Instead, his viewpoint is clear. 'I think I'm doing a great job', something he states without a smirk, a whisper of comedic effect, or even that glint in the eye that only comes from painful sarcasm.

This seems to have been the turning point for so many. A manager so devoid of the current situation, out-laying the most pre-historic tactics and backing his evidential 'pals' within the club in spite of their dreadful performances has become too much for some that were previously hopeful of revitalised positivity around the club following the takeover by GFH.

Reasons for such disillusion are ten-a-penny. 'Hoofball' tactics are not just expected but customary, some left wondering why we even employ midfielders anymore (let alone sign them. Welcome to the club, by the way, Ross Barkley). His persistence to trust the likes of Michael Brown, Lee Peltier and Luke Varney in his 18-man squad has been baffling, his decision to make Peltier captain bewildering.

The latter could explain the former. An array of poor performances at right back saw Peltier receive a second chance to prove his worth as centre back. More mediocrity ensued, and as such, so did more second chances, this time at left-back. The pattern remained as he managed to reclaim his 'natural' position of right-back for 180 minutes before yet again stumbling across a fifth (and hopefully final) chance, back in the left-back slot. 

Nothing else but a blind defence of his decision to name the 26 year old captain can surely explain why he has retained a place ahead of what Warnock called 'the best left back in the league' (Adam Drury) for so long. This, or a never-ending defiance over what was Neil's biggest transfer fee addition since arriving at Elland Road. 

Regardless, his defiance reeks of stubbornness expected in a manager of much less experience. Purely from the statistics, you'd expect seven promotions and thirteen managerial positions to teach you a thing or two about knowing when to flog a dead horse. Of course, this isn't a statistical case, this is Neil Warnock, boasting one of the most inflated ego's in the game today. 

His antics and rants have caused controversy for years, finding dozens of enemies and acting as a ticking-timebomb for the press, patiently waiting for his next outrageous (or idiotic) quote for their back pages. Arrogant promises remain unfulfilled ('You'll never see a Leeds United side like that again' following the Derby County defeat in April), whilst some extracts scream of those of a self-centred dreamer ('this club needs me more than I need them'). 

You have to sit and wonder if the appeal of Leeds United was purely just the chance to preach from a larger stage than he's ever handled before. Embarrassingly, it seems to be the case. He just seems to have forgotten that he actually has a football club to run behind the curtains of his garbage broadcasting.

Even these ridiculous rhetorics could be tolerated at the expense of some self-depreciation. After all, his performance review at Leeds United hardly screams of excellence. Alas, ten months and forty-seven games in, Leeds United remain as part of English football's second tier sector of mediocrity. The excuse of being burdened with another man's team hung out to dry months ago. Nine of the eleven starting yesterday were brought to the club by Warnock (ironically, the outcast two are Luciano Becchio and Sam Byram, Leeds' two stand-out performers this term). 

This is very much Warnock's team, yet his post match views see no blame resting at his own two feet. An onslaught at top goalscorer Luciano Becchio and the transfer window were the major culprits for yesterdays' defeat; The Argentine's head supposedly being turned by the lure of a bigger move following nineteen goals in a side creating more wind resistance than goalmouth action. Not the lack of creativity or width from four central midfielders across the park, or the inane long-ball tactics without a second strategy to retort. No, the fact that our striker is very good and is interested by clubs better than a tedious Warnock ensemble.

We shouldn't criticise too much about his ego, though. He's clearly not above apologising. Infact, he took his apology offered to newbie Ross Barkley public. 'We don't usually play like that'. How sweet, it's just a shame that he's lying.

Frankly, nothing is pointing in Warnock's favour. The results are sub-par, with the club potentially eight points behind the playoffs should Watford win their game in hand. The performances remain amongst the worst the club has ever seen. It's a miracle (and of immense credit to star player Luciano Becchio) that the club has managed to pick up six wins in the past ten outings, as the performances have been that of a relegation-stricken mire. 

With a supposed new dawn on the horizon under the guidance of GFH, it's surely time for the new owners to see sense and start afresh with a long term plan for us rather than act as a stopgap for an old-timer living off his promotions in 1990 with Scarborough and other various sides scattered across the East coastline whilst the rest of us prepared for New Labour and Tony Blair. 

Retirement in Cornwall with Sharon awaits dear old Colin. The sooner, the better.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Neil's broken promise

9th April 2012. Leeds United fall victim to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Derby County. Promotion pipe-dreams have been dashed weeks previous. Gutless performances and disappointment swamps Elland Road. As the final whistle rings around the rafters, Neil Warnock wanders towards Nigel Clough in order to shake hands with the victor of the day. He offers him the just congratulations and utters 'Enjoy this, you'll never see a Leeds United side like that again'.  

