Friday, 20 March 2009

BECKFORD, BIG 'ED, BATES ON THE BANDWAGON

Lots of stuff to blog about this week. Let me have your thoughts on some, any or all of the following…

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON, BRUV?

An interesting consequence of the current crop of players lucky enough to wear a Leeds shirt in League One is how they have managed to divide opinion amongst the supporters so starkly. There seems to be a line dividing those who expect to see and are therefore only interested in players of greater footballing ability and those on the other side who would say that their expectations are more "appropriate" to our place in the football league rankings, without much common ground in between. Players like Andrew Hughes and Jonathan Douglas are examples of those vilified by the former and championed by the latter; Andy Robinson and Neil Kilkenny perhaps examples of the reverse.

I have always believed that our needs as Leeds supporters are relatively simple. We love our heroes. They unify us. This is not a unique phenomenon nor exclusive to Leeds but it certainly is apparent at the moment as the broad spectrum of opinion on just about every player at the club right now illustrates this lack of a single focal point for our united affection.

The most topical at the moment is of course Jermaine Beckford. Twenty-nine goals already this season – an outstanding achievement in itself (it’s not even April yet) – would make him an ideal candidate but this is tempered by failings in the other areas of his game, not least his first touch and his temperament. The latter of these has been the catalyst for the recent explosion in the debate about our number nine.

Beckford is in fact the greatest example of the division between the supporters; between those who would have him first on the team sheet every week and those who yell from the terraces at every mistake, every misdirection of his frustration and, well, every miss. And there have been plenty.

The middle ground is, I think however, something to explore with Beckford. 29 goals is unarguably outstanding and shows that he is prolific at League one level. The transformation from RAC man to goal machine at Scunthorpe was something to behold, but this was of course via some abysmal performances during his first spell with us and relegation from the Championship. Since that relegation and Beckford’s recall to Elland Road he has become a regular goalscorer delivering tallies we have not seen since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. That said, at the same time it should be remembered that when thinking about most goals he has scored I can recall at least another chance he should have put away and I'm talking about golden opportunities during tight games. Each as a result of a simple lack of footballing basics; concentration and control.

Herein I think lies the primary motivation for Beckford’s detractors. An inability to demonstrate consistent concentration and therefore ball control makes him unreliable, increasing the likelihood of mistakes at crucial times, particularly during key games. Given that this is League One – a fairly elementary level for those footballers with genuine ambition to succeed – the logical argument is that if we do get out of this division he would be shown up by the standard of the game in a higher division.

Add to this Beckford’s inability to keep his cool and this unreliability and unpredictability leaves some supporters’ feeling he is untrustworthy. Unshakeable Beckford supporters will point to the recent sending off at home to Swindon, and the punching of our tunnel cover, as evidence of how much Beckford cares and that, at this level, in excess of thirty goals a season is simply enough of a contribution, after all one man does not make a team.

Looking at this middle ground both sides have valid arguments. As a lover of attractive football I find Beckford continually frustrating. At times it seems almost inconveivable that a player capable of scoring brilliant sublime goals (that goal for Scunthorpe, or the chipped goals for Leeds against Hartlepool last year and Chester this year in the Carling Cup) could look so woefully incompetent on so many occasions. The two don’t match.

The unreliability argument can of course work both ways; you can always expect the unexpected with Beckford so from nothing you can have your matchwinner. I’m not sure that this has proved to be the case often enough for me, the play-off final at Wembley being the most poignant, disappointing example of a missed opportunity for Beckford to rise above the mediocrity of the division and propel himself and the club onwards and upwards.

Of course the debate and the arguments will continue in a continuous circle without much chance of resolution. But there are some common elements to take from it. We want to get out of this division. Now. With a tally of almost thirty goals Beckford is undoubtedly the man to spearhead that effort. The frustration with Beckford is that he could be the hero we crave so he is scrutinised most heavily and every mistake takes him further away from this pedestal.

