By Mark Rasdall
In more than forty five years of supporting Leeds United I cannot remember a time when we had such a choice of quality players in every position on the field.
Yes David O'Leary had a large, well-paid squad but I'm not sure the quality was there in such depth and injuries to one or two key players were felt more keenly. Even in the glory days I used to groan when star players were injured as Yorath, Ellam and Bates were fine squad players and did their jobs well for Don Revie when called-upon, but I don't think there were enough of them able to step up and neither were they, unsurprisingly, able to fill the quality gaps.
One criticism of Don (and Norman infers this in his autobiography) was that he overplayed some of the stars but then who could blame him with such riches in his midst? Coupled with fixture congestion - encouraged rather than alleviated by League and FA - this meant though that too often our tired team simply could not climb those final hurdles.
Reading reports about last night's Develepment Squad win against Doncaster reminded me again of the strength in depth we now enjoy. Adryan, Del Fabro and Montenegro of the new arrivals all made their marks as did Chris Dawson and Zac Thompson of the 'home-grown' lads among others.
The fusion of artistry and youth is already there to see in the LUFC first team with Mowatt, Cook and Byram alongside the likes of Bianchi, Bellusci and Antenucci. Just having those kinds of choices alongside the likes of Sharp and Austin and Morison and, yes, Noel Hunt, who played really well last night, as well as injured players like Walters and White and those who are knocking on the door such as Ajose must be incredible as a coach.
There are signs that we are beginning to create more chances, are more aggressive in the final third and more compact under Darko Milanic but surely the most important aspect to this is being able to coach such a rich squad of hungry players into winning teams that can do so by playing fast, passing football? It really is a different game these days - a squad game - and players have to be athletic like never before with corresponding recovery periods required. How refreshing on Saturday that Cook was rested after such a tremendous contribution in recent matches!
And yet, the doubters continue to find fault with the manager, the players and the selections. As paying fans they have every right to do so but, in contrast, I do always try to see the positives (after so many years of ups and downs that hasn't always been easy either!) until there can be absolutely no doubt in my mind that things need to change. I welcomed Neil Warnock and Brian McDermott and even David Hockaday until it became obvious that things were not going to work out and change was needed.
Throughout all of this I have been worried that Neil Redfearn might leave but if he and Milanic can work together with their shared coaching experiences here and abroad, coupled with the squad we have, I do believe we have the platform now to go on and achieve great things again. I don't think it will be this season, and the odds of 14/1 with Paddy Power for us to achieve promotion prove we are still a little way away, but I am very confident for next. I know it could all go wrong in the Spaghetti Western surrounding the club and that many players are on loans etc etc, but I am keeping the faith as I have done for so long.
Until they absolutely drive me mad I shall stand behind every player who pulls on the white shirt and scream my support for the team. We have to be patient and believe in Leeds United. How can we expect any coach or player to do so otherwise?