Of course, Nigel has the luxury of not owning a Leeds United season ticket. And whilst it took just 8 months before Derby tore a lacklustre Leeds side apart again, Clough didn't have to bear the uncomfortable demonstration put forward by Warnock's side week in, week out. That treat is offered but twice a year to divisional rivals.

It was unfair to judge Warnock too harshly based on his toying around with the remains of Simon Grayson's reign. Whilst the side lacked any creativity, passion or desire, it was tough to see how it could with success for the season rapidly falling out of reach. Even when mathematics suggested possibility, reality took the forefront of Leeds fans' minds. 

Danny Pugh, Paul Connolly and Darren O'Dea don't really fit the token of a 'side to be proud of'. When Neil promised Leeds United something to be proud of, time obviously had to be taken to build. The remains of the 2011/12 season were cast a write-off. His time to be judged would come in the following camapign. We're here now, and we're still left without anything to be proud in, left wondering what has changed so that we can once again feel pride in our team. 

Pride can't be taken from one-dimensional tactics which fail to deliver, nor can it be taken from the now clich├ęd following of stubbornness as the gaffer refuses to change the system in order to change proceedings on the field. Pride can't be taken from seeing the captain's armband carelessly tossed about from player to player without any consistency or strategy. 

There is no more apathetic sight watching Alan Tate deciding between his two caricature options of mindlessly hoofing the ball out of touch or passing back to Paddy Kenny. There is no feeling of pride or joy watching Lee Peltier's inane attempts at defending, only to be rewarded with a second, third and fourth chance, just in a different position. 

The club cannot expect to move forward whilst insisting on Michael Brown in his baby-grow Leeds shirt acting the enforcer. The fans cannot expect to feel optimistic from the embarrassing post-match interviews labelling horror shows as 'seven minutes of madness'. It's time for Neil to step up to the mark and make good on his promise of something for us to be proud of, as so far he's offered absolutely nothing.

Today's decimation at the hands of Hull City ranks as one of the worst performances seen under Warnock's tenure. Irrationality ensues after such a defeat, but the number of fans calling for Warnock's head is alarming. It is also understandable. It used to be a rarity when Leeds United would so easily buckle at the hands of a Hull or a Derby. These days, it's painfully predictable. 

It's no wonder that we are turned over so easily when the tactics and line-up are so seemingly void of consideration, but rather dealt with through the simple act of a tossed set of rune stones. Re-assurance that Shaun Harvey is working overtime to bring in 'one or two' players hardly gets the blood boiling anymore. After the last few years, it puts doubt over whether or not that Season Ticket renewal form should actually be handed in.

Warnock's signings this season have already come to a total of near £3 Million. That total was diabolically funded by the departure of Robert Snodgrass, but remains a frightening symbol of what Warnock can do when backed with funds (further doubt can be thrown into the mix when we recall his previous days at Sheffield United, over £2.5 Million spent on Adi Akinbiyi and Neil Shipperley). GFH has re-iterated their belief in Warnock, and trust him to spend their investment in January. The fans have become increasingly pessimistic.

Before today's game, new Director David Haigh tweeted 'Let's have the support from the fans please, come back to '. After eight years of heart-ache, it is no longer the responsibility of Leeds fans to blindly follow, fuelled on nothing but hope that the future will be different. The club needs to deliver and have merits to boast before pleading for fans to come back. It's time for the club to give us something to be proud of.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Much a-Diouf about nothing

El-Hadji Diouf seems to have made light work of what seemed to be an incredibly tough situation almost two months ago. When the news broke that the ex-Liverpool striker was training with the first team squad at Thorp Arch, a predictable split between the fanbase sparked a war of words across the United forums. The controversy tested the most resolute of opinions. 

'I'd rather see us be relegated', 'This is brilliant, he epitomises Dirty Leeds' and 'I'll never support a thing he does' just to name a few. Of course, the latter was me. And here I am, bashfully going against my word, swallowing my pride (and with that, a little bit of dignity). I'm starting to like El-Hadji Diouf.

It'd be remissive of me to not defend my previous stance on the situation. Back in April, when the rumour mill churned out the connection to Diouf, the most obvious problem was the relationship between player and manager. Suffice to say, there's going to be an air of tension when comparisons to sewer rats are made. Apparently, though, that air could be cleared in the space of ninety minutes.

