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.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

LUST continues to be Bates' main cause for concern

United chairman Ken Bates' exclusive interview with LUTV left Leeds fans reminiscing over many a Wednesday, as the Elland Road faithful would tear their hair out at the petulance, idiocy and blatant lies that spilled out through his tedious beard. After a summer without the voice of Ken in our ears, his silence was broken at the weekend in order to update the quoted 150,000 customers of Leeds United on the latest developments surrounding the takeover at Leeds. Yorkshire Radio had hyped up the occasion with it's sole purpose to give fans the latest news that we'd all been craving.

What we received, however, was a thirteen minute interview which offered more time to those that Ken wished to attack than it did to an update on the ongoing investment negotiations, now into their fourth month. Alongside the Elland Road Kop and YEP reporter Phil Hay, the Leeds United Supporters' Trust (LUST) headlined Bates' list of 'idiots' and 'illiterates', ridiculed by the chairman as a 'waste of space'. 

Atop the list of criticisms towards LUST was their apparent disruptive behaviour which has allegedly caused significant delays on the takeover (that, and the weather...). Bates claimed that the statements (filled with 'inaccuracies') and twitter account of LUST meant that the prospective buyers required re-assurance that these views were of the minority and not the majority. His damning verdict on the trust finished with them being labelled as a 'pain in the arse' that had set out to attack him, something he called 'disrespectful'. 

Despite looking at the previous statements from LUST, it's hard to find what Ken is harping on about. Their statements have, on regular occasions, thanked the club and specifically Ken Bates for their updates over the summer, whilst asking the questions on every Leeds fans' lips. As a trust, their main job is to represent the views and thoughts of their members. This has been accomplished in a dignified and respectful manner, especially towards the club; An offer of respect that the club arguably has not deserved.

It's difficult to spot the attacks from LUST towards the chairman, leaving his claims of bullying seem a bit far-fetched. It may be best not to argue with Ken on the issue, though, his position to spot bullying may be far greater than any of ours. After all, he was characterised as a bully by the courts over his ongoing attacks towards Melvyn Levi earlier in the year. As the saying goes, 'it takes one to know one'. Maybe old Ken is onto something... Somehow though, I doubt it.

And if these ridiculous allegations weren't enough to ridicule any grasp of legitimacy for Bates, they were shot down dead when his employee and Leeds United boss contradicted his criticisms of the Leeds United Kop and support just hours after the interview was aired. Neil Warnock was filled with praise and adoration for the support following United's 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest, contradicting claims of the Kop, labelled as 'idiots' by the chairman. 

It doesn't end there, either. After criticising the core support at Elland Road, his rants led him to discuss how the prospective buyers required time this summer to learn the ins and outs of how to run a football club. Whilst this is obviously required, it seems somewhat ironic that Ken would preach how a football club should be run. I'm no expert, but I don't think attacking your main source of income and the membership that speaks on behalf of them is seen as intelligent when running a football club. Nor is getting the club into debt through building projects that will offer no real long term benefit for the club or the fans. Nor is constantly lying to the fans. Frankly, it's incredible he can even utter about how to run a club properly without it being liable.

The aftermath of the interview wasn't exactly great viewing for Ken. Forums across the internet and discussions within the ground were hardly sympathetic to Ken's dilemma. It's fair to say that nobody has bought a single word of his attacks and allegations towards LUST and their statements. In fact, it's the petulance and arrogance of the man that has seen another few hundred Leeds fans sign up to LUST following his interview. According to LUST's Gary Cooper, this is a common trend; 'We always get a run on memberships and shareholding when Ken has a rant about us'. It has been a great source of free advertisement for the Trust, who now boast 8,000 members (approximately 5% of Ken's quoted customer base, and growing), and can proudly state that they are the fifth largest supporters trust in the UK.  

And as we prepare for our Third Round cup game against Everton tonight, we see that only 15,000 of our customers will be making their way to Elland Road tonight. Similar ties against Liverpool and Tottenham saw sell out crowds just two years ago. A drop of almost 18,000 due to another two years of continued lies, lack of investment and petulance would suggest that it is no longer a majority behind Ken, whilst the Campaign for Change heralded by LUST continues to grow.


To join the Leeds United Supporters' Trust, visit Here (Membership is free).

Thursday, 6 September 2012

How Barber and Scum sent United to the brink of abyss

March 3rd, 2001. A regular catalogue of Premier League action awaits, the War of the Roses the opening act at Elland Road. Despite poor early season form and the almighty distraction of the Champions League, Leeds have fought their way from their Boxing Day mediocrity of 12th to 6th in the division, collecting just one league defeat along the way. Coming off the back of such tremendous form (along with an astounding 4-1 victory away at Anderlecht in Europe), hope is high in preparation for the tie against Manchester United. Manchester themselves are also on good form; The league leaders coming out of ties against Chelsea, Arsenal and Valencia (home and away) unbeaten. The lunchtime kick-off paired the two form teams of the division. A feisty affair awaits.

