A glance at the home countries of Leeds United’s starting eleven tends to read more like a map than a group of men ready to do battle in the Football League Championship. With the Italian Revolution occurring this summer, players like goalkeeper Marco Silvestri, center-back Giuseppe Bellusci, center-mid Tommaso Bianchi, and forward Mirko Antenucci are now common and established sights on the team sheet.
Senegalese forward Souleymane Doukara, another summer transfer, has emerged as one of the Whites’ most threatening offensive options and Brazilian loanee Adryan brings his fair share of creativity and flair to the squad. As a matter of fact, all six started in the most recent 2-0 home victory against Derby County and lined up in the heart of Neil Redfearn’s 4-3-1-2 formation. Even Leeds mainstay center-mid Rodolph Austin, one of two substitutes against Derby, is Jamaican.
Now, there is nothing wrong with having players from different countries at a storied English club like Leeds. All it takes is a look at the team sheet of many squads one flight above in the Barclays Premier League to see this trend. Teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United, who perennially are the class of the Premiership, trot out lineups full of players from all across the globe.
However, before the upcoming game against Ipswich Town this weekend, the fact of the matter is that Leeds sit in a rather uncomfortable 15th place in the standings. Ask any fan, player, or coach at the club about this place in the standings and nearly every single one will express feelings of discontent. Nobody wants to sit mid-table when there is a race for promotion on the line. But, to gain promotion maybe Leeds needs to look back at the teams who have booked their ticket to the first division and try to emulate their success.
The last three winners of the Championship all had largely British cores, not foreign cores like Leeds does. Reading F.C., winners of the 2011-12 title, leaned on Welsh players Hal Robson-Kanu and Adam Le Fondre and English players Alex Pearce and Mikele Leigertwood. Cardiff City F.C., winners of the 2012-13 title, were led by Craig Bellamy, another Welshman, and Englishmen Andrew Taylor, Peter Wittingham, and Matthew Connolly. Lastly, Leicester City F.C., the 2013-2014 winners, had their own English core of players in Paul Konchesky, Danny Drinkwater, David Nugent, and Lloyd Dyer.
All of these title winning teams certainly had their share of foreign players, but for the most part they were driven to promotion by British players who could navigate the brutally demanding and lengthy Championship season. This is not to say that Leeds are well off the top of the table because of their player’s nation of birth, but this sure is an interesting trend in what gets teams promoted to Britain's top flight.
Leeds arguably has their own version of a British core, so perhaps this contemporary trend of winning the Championship isn’t out of Neil Redfearn’s grasp. Young guns and academy products like right back Sam Byram and wide midfielders Alex Mowatt and Lewis Cook have certainly impressed throughout the first 19 games. Their strong performances are often buoyed by the likes of left-back Stephen Warnock and center-back Jason Pearce. These five players are not going to single handedly earn any team promotion, but judging from history maybe they are a group who fans of the club can turn to for hope.
None of this is to say that Leeds’ influx of foreign talent should be neglected. Silvestri, Bellusci, Bianchi, Antenucci, Doukara, Adryan, and Austin are all formidable professionals in their own right. After all it was Antenucci’s brace against Derby that sealed what was probably Leeds’ most impressive win of the season so far. However, it was Mowatt and Warnock, two Englishmen, who each provided an assist on Antenucci’s sixth and seventh goals of the season, respectively.
As the Neil Redfearn era continues on it would not be the worst thing to look back at the make up of the title winning teams from Reading, Cardiff, Leicester, and others. Their British core led them to silverware and perhaps Leeds’ own British core can lead the team back up the table and into a fight for promotion. Perhaps this dependency will even evolve into a blending of foreign and domestic players. As the gaffer and team demonstrated against Derby, this can be extremely effective and get results.
One thing is for sure though - history tends to repeat itself and Leeds would be wise to be cognizant of this British trend. The team needs to start making a run because nobody at the club will be satisfied with an unimpressive mid-table finish and promotion aspirations are still within reach. To what extent though the foreign contingent, domestic cohort, or both lead the charge will entirely dictate the fate of Leeds' campaign.