History – based largely on statistics - will no doubt be kind to him and it is difficult to say that he would not deserve it.

Suspended tomorrow. Let's hope it doesn't cost us!

DAMNED IF YOU DO…

The opening of The Damned United takes place on Friday. The film, based on David Peace’s outstanding “factional” novel about Brian Clough and his 44 days at Elland Road in 1974, has generated a great deal of interest and has resulted in many printed words from journalists and ex-players alike, not to mention the numerous television programmes being broadcast reminding us what “Old Big ‘Ed” was like.

Cloughs brief tenure at Elland Road is a little before my time but I have read numerous articles, stories and anectodes about it over the years. A couple of things always stick in my mind. First of all was that Clough should never have been Leeds manager; at least not at that time. Don Revie, the man who had turned Leeds into one of the greatest club sides in the world, made his recommendation to the board for his successor. Jonny Giles, A man who knew the club inside out and in whom Revie saw the future by way of continuity. This was a model for success used by Liverpool so well over time. The board ignored him in what, historically, appears to be the most crucial misjudgement in the history of our club.

Having said that, Clough was clearly an outstanding manager which he showed over a long, distinguished and highly entertaining career. With the board having made its selection, the Clough debacle seems then to have been an enormous waste of an opportunity, caused in no small part by arrogance and disrespect on Clough’s part towards successful, seasoned professionals and what they had achieved (more than Clough at that point). However this was an ageing squad with maybe twelve months left as a competitive force and no provision had been made for youth development of the sort that provided the bedrock for Revie’s side over ten years. Some have even suggested that Revie left for England because he couldn't bear to break up that side.

There was always going to be a clash between manager and players in this scenario but it seems that upheaval is what may have been required to make sure that this aging squad didn’t disappear without adequate provision for the future. We unfortunately will never know whether Clough could have rejuvenated and revived the squad to enhance the longevity of the club's success. This is of course a much greater debate, one I would interested to be a part of at some point in the future.

Norman Hunter’s impressions of the new film were in The Times this week and make an interesting read, shedding a little light on the real opinion Clough held of the players. Well, some of them anyway!

Enjoy it if you’re going to see it.

HOPPING ON THE GRAVY TRAIN

Since the judgement of the F.A. panel that Carlos Tevez caused, singlehandedly, West Ham to survive the drop at Sheffield United’s expense, rather than Sheffield United being generally shit and therefore the cause of its own downfall, an unnecessary can of worms has sprung open which seemingly knows no bounds. First and foremost the judgement is dangerous. Football is a game with so many endless possibilities to narrow the facts down as the panel did was in my view erroneous.

And how we are seeing the consequences.

West Ham cheated and should have been punished, of that there is no doubt. In the context of the guaranteed £30 million premier league survival reward, their punishment was trivial, ill-thought and delivered with too much haste. This judgement has only exacerbated the problem. Having agreed to pay £25 million to Sheffield United all and sundry, including Uncle Ken, are keen to get their “due” from the troubled London club.

I have to say on the one hand that you cannot blame Bates. The judgement has been handed down from a court and any losses consequential to West Ham’s breach of duties should be properly recoverable. Whether those payments are recoverable is another matter of course but if they are the money would I'm sure come in very handy.

The problem is where do you draw the line? Can relegated teams now seek redress from anyone, to the point where failure in football is never the responsibility of the failed side, at least legally speaking? Also where does the responsibility of the offending party end? Can supporters sue for the emotional distress caused by relegation? Clearly some of these assertions are ridiculous but they illustrate the possible danger of how far-reaching this judgement could be.

Watch this space.

AND FINALLY…

Crewe away tomorrow. Three points crucial. We are on a good run of unbeaten form but these away games continue to be a thorn in our side as the recent trips to Oldham and Bristol proved. The fact that Crewe are on good form does not make a good omen but as ever on the eve of a match I am optimistic and, or course, expectant.

No Beckford. Dickinson in? A new hero? Three points please!

Marching on Together

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