Fast forward eleven years to the present day. Leeds United, after seven years of tyranny under Ken Bates, have merged themselves into the furniture of second tier football. Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson's side are no longer champions. They are no longer favourites for the title, and to everyone's enjoyment, they're not even kings of their own city. It is feasible for United to look back on this clash eleven years prior as the moment where they plunged into trouble. This isn't a tale for Manchester, though. There's only one United in these parts.

Amidst a flourish of bookings, dissent and controversy, both teams walked away from Elland Road that day with a mere point to their name; A result that did nothing but flatter Manchester. Having been on the back-foot for the entirety of the encounter, substitute Luke Chadwick embarked on a smash-and-grab mission as Alex Ferguson's men looked to pull off a remarkable result. Alas, Mark Viduka's header six minutes from time thwarted any daylight robbery.

Or so we thought...

This'd be the part of the film where the camera closes in on the lead, his expression flickering from bemusement to realisation. The smirk drops. This tale isn't over, the hero hasn't won. A flashback occurs and suddenly it's injury time at the end of the first-half. The scene emerges with a questioning cross aimed for Ian Harte, only to be collected in routine fashion by Manchester United goalkeeper Fabian Barthez.

An innocuous collision between the two. Nothing more than a coming together of players challenging for possession in the air. Barthez doesn't see it that way, though. He lashes out, violently stamping on Harte's standing leg. Graham Barber is aware of the melee and rightly awards the penalty United's way. The next step is obvious to all in the ground. Barber is to walk over to Barthez and brandish red from his pocket. On will step Paul Rachubka of all people and face Harte as he fires past the joke of a goalkeeper to lead United on to victory.

If only Barber had bothered to read the script. Or even the rulebook. Rather than red, the egg-like 'keeper sees yellow. Calamity Paul, already lacing his boots, looks forward in disbelief as Barthez prepares himself for what would turn out to be one of two match-defining moments. Not to worry, though; Paul is offered a leading role later on in the series as he goes undercover, with aims of ruining United's season.

Harte sees his kick saved by the lucky Frenchman, as both teams close in on the dressing rooms at the interval all square. Manchester's Steve McClaren takes it upon himself to confront Barber on the decision to award Leeds the penalty, despite the blatant attack on Harte's calf. Considering the unwritten pull a member of Scum's dugout can have upon a referee, you have to wonder if later leniency or bias was somewhat offered following McClaren's rant.

It's quite easy, in hindsight, to suggest that with half a game remaining, anything could've happened. That there was no guarantee that Leeds would have emerged victorious had the correct decision been made. Nonetheless, Barthez had been in superb form throughout the game; something which you would not have expected from Paul Rachubka. All of this becomes a redundant discussion in the greater scheme of things, though. A second heist taking victory from United's grasp would ensue in the second half.

Back to our cinematic cast-back, and we find ourselves in injury time at the end of the second half. Leeds are piling on the pressure having thoroughly deserved Mark Viduka's equaliser six minutes previous (and what a beautiful goal it was, too; Danny Mills breaking down the right wing leaving Dennis Irwin chasing shadows. His cross flicked on by Lee Bowyer, only for Viduka to show instinctive movement quicker than thought, arching his neck to power the ball past Barthez's right).

Leeds break from a throw-in as Mills sends a cutting through ball towards the path of Bowyer. Manchester's defence appeals for offisde, but the flag remains down. As Jaap Stam closes in, Bowyer unleashes a dangerous cross across goal. The out-stretching leg of Stam plays Viduka onside as he awaits the delivery. He remains surplus to requirements; Wes Brown's desperate attempts to clear possession fails miserably. The ball falls past Barthez's left. United have snatched it at the death. 2-1.

Or so we thought...

Up goes the flag. Brown's blushes are saved. Leeds are robbed, and Manchester United walk out of Yorkshire with an ill-deserved point. The disappointment on the day failed to affect Leeds' march up the table. Eight wins out of the remaining nine fixtures saw United finish in fourth position, a mere point behind third placed Liverpool, who in turn claimed the third and final Champions League spot.

Leeds followed the draw by travelling to Madrid to face Spanish giant Real in the Champions League, only to be robbed again by a goal from Raul that should've been ruled out for a blatant handball. Looking back, though, only one day proved too costly. The coveted position which later emerged as so important for debt-stricken United had been missed by a solitary point; Two of which had been lost at the hands of Graham Barber and Manchester United.

We all know the crisis that followed. Debts spiralled out of control, assets had to be sold and the club faced relegation in 2004. Debts still loomed over the club and there was seemingly no way out. Then, out of nowhere, Ken Bates came riding in on his white horse promising to take the club back to the top. I personally wasn't aware that the plan involved League One football, 25 points being deducted and the threat of liquidation hanging over us. Nor was I aware that we'd still be waiting for this promise to be fulfilled. I'm starting to wonder if old Ken lied to us. And to think, just one decision could've made things oh-so different.

Either way, a lot of finger-pointing and blame can fall at several people's feet. Be it Bates, Ridsdale or even previous administrators, it's fair to say that a collective group of idiocy has placed us firmly where we are today. Just today, though, I choose to blame Scum.