By Mark Rasdall
So the football fixtures for the 2013/14 season are finally out. Like all football fans I await this day eagerly each summer as I wrote in thefootballground blog earlier in the week - especially given how much planning goes into compiling football fixtures each year.
As an LUFC fan it's tempting to interpret the fixtures fatalistically when you see we start with Brighton at home and Leicester away - fixtures we have struggled with; then Birmingham away and Derby at home to close the season. Obviously Birmingham away is another bogey fixture for us and Derby anywhere at any time seems to have been poisoned by greater powers than even the gypsies Don Revie was so aware of.
Or we could look at it optimistically, as Brian McDermott is doing by being pleased with home games at the beginning and the end and simply looking at each game as the next game and so they are the most important ones at any moment in time. His approach is refreshing and just what those of us who bring decades of emotional baggage with us could really do with. Hard though, isn't it, to just delete those memories or not to be looking out for the Millwall and Barnsley away dates?
I think this is why we are mainly optimistic about Brian's philosophy. It's simple and we shall very soon now see if it is going to be effective. While we are looking at a trip to the seaside on Boxing Day or a late chicken dinner on New Year's Day, Brian will no doubt forget that it's actually a holiday period and be as focussed as ever.
For all teams, the Championship is likely to be the most competitive English league again next season and I think we need to remember who we are and worry less about the opposition. We are Leeds United and strive to be back in the Premier League where many think we belong. Let others do the worrying about us and let's write a new history where we tear up the form books and honestly try to forget bad days in the past.
If we get anything on 5th October, having not been beaten on 28th September or 24th August, we'll know we really are on the right track.
By Rob Atkinson
Leeds United will be linked with many new signings this summer, and the squad is
definitely in need of a major tweak or three. Or four, possibly five. But it may well be that, for the medium and longer term good of our club, we've already secured our most valuable signature of this or many other summers. Take a bow, Richard Naylor - who will now remain as the Leeds United U-18 Coach, charged with overseeing the development of youth players who will hopefully contribute to first team success in the not-too-distant future.
Fresh from the triumphs of last season, when his youngsters won their League and performed brilliantly in defeat at Anfield in the FA Youth Cup, Naylor has taken to this role like a duck to water. With his input, the famed Leeds United Academy production line seems to be in the rudest health it's enjoyed for quite some time. Naylor only quit as a player last summer and has still to go through the formal necessities of obtaining the various coaching badges he will need to carve out a career in management. But all the badges in the world are no substitute for natural ability and a way with young people that nurtures progress and success. It is this intangible quality which seems to mark out Naylor as a potential coach to watch out for.
It is to be hoped that Naylor will make a big impact on the coaching and managerial side of the game - given his early achievements there's little reason to doubt he will - and obviously everyone with a love for Leeds United will be desperate for Big Nayls to make his mark with his home town team. Manager Brian McDermott is in no doubt that Leeds have got a winner in Naylor. "If you look at the history of the Academy at Leeds they have produced some fantastic players and I think we have got a fantastic Academy," said Brian. "Getting Richard signed up was very important to us, he is a Leeds man and he is a young coach. I'm sure he is going to be doing his badges and working with the younger players, we are really pleased. Richard enjoys coming to work, that is one of the things you try to create at any football club. I certainly wouldn't want to come to a place where you don't have a bit of fun and you don't enjoy what you do."
Encouraging stuff, and music to the ears of anyone who believes the long-term good of the club is best served by excellence in the Academy - and an Academy is only as good as its coaches, whatever the talent that might be available in the youth ranks. Naylor has made an excellent start to his coaching career, and appears to have a thorough understanding of the demands of his job. Perhaps this is because, although he played most of his career as a central defender, he was a striker at Ipswich until the age of 25. He therefore has top-level knowledge of radically different ways of playing; looking forward as a defender after previously operating with his back to goal as a striker. This professional experience in two very dissimilar roles will maybe have given him a more complete and all-round appreciation of the game as a whole, something his young charges could well benefit from as they develop.
All the best for the future with Leeds, Nayls - may your association with your beloved United be a long, happy and successful one.
By Rob Atkinson
The BBC are reporting that the wealthy owner of Super League side Salford Reds, Dr Marwan Koukash, is looking to take over a football club. Dr Koukash refuses to be drawn on the identity of the club he's looking at, but describes it as "a huge club previously" which "just needs that little bit of extra investment to take it to the next level." Dr Koukash goes on to say "By bringing in the personnel that were previously associated with the club at its heyday and bringing people in who are genuine club supporters it will excite the fans. Once I get the football club I will definitely have my own TV channel which will cover my three sports; racing, rugby and football."