That hour and a half ran solely on Neil Warnock's criticisms and disputes that he felt should be put forward to the Senegalese forward. It'd been a brave decision by the United manager to give El-Hadji the time of day, but also a commendable conversing act to accept these biting blows in order to reconcile. I can't imagine that frosty reception came with a free drink, either.

Our first problem is quickly resolved; Though in football, negotiations aren't that black and white. In business, a contract is agreed between two parties and signed to complete the transaction. Here, the process is followed by critical assessment from thousands of ferociously loyal followers, to no objective end. Divisions of opinion spread like wildfire through supporters. El-Hadji Diouf only adds petrol to the flames.

Whilst some were supportive from the start, it's more than easy to accept the reasoning behind why so many were sceptical, or even disillusioned. Just weeks after the departure of talisman, captain and star of the side Robert Snodgrass, we were treated to a convicted felon with moral baggage to boot (all on a free transfer and small wages, too. That one almost passed unnoticed, nice try Kenneth). 

Three cases of spitting towards players and fans, dangerous driving without a license, caught in a nightclub brawl, proposing sexual indiscretions to a strangers' daughter and threatening behaviour towards fellow team-mates isn't really the list you want to reel off when your new co-workers ask to 'get to know you better'. This is what El-Hadji has to work with, though, and as such will always face the dilemma of never having unanimous support. 

It's a lot to accept when welcoming anyone to your club. There's no point trying to cushion any blows here; Football matters to the supporters, so accepting such a questionable character into the club can be a genuinely tough feat. What comes off as an unwilling mentality to back the team really is just a difference of opinion in what is best for the football club. It's a sad state of affairs that decisions like these can cause divisions on the concourse, but at least it shows there's fire in the belly yearning for the very best at Elland Road. 

It is only until you've been on both sides of the coin that you truly realise that each side has the same intentions. Prior to this, it was near impossible to gauge how having a player bring such controversy would be worth having at the club. At least with these divisions, the fans are still pulling in the same direction; For the best of Leeds United. It's hard to argue then that El-Hadji Diouf isn't a valuable asset for causing these divisions when despite them, we're still all hands on deck.

And so all that's left to consider is application; How does El-Hadji Diouf work in practice. It turns out quite well. On the field he has been a revelation. Despite shades of mediocrity away to Blackpool and Peterborough (where fitness remained an issue) it's hard to argue with the quality Diouf still holds. It feels almost impossible to shrug him off possession. His ability to cross is consistently superb, whilst his contributions to aid the performances of the younger pro's has been commendable. 

As for anything lacking, I still remain sceptical regarding his pace and his composure in front of goal, attributes that have given a more human touch to his all-round play. It's that lacking yard that was present a couple of years ago which makes me doubt if he holds the credentials to still succeed at the highest level. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; For this standard of football, you'll not find much better.

Praise for El-Hadji doesn't stop there. Question marks over his temperament seem almost void. Opposition fans and players haven't changed their ordinary routine of targeting a reaction, yet they've been left unsatisfied. Albeit early days, Diouf has risen above any attempts to rile him, and rather channelled the aggression into fuelling his performance further. As he approaches thirty, is it possible that Diouf has finally matured?

Whatever the case, it's clear that El-Hadji is revelling in his new role at Elland Road. Reminiscent of his days at Liverpool, he's surrounded by the essence of a big club again. The burden of stepping outside of that comfort zone into more humble beginnings hasn't raised it's head. His gold Cadillac would seem more out of place had it been parked outside of Oakwell. Luckily, they wavered any option to sign him earlier in the summer.

That pretentious monstrosity played token to the pantomime of El-Hadji Diouf, a symbol of all that has been. That arrogance and degradation isn't welcome flaunting around Leeds United. As I write this now, I'm constantly reminded of the possibilities under Diouf. Should you write 'Diouf' into Microsoft Word, it offers the auto-correct of 'odious'. Coincidence? Back in April, I'd have thought not. Even Bill Gates had him sussed.

But now, after two months, it's hard to see what all the fuss is about. On the pitch, he's as hard-working as they come, battling on every blade of grass. He's a patron to his own charity foundation, working wonders over in Africa. His middle name, Ousseynou, supposedly brings meaning to accepting change, travel and new experiences. These aren't the characteristics of a psycho looking for a tear-up. These befit a man wearing elbow-pads and tweed.

As much as this new found maturity could simply be a ploy to win over the fans, it's difficult to envisage a return of old under Neil Warnock. Should consistency set in now his fitness levels have peaked, it's hard to imagine El=Hadji's stay at Elland Road being cut short. That is sure to delight many an advocate of the forward. Surprisingly, that includes me. At least I'm not alone when dining on some humble pie. Now pass me a fork.