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The Rise and Fall of Rodolph Austin

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Thomas Hill takes a look at what has happened to the form of midfielder Rodolph Austin.

Alex Livesey

It's around seven months since Leeds United were linked with Jamaican midfielder Rodolph Austin.

In that time we've seen Austin control the centre circle, break people in two, ping passes for fun and put everyone in the stadium in danger with his bullet like shots.

But in recent months we've seen this machine in the middle dwindle to a level where he now finds himself outside the match-day squad. A squad that is winning - OK drawing, and improving after every game.

Before we take a look at the present lets go back to the beginning...

The despair of another miserable transfer window was in full flow, the signings were non-existent and the money being spent was a pittance compared to our Championship rivals.

It was bleak, our midfield was weak and then the power of YouTube well and truly kicked into overdrive. Murmurs of a so-called 'beast' being linked with Leeds started to surface, and in tangent so did clips of a no-nonsense midfielder strutting his stuff.

At 6ft 0" and weighing 78kg, Austin came with the reputation of a midfield colossus. Austin liked to tackle, shoot, pass. What wasn't there to like?

***Rodolph Austin - Jamaican Warrior*** (via BergenDanny)

The rumours turned out to be the truth, an initial bid was turned down before the club finally agreed a deal to bring Austin to Elland Road. Our former player Eirik Bakke recommended him, our loyal Leeds fans in Norway couldn't say enough about him and so it began.

It wasn't the first time the 27-year-old had been linked with a move to an English club. Austin started his career with Jamaican side Portmore United and won two domestic league titles before Stoke City came looking in the summer of 2008.

The Potters were unable to agree a deal due to Austin failing his work-permit and the powerful midfielder moved to SK Brann on a four-year-deal.

During his time at QPR, Neil Warnock tried to bring Austin to London but that failed to Brann's reluctance to let him go. Eventually, due to picking up his 5th booking of the season, Austin moved to Leeds after stating his intention to test himself in English football.

Austin's critics doubted his pace, and ability to play in England. After our first game vs Wolves they were soon silenced. After dominating the midfield, he showed his class going forward before putting in a earth-shuddering challenge likely to be seen on the fields of Twickenham or over at Headingley.

It was a pleasure to witness and the overriding feeling was we'd found ourselves a gem. Our very own Ciaran Roche wrote: "Had a shakey start to the game but once he settled in looked quality. Will never shy away from a tackle and also has the ability to pass in his locker." - when observing Austin in the game ratings.

An away trip at Blackpool followed and Austin looked less effective, but it was more a case of well he can't play well every week. His first goal for the club came in a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Oxford - once again his ability to hit a ball was on display.

Leeds fans began to revel in this new found cult figure - comparing him to a tank as well some other humorous jokes.

All in all Austin was good and he performed the Leeds way - no nonsense and plenty of heart.

Our August player of the month vote saw Austin romp away with it and his start at Elland Road could not have been sweeter.

But Leeds fans have began to experience what married couples so often go through - the spark goes, and with it goes the praise and laughter. In the relationship, Austin is no longer well-built he's chubby and could do with losing a few pounds. And so it goes on.

In recent months, Austin's performances have dropped to a level which many would never have feared possible.

The defeat to Manchester City was expected but Austin's performance was so bad that Leeds could have easily have played with ten men and still coped. The opposition were superior but he's willingness to battle seemed to dwindle with every passing minute. One glimpse of his former self was on display when he flew in to a tackle on Carlos Tevez - but his contribution was hard to witness.

This time Ciaran branded him rubbish, and fans took to the forums to voice their anger at their cult hero gone wrong.

"About 1/2 Months ago i said that Rodolph Austin was one the worst players I've ever seen in an LUFC shirt, I very much stand by that claim."

"Rodolph Austin's decline in form since the start of the season is hard to believe #LUFC"

"Without trying to sound too depressing and moaning, Rodolph Austin is the worst centre-mid Leeds have had in a very long time."

His long-range pinpoint passing is now way off radar, so bad that most passes go to the opposition and fall short or sail high into the stand. Even the short, quick, snappy passes seem to have slipped his skill-set.

Those long powerful and accurate shots have now started to find their way into the faces of spectators, or fly in the directions of the corner flag. Where have those drilled missiles gone just like the one at Cardiff?

Rodolph Austin freekick against Cardiff city (via AlexHawkridge)


Bone-crunching tackles have now turned into weak attempts for the ball and the once mighty Austin is being pushed off the ball. Even his acrobatic clearances to thwart the danger have turned into miss-hits.

Here's a table to show how Austin compares to his centre-midfield brothers. As part of the midfield , Austin has lost the most games while playing and has started the more games. He's also joint lowest on the amount of wins he's picked up as part of that midfield, although there's no standout candidate in that category.

He's also had the most shots, with most of them being off target.

Table_medium

via assets.sbnation.com

So what is the problem, why has Austin quite simply got so shit? I've narrowed down just a few possible reasons.