There is plenty there to encourage speculation, and in the knowledge that the current owners of Leeds United seem not averse to selling a controlling interest in the club, many Leeds fans will sit up and take notice when a wealthy Kuwaiti speaks of acquiring "a huge club previously". More intriguing still is the mention of
personnel previously associated with the club "at its heyday". Leeds United supporters might ask "which heyday" as the nineties were an era of comparative success and prosperity, though not to be compared to the truly great era of the sixties and seventies when Don Revie created a global force in the hitherto humble location of Elland Road. Some "previous personnel" might be welcomed back with open arms; others decidedly not.
It would appear that Marwan Koukash is looking at Championship level for his entry into the world of football; he admits that he almost bought a second tier club before he became involved in racing. This begs the question of which other Championship club might fit the Koukash blueprint. There are a number of sleeping giants in this league, as well as a few who are perhaps just big lads having a snooze. Most neutral onlookers though would concede that Leeds United
is by far the biggest name outside the Premier League, and it is this fact that makes Leeds at least as likely as any other club in the Championship to be scrutinised by a man who is willing and able to make the kind of investment which could elevate the club back to its accustomed spot in the top flight.
The time scale mentioned by Dr Koukash is "within the next month or so". If true, then some club is going to see big changes before Christmas, and whether this will prove a galvanising force to the new season, or more of a disruptive factor that could explode carefully-laid plans is a matter of some uncertainty. Takeovers can be very, very good for a club, and they can be just the opposite. Watch this space.
By Rob Atkinson
Yesterday I wrote an article about Leeds United being linked with Celtic's Anthony Stokes, a rumour which - I think I made it clear - I'm not at all happy with. There were two planks to my argument against the recruitment of Mr Stokes - firstly that he's not very good, having failed to pull up any trees south of the border (he's done better up in Scotland, but quite frankly my Gran could score for fun up there and she's been dead for 21 years) - and secondly that he doesn't appear to be the nicest of chaps, with various indiscretions laid at his door, including the alleged nutting of a hapless Elvis impersonator.
Today was another day, and it has brought another none-too-tasty rumour. This one I find more palatable on the grounds of ability, but possibly even less so where personal conduct is concerned Marlon King. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The lad can play a bit, and even at the ripe old age of 33, it's likely that he could be relied upon to give most Championship defences a thing or two to think about. He's done the business at this level for quite a few clubs - one notable failure being a loan spell at Leeds, but at that time he was played out of position by the famously clueless Kevin Blackwell, so it was hardly a surprise that he ended up goal-less.
So, on the grounds of ability and scoring potential, and especially for free, this seems a potentially good signing. But there is a flip-side to Marlon's coin, and that is his conviction in 2009 for sexual assault and ABH whilst on the books of Wigan Athletic, offences for which he received an 18 month sentence. It was also alleged that King had headbutted Dean Windass whilst at Hull City on loan, though this is not a crime which would necessarily alienate him as far as Leeds supporters are concerned. But the fact that Mr King has 14 convictions on his record since 1997 is doubtless a concern to Leeds United or any other club thinking of taking a punt on him. The rumour I saw today was on a Birmingham City fan site, and the responses from Leeds fans were not entirely positive. We've had our bad boys in the past, of course - Bowyer and Woodgate are particularly unedifying examples - but King appears to be a repeat offender at least in terms of getting on the wrong side of the law. Some of his transgressions are much worse than others, though, and a record which includes a sexual assault conviction is a severe drawback to say the very least.
The fact remains though that King seems to have settled down somewhat since leaving jail on the more recent of two occasions. He has served Birmingham well, and he does retain the knack of scoring goals at second tier level. Worryingly though, he has been arrested and bailed yet again as recently as April this year after a car crash which left one man severely injured.
On balance, I feel that this would not be an ideal signing for Leeds United, though I'm not quite as emphatically of that opinion as I was with the Stokes rumour. If that leaves me open to a charge of putting on-field ability ahead of off-field misdemeanours and convictions, then - well, gulty, m'Lud. King will end up wearing some club's shirt next season, and quite probably in the Championship. If push comes to shove, I'd rather see him scoring goals for Leeds than against us, but overall I'm hardly impressed by the standard of striker tipped to be joining us down at LS11 for the new campaign. Can we have some better quality rumours, please?
By Steve Barras
Has Brian McDermott been on a scouting trip to Bulgaria lately? Or during his reign at Reading?
