By George & Tom Chellis
Much to the delight of Leeds fans everywhere, the improvements that have occurred during Brian McDermott’s reign at the helm of our club are starting to become apparent. With clear changes to transfer policy and style of play, as well as signs of infrastructural development being implemented, it is without doubt that McDermott is starting to get the best out of the squad as whole, but particularly certain individuals. In the months he’s had as boss at the club, performances and attitudes from players such as Jason Pearce and Ross McCormack have notably improved, but none more so than our new club captain Rodolph Austin.
Seeing a proposed move to Stoke City fall through due to problems with a work permit in 2008, Austin signed for Norwegian outfit SK Brann, making 90 appearances and scoring 15 goals over a number of seasons. Once again, Rudy’s career seemed destined for English football, and he was initially taken on trial at QPR by Neil Warnock. A subsequent bid was made, and rejected, by Brann. However, Warnock got his man the following season, signing him at Leeds in July 2012. The decision to swap the Norwegian league for Leeds was made upon recommendation from midfield colleague and Leeds United legend Eirik Bakke while playing together at SK Brann. It is understood that Bakke was influential in the decision to come to Elland Rd, and interviews suggest that he has never looked back.
Known as ‘The Beast’ by players and fans alike due to his physical intensity on the pitch, Austin has undoubtedly become one of our key players. He has become an ever-present fixture in our midfield, rising to the top of the pecking order in a saturated area of the squad, and McDermott seems to have decided on his first choice midfield: a midfield that is based around the hard-hitting Jamaican. However, this has not always appeared to be the case, with certain criticisms being made during Austin’s first season in English football. Often adopting the role of holding midfielder, Austin’s discipline was called into question by some, with clumsy challenges adding up to costly suspensions, including a red card at home to Brighton last season, resulting in a home defeat. Furthermore, on returning from cracking his ankle bone during the humiliating 6-1 home defeat to an impressive Watford side, many questioned his overall fitness, appearing a little on the heavy side for both his first touch and his weight. Although this may be down to his reintroduction into a side desperate for form before he was totally match fit, a criticism of the manager not the player, the fact still remained that Rudy did not seem prepared for the intensity of the inevitable crescendo that comes at the end of each Championship season.
Having said this, Austin seems a new player this season. To say that Rudy has countered criticism with his performances is an understatement; his defensive play and work ethic are extremely impressive and a number of top performances have not gone unnoticed, winning Man of the Match in a gritty 0-0 away performance at Leicester. In reference to the harsh criticisms on his overall fitness, Austin now looks in his physical peak, and at 28 his best years are still arguably ahead of him. In addition to this, his skill on the ball has improved remarkably as well. At times during last season, watching Leeds build an attack from the midfield was a painful process, yet Austin has seemed to adapt from Warnock’s ‘hoof ball’ tactics to McDermott’s passing game with ease and grace, as have his midfield colleagues. With this in mind, his on-field performances have impressed the fans and silenced his critics.
It is also pleasing to note that his off field presence has clearly developed, and his appointment as club captain has received total support from the players and fans alike, including former captain Lee Peltier. Although many would struggle to find a criticism of Peltier’s captaincy, it goes without saying that the captain should be the first name on the team sheet, and with the emergence of boy-wonder Sam Byram at right back, Lee was finding himself on the bench all too often to continue to be the captain. With this in mind, a change in leadership was necessary, and Austin has filled the void effortlessly. It is also worth mentioning that he is under no disillusions about how honoured he should be to join the list of legends that have been fortunate enough to captain Leeds United, taking his place alongside revered figures such as Billy Bremner, Gordon Strachan and Lucas Radebe. Speaking after his appointment, he was quick to point out how much pride he felt to be named captain, confirming that it was a role that he would not be taking lightly.
With so much tactical deliberation for Brian McDermott and his staff to mull over, it must be with great relief that, in Austin, we now have both a captain and the focal point of the all-important midfield settled. Austin is the engine of McDermott’s ever-improving outfit, and although he may not be attracting all the attention through transfer speculation or scoring the goals that we so desperately desire, his consistency and understated performances are just what is required of him. Quietly getting on with his business without so much as a hint of arrogance, Austin will be integral to any success we may have, and it is a delight to see our unsung hero starting to put in the performances to match his desire and will to win. Long may it continue.