As of the 21st of February 2013, Neil Warnock has been the manager of Leeds United for more than a year. This time last season, under three managers, we had played 32 games, won 14, drew 6 and lost 12. In case you don’t want to do the math we had taken 48 points from a possible 96 and had a +4 goal difference.
Right now, after our 2-0 win over Blackpool at Elland Road Wednesday night, we are two places higher in the table sitting precariously at 9th with 13 games won, 6 drawn and 13 lost. We’ve claimed 45 points from a possible 96 and we’ve a -5 goal difference. We’re two places higher, but we’re not exactly better off since the four teams beneath us could jump us should we lose our next game and they avoid losses.
If this were last season, Warnock would be weeks away from throwing in the towel and writing off any play-off hopes.
But let’s just pretend for a moment that the rest of the league was even worse off. Yes, I know “if my auntie” and all that, but just pretend for a moment that Warnock’s motivational skills were put to more consistent use and he rallied every one of the players into giving 200% for the remaining games and then maybe, just maybe, we could finish sixth. Maybe Colin finds himself in his element with the play-offs coming over the horizon and he winds up bestride a horse, banging spear off shield and shouting to his men to fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air (the long-ball’s his preferred tactic anyway) and yells at the players to ride for ruin and the world’s ending. Maybe such rousing speeches inspire the likes of Michael Brown to leave the centre circle to make a tackle or for Byram to play his way out of defence like we know he can or for our wingers to hug the touchline for a change.
Maybe - and say it softly lest we scare the image away - maybe we clinch promotion.
And then what?
Warnock, undoubtedly, would like to stay on as manager and whatever magnificent performance we had in the final stage of the Championship and in the play-offs will dissipate as soon as the players return to Thorp Arch for pre-season training. And just like that, we’re back to Warnock tactics: no width, no creativity, long ball only.
But what if GFH prove to have the ruthlessness to get us to succeed? What if they tell Warnock “cheers, now enjoy your retirement” and replace him with say, Adkins or some similar soul? Well, different, more flexible and effective tactics for one, unless GFH hire someone like di Canio who now solely entertains fans off-field rather than on it.
But with or without Warnock, what about players and transfers? Well, with GFH in charge we’ve managed to go from the sell-to-survive club like we were under Bates to a sell-to-buy club. With our history, it’s is extremely unlikely GFH or any non-billionaire owner would invest with any significant amount of money. Maybe one or two Premier League quality additions if we’re lucky and definitely a few loan signings, but other than that we’re stuck with a spine of Kenny, Peltier, Lees, Brown, (Austin/Tonge/Norris depending on Colin’s mood), Morison and Diouf. There’s worse ‘keepers out there, and Lees’ll only get better, but that midfield would get strips torn off them by any other team and our forward line isn’t exactly striking (Forgive the pun. Or don’t. Your choice).
Man City and their multi-millions half-assed a 4-0 thrashing against us last weekend. And our Premier League scalp collection compiled during this year’s cup runs doesn’t prove anything, unfortunately. We probably couldn’t beat Everton, or even Southampton, twice a season, though we proved that if we dig deep and play we can make a game of it. But that’s all we could hope for if we spent next season in the Premier League; to make games out of our defeats. We don’t have the quality, or even the quantity, to get enough results to stay up.
When Grayson was on the side-line shouting out the same tactics and giving passive post-match interviews week in week out at least, I personally, felt that we had a squad we could build on. Right now I look at the team sheet twice a week and shake my head in despair, before hanging it in shame when we go out and play like a poor imitation of Stoke.Bates, either for survival or for his wallet, reduced us to Norwich’s feeder club when he didn’t make any effort to keep key players while Warnock’s summer spending spree was ineffective if not outright wasteful – or it would’ve been, if we spent money on transfers rather than raiding Portsmouth and picking up free agents and loan signings.
If, against almost all odds, we go up this year then I think we’ve only a few things to look forward to: an Elland Road that’s full every game, singing against opposition that can be heard singing back, thrashings to Man U and Chelsea twice each, and parachute payments.
If we’re ready to swallow our pride and face another relegation, then maybe we could use the parachute payments to rebuild. If we watch our money and keep onto White, Lees and Byram (who’ll all be coming of age by then) and add some real quality, we could climb back into the Premier League with a project in our back pocket rather than a parachute on our back.
But that’s a lot of what ifs and guessing and hypotheticals, and all of it by a wannabe journalist and a disillusioned Leeds fan. I’d bet we’re not going to reach the play-offs this season, but I don’t think the odds would be worth the money I’d put down. It was around this time last season Warnock was winding back his arm, towel in hand because back then he knew he had a summer to shape the team in his image and could blame his precursors for the wasted season. But now he only has retirement facing him and he’s said he’d be happy to go if GFH didn’t want him there.
Forgive me for thinking GFH would rather pay Warnock for a full season of work rather than pay him the same amount for a few months of lounging around the couch watching reruns of his Sheffield United days or whatever it is he plans on doing.
Or don’t forgive me. Your choice. I am being cynical I admit, but it’s the odd dose of cynicism coupled with the very rare promotion that allows me to keep the faith year after disappointing year. But the way I see it, Warnock will drop the towel outside the ring and will let us take the loss-by-decision, and he’ll get his money and walk and Leeds will pick themselves up knowing there’ll be other fights and it just wasn’t their year.
If that boxing metaphor was stretched too far and snapped along with your patience, I’ll rephrase: the Warnock Experiment looks to be a wasted year, but I guess it was worth a try. At least next season we’ll have our new owners, a new manager and a new start.
Although, that was what we were promised this season…