Rumours abound that he has and he has been keeping tabs on Bulgarian u21 International Todor Nedelev.
Nedelev is only twenty years old and has represented his country at u17, u19 and u21 level whilst also playing for his hometown club Botev Plovdiv. He has represented his country fifteen times and scored nine goals.
Born in Belozem in the Plovdiv Province he joined Botev’s academy in 2004 aged eleven and signed his first professional deal with the club in 2011.
The attacking midfieder has made fifty-two appearances since then and scored eleven goals, nine of which came last season in the A PFG (Bulgarian A Professional Football Group) which is the top league in Bulgaria.
Botev rewarded him with a new and improved contract that runs up to December 2015.
GFHC would have to pay a fee for the services of this player, who is dubbed the new Hristo Stoichkov, but an International player who scores nine goals in eleven appearances for his country would certainly go some way in seeing how big their purse actually is.
By Rob Atkinson
The rumours are circulating once more regarding likely additions for the Leeds United front line, already supplemented by the signing of Oldham's Matt Smith. The names of Noel Hunt (Reading) and Kevin Doyle (Wolves) have been freely bandied about, the former being spoken of as virtually a done deal, whilst apparently Wolves are still hoping to hang on to Doyle despite their demotion to League One.
It is the link with Doyle that has sprouted this frankly unwelcome story concerning Celtic's Anthony Stokes. The former Arsenal trainee has had a thin time of it south of the border, and truth be told he hasn't been that much more successful in the less demanding environment of the Scottish Premier League. Seven goals in 23 appearances last term is not exactly prolific in a league where much is expected of a striker lucky enough to play for the only team of any real quality. A spell with Sunderland yielded a paltry 3 goals in 36 outings, and loan outings with Crystal Palace and Sheffield United added just one solitary strike to that meagre total.
Stokes has seemed more likely to be keeping the press busy on the front page rather than the back. He has been disciplined by Celtic for his attendance at the funeral of a Real IRA Chief and more recently there has been an allegation that he head-butted an Elvis impersonator in his native Dublin. Stokes has a year left on his contract with the Bhoys, and has so far failed to agree a new deal.
For a player whose signature once cost the buying club £2m, Stokes would appear to have done little on the field to justify that price tag, or anything like it. Off the field, he has attracted rather more publicity, but not in a good way. Whoever is eyeing up the targets for Leeds United would be well-advised to give this lad no more than a cursory glance before moving on with all possible speed. It's one story among many; Leeds will be linked with many players this summer, and only a small proportion will make it to Thorp Arch for the guided tour prior to signing. I sincerely hope that Anthony Stokes Esquire is not one of those few.
By Steve Barras
The ‘silly season’ is upon us and we at We All Love Leeds would like to contribute in our own small way. Once a week we will post the latest rumours from legitimate sources, ones that we have heard but please feel free to leave your own rumours in the comments section at the bottom.
Doyle is an old Reading hand that McDermott knows well. He was part of the relegated Wolves side last season and could sign for a host of Championship clubs this summer. He is persistently linked with Leeds.
A former McDermott favourite at Reading and he has been released by the club after five years service. A re-union with his former manager could be on the cards after he has been linked with Leeds for most of the summer.
McDermott is apparently also keen to sign Noel’s brother, Stephen. The winger was part of the Wolves team that was relegated last season and his contract has been allowed to expire.
The Bulgarian u21 international has been linked with a move to Leeds from current club Botev Plovdiv. He has signed a new contract in 2012 to extend up until December 2015.
Apparently Leeds have had an initial bid for the Peterborough skipper rejected with chairman Barry Fry telling us that Leeds can’t afford his want-away player. Rowe has one year remaining on his contract.
Sharp has been consistently linked to Leeds United every transfer window. The ex-Doncaster player is struggling to meet Southampton’s expectations of him and he was farmed out on loan to Nottingham Forest last term. The rumours had died down about this player until recently.
Stokes has turned down a new deal at Scottish champions Celtic and is believed to favour a return to English football. Leeds however will only approachi if they fail to land Kevin Doyle ….apparently.
Upson is a free agent and a number of clubs are said to be ready to offer him a contract for the coming season. Leicester are thought to be the favourites for his signature but Leeds are apparent contenders as well.
By Rob Atkinson
The most worrying sound bite I've heard out of Elland Road this summer - and I won't name names here - is the following little gem: "If a player has the chance to play for Leeds United, but turns it down for the sake of a few extra bob elsewhere, then we're not interested in that player anyway." Or words to that effect. Now that really worries me - and whether it's arrogance we're seeing here, or just naivety - I think it should worry all of us who have the club's best interests at heart.