1. Fatigue

One very simple answer could be found in the amount of football Austin has played. The elder statesmen reading this piece will no doubt disagree and that a footballer today should be capable of playing all year long. As a former Sunday league player I agree.

But what is important to consider is the difference between the Norweigan league and the Championship. Austin played the majority of SK Brann's season before making his move to Elland Road while his counterparts rested at home. He then faced the added problem of getting used to the hustle and bustle of the Championship - where records count for nothing when it's snowing in November on a Tuesday night and top of the league crumble to relegation fodder.

To put it blunty - Austin could be knackered. With no break, he's running on empty and has no time to recharge with our play-off hopes dwindling after each lackluster performance.

2. The quickest recovery ever from a cracked ankle

In November Austin gave Leeds fans nightmares when he collapsed after a challenge at home in the 1-6 defeat to Watford. We were told it was a broken leg by Neil Warnock but in typical Austin style he seemed to recover in record breaking time to return to the side just a month later after an improved diagnosis.

Good news huh? No - Austin's injury in my opinion was rushed back due to the size of our squad at the time. His fitness has suffered and as a result his sharpness to pip someone to the ball has gone.

As a result, Austin seems to have lost his confidence when going in for a challenge - an integral part of his locker.

3. The Leeds curse

There's been plenty of players over the years who have been dubbed the saviour. The one to take us to the Premier League, after just a handful of solid performances.

Adam Clayton optimised that when he hit the ground running last season, the fans took to him like a duck to water but when the going got tough and Clayton failed to deliver the fans turned on him.

Andros Townsend dare I say it, looked a world beater in his debut versus Burnley only to run away when the fans showed their anger.

I could go on but Leeds fans have a tendency of 'bigging-up' players and I'm no stranger to that. Perhaps our demise in recent seasons has led us to getting over-excited when we seem to unearth a superstar.

After all we need all the help we can get.

4. Leeds' tactics

He should in theory be able to play anywhere in the middle of the park but can we take our change in formation as a factor in his downfall.

United originally started the season with a 4-2-3-1 setup with Austin holding the midfield and in essence sweeping up the danger. After smashing the opposition he would play it simple, curl a peach of a ball or go on a lung-busting run before cannoning the ball towards the goal.

Until recent weeks, we were using one of the weakest midfield's in the division - Green, Tonge and Norris were all on the bench or dropped and Austin found himself in a midfield where the ball evades him - usually over his head.

In recent weeks, Warnock had teams coming onto us and we were trying to counter them. Instead of peppering their goal we would be patient and in the end do very little.

5. Predictability

If any other manager in the Championship was looking for tactical advantages over Leeds they could very well target Austin to gain the upper hand.

His recent form has led to him doing the same things over and over again.

Shoot from long distance and just miss the roof. Shoot and miss the fans. Shoot and miss the hoarding. Shoot and shoot and until eventually you hit the target.

You get the picture - Austin is turning into Bradley Johnson with his mind-numbing shots from outrageous angles which would never find the net in a month of Sunday's.

Although he's branded as slow - Austin can still put a shift in but he isn't as quick as some of his fellow central midfielders. Teams seem to have latched on to his no-nonsense style and began targeting him in the process. Austin is limited with the opposition playing to his weaknesses. If you don't allow Austin near the ball he can't flaunt his aggressive manner on the opposing team.

In his career so far at the club, Austin has racked up just two assists- a very poor stat from a central midfielder.

Future

As the weeks go by - my fears for Austin being another YouTube superstar grow, with Robbie Rogers, Ramon Nunez being prime examples.

What was a lion in the heart of a competitive midfield has now turned into a lost kitten looking for some direction. The passion from the fans has gone and with it has our patience to carry on watching the players under perform.

The eye-watering tackles are no longer on show and his ability to control the heart of midfield is slipping away with every miss hit pass - be it from 5 yards or 50.

Another disappointing season has led to the problems with fans looking for a scapegoat to target their anger after paying high prices for abysmal football.

If anything, Austin deserves a chance to come back stronger. His rise and fall is a mirror-image to the one we saw with Adam Clayton but after he departed we soon saw his qualities were missed.

The future for Austin at present looks uncertain. Game-by-game the fans seem to be losing the will to live when watching him, just hoping for him to let loose on the opposition.

Austin has missed out on the past four fixtures - and to be brutally honest we haven't missed him. The midfielders at the heart of the team have been playing with freedom, passion and energy - three qualities Austin has failed to show since November. We've picked up points, created chances and dominated games in the middle of the field, all without the Jamaican international.

With Leeds set to appoint a new manager in the summer it is unclear whether Austin will be in favour with the new boss and coaching staff. Neil Warnock got his man, alongside some other aging players - what's to say the new man in charge will have a different approach to the game. For our sake lets hope he does.

We've had to endure another season of false hope and a lack of progression and Austin has to use the remainder of the season to rekindle the fire in the belly's of White's fans.

He showed us what he can do when fit and full of confidence, the question is will he ever reach those heights again?