In case I need to remind anyone - professional football is about money, first and foremost. Really, let's not kid ourselves otherwise. There's a clue right there in the name: Professional Football. The players are professionals - so are the coaching staff. Even the directors are these days, though you might beg leave to differ on that one. But no-one's in it for the pure and simple love of the game; they're all there to earn a crust or, in the current lollied-up climate, more likely a whole bakery full of bread. This is not small boys and jumpers for goalposts. This is the hard-nosed, mercenary world of professional sport.
So when a senior representative of Leeds United Football Club says - in all seriousness one presumes - that if a player declines the honour of wearing the famous white shirt with the fat blue stripe for more money elsewhere, then he can basically sling his hook; how should we feel? Honoured, maybe, to support a club with such a clear appreciation of its own innate desirability? Pride, at the sound of our club stating its values in the face of a money-grabbing world? Or despair at the sheer, fatuous stupidity and hollow arrogance of imagining that any player worth his salt is going to put "prestige" ahead of the bottom line? Make no mistake - this is arrogance. It's an unattractive characteristic we can ill-afford in our current, humble circumstances, and it's one of those unwelcome features that gives our club, and indeed us fans, a bad name.
Prestige is all well and good. It's fine and dandy to be a world famous football club, albeit fallen on hard times, yet with a history containing a certain amount of glory (together with a whole lot of bad luck and "we wuz robbed" stories). All of that is very nice, and we're all suitably proud - let's face it, it's better than being Barnsley. But prestige butters no parsnips, not on its own. It doesn't pay the rent, nor does it foot the bill for that penthouse apartment and flash car; the hallmarks of even Mr Joe Average Footballer in these Sky-funded times. Sadly, in today's Real World, you need lots of cold, hard cash for that sort of thing, and if Joe Average isn't going to get it at Leeds, then he's going to say "thanks, but no thanks" and head for somewhere more financially enlightened. And where does that leave Leeds? Still holding forth about what a great club we are, and what an honour it is to play for us? Or might we perhaps, hurt and wounded by such rejection, sadder and wiser as to the ways of the world, give our head a shake and reflect that if you pay peanuts, you'll attract only monkeys? (This is all imagery and metaphor, Mr Brown, and no reflection upon any of the current playing staff, so chill.)
If Leeds start the new season having missed out on a succession of Joe Averages, and therefore with a team populated instead by too many Michael Mediocres, and all for the lack of that extra few bob, then the notoriously easy to disgruntle body of support will have good reason to be less than happy. What, they might ask, are we trying to achieve? Can we not look to the negative example of the current government, who are achieving outstanding levels of apathy, feeble performance and general lassitude and failure to compete by the simple expedient of austerity as an alternative to investment? Isn't investment, indeed, what it's all about? The shimmering yet distant prospect of the Premier League with its promise of more millions than you could shake a stick at - surely that's a prize worth investing in a chance to compete for? Well, you'd think so.
Last season, around January transfer window time, there was talk of signing Birmingham City's Chris Burke, the kind of winger that might, just possibly, have solved our goal-scoring problems by increasing the quality of supply to our starving strikers. For the want of £300,000, we now hear, that deal died a death. And yet at that point in time, the play-offs were a realistic prospect, and that small shove in the right direction might have seen us over the line, and lo! The Promised Land might have beckoned. Instead, we finished in a desperately disappointing lower mid-table position, reduced to the ranks of party-poopers for Watford on the season's final day. 300 grand could have made such a difference, and reaped such rewards, but no-one was willing to be so visionary and to dare speculate with a view to accumulating a promotion. How depressingly short-sighted is that?
Wind forward twelve months from now and - judging by the pearls of wisdom falling from the various media outlets of Leeds United so far this summer - we might easily be looking back on another drab and disappointing season. And all because we've persisted with this policy of trying to make ten bob do the work of a quid. If the people in charge of Leeds genuinely believe that the kind of players we now need to get us up where we still think we belong - the equivalents of Strachan, Sterland, Jones, Hendrie and Fairclough - are actually going to sign on the dotted line because "it's an honour to play for the club" - then they're sadly mistaken and bigger fools than I thought. Investment is needed, if not in transfer fees - I've nothing against free transfers as such, there are diamonds out there in these Bosman days - then certainly in wages to make us competitive with the others who will be vying for the riches of the top flight. Surely, after too many seasons of hollow promises and under-funding, someone at Leeds must see this?