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Leeds United's What Could Have Been: A Starting XI of Massimo's Victims

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Our Italian owner has done a good job of late of upsetting the fans and taking the 'future' away from the club, but would we have finished better last season if this lot were still around?

I see you, Ross McCormack. I see you.
I see you, Ross McCormack. I see you.
Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

One step forward, two steps back. It's a phrase we're all becoming unwillingly used to in recent times. So much so, that it's starting to become the norm, expected. Last week's bombshell that arguably the best talent to come through our system in recent years has decided to leave only seemed to reinforce this.

The departure of Cook, though, seems to hurt that little bit more. For once, an off-season at Elland Road showed not only promise, but genuine intent. The arrival of some managerial pedigree in Monk, the fact that money was actually spent, and players we'd actually heard of and that can actually do some damage and have an effect came through the door made for a cracking start to the summer.

Somehow though, in the back of our minds, we were all wondering when the optimism balloon was going to breach its capacity and burst. Enter Bournemouth. And we say hello to 'square one' once again. The Leeds United merry-go-round.

A new-found belief that we may actually mount a genuine challenge this coming season seemed to fall flat on its face. But in all honesty, we can't blame Lewis, can we? It must be just as frustrating, albeit in a different way to us, for the younger lads coming through seeing our star players packing their bags and heading for the promised land. But with this constant cycle, this roundabout we can't seem to get off of, it's no surprise the lack of ambition to keep these players is driving them away.

Cook, as we know, isn't the only one to have been let go since the takeover of Cellino, and a solid starting XI could be made up by those he's cut the chord with. We'll stick with the traditional 4-4-2 for this, just to see how we compare to our current situation.

GOALKEEPER

Paddy Kenny. It's a fitting place to start. We got our first taste of what Cellino and his methods may mean for the club going forward, when shortly after completing his takeover, Kenny fell foul of the Italian's disdain and rather unworldly superstition for the number 17. Unfortunately, with his birthday being on the 17th (of May), this was a bad omen for Cellino, and he believed that Kenny would bring 'bad luck' to the club. He never went on the pre-season tour to Italy that season, and never played for Leeds again. One of the most bizarre reasons to drop a player we'd ever heard of.

RIGHT BACK

Sam Byram. Rather an undisputed shout for this position. Byram's future was growing increasingly unstable at Leeds as the seasons went by, and although it was yet another head-dropping moment for the fans, it was coming. Sam had wanted to be in the Premier League for some time, and it was either cash-in, or run the contract down. Byram though, has only made four appearances for West Ham since moving to the Hammers in January.

CENTRE BACKS

Tom Lees. Although not a huge hit at Elland Road, Lees eventually became a mainstay in United's defence for much of his latter stages at the club. His career took a while to get going, and he often found himself out of position at right-back. Lees racked up 123 appearances for the Whites before his contract expired at the end of the 13/14 season.

Jason Pearce. One of those defenders that never made me feel comfortable. Moments of greatness from him quickly became moments of despair. Pearce incidentally finished second behind Ross McCormack in the Fans Player of the Season vote in the 13/14 campaign, and took over the armband from him - after he moved to Fulham - for the first half of the next season. Pearce was sold to Wigan in the January window of that year, and while many fans may admit they weren't overly sad to see him go, his aforementioned accolades may do him a slight injustice.

LEFT BACK

Stephen Warnock. When Warnock signed on deadline day in January 2013, it seemed like quite a big deal. International caps, top-flight experience...a big move for Leeds at the time. Warnock went straight in at left-back, and eventually took the armband from Pearce when he departed for Wigan. Playing 64 matches for Leeds, an injury midway through the 14/15 season saw him out of the fold, never to return. However, his loss is one Charlie Taylor's gain. A blessing in disguise, perhaps?

RIGHT MIDFIELD

Dominic Poleon. Leeds have struggled in recent years with good quality width. Poleon was one of those fringe players who never quite made a mark on the first-team. Often used as a substitute, Poleon would end up playing either out wide or up front, and never really established his identity in a Leeds shirt. 29 appearances and a couple of loans out later, Poleon was signed by Oldham before the 14/15 season got underway.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD

Lewis Cook. Who else? At the top of the article it was talked about how much of a loss he is to the club. A top talent and hopefully a very long career ahead for the kid, no doubt. In under a season top-flight clubs were circling, and the maturity and quality he showed in last seasons break-out campaign only made his stock rise. Cook joined predecessors Dele Alli and Gareth Bale in claiming the Football League Young Player of the Year award last season, and he's got his just reward with a Premier League move. It's a shame it's not with us. Let's hope he plays, and doesn't go to waste on the bench on the south coast.

Rudy Austin. The Jamaican was an integral part of United's midfield for some time. He worked hard and put in a tackle when it was needed. Very industrious and never stopped running. It's a shame that Rudy's technical ability on the ball just wasn't quite as good as it maybe should or could have been, as he may well have turned into that complete, box-to-box midfield general we've needed for some time. A fan favourite at Leeds, Austin was released at the end of the 14/15 season.

LEFT MIDFIELD

Aidy White. White was one of those players who always seem to dip in and out of the team while at Leeds. Over seven years at the club, White made 85 appearances. Known for his great pace and left-footed ability, a few loan spells gave him consistent game time and he became determined to nail down a regular starting spot at Leeds upon each return. Injuries, however, somewhat stumped his bid, and White was eventually released by the club in May 2015, when his contract expired.

FORWARDS

Ross McCormack. Undoubtedly one of the best we've had up front in recent years. McCormack was a crucial piece to the Leeds puzzle which helped stabilise the club in the Championship. His goalscoring ability was unquestionable as he struck 29 times in all competitions during the 13/14 season, a true 20-goal-a-season striker. McCormack wanted to go the top-flight and was adamant that Fulham would make an instant return to the Premier League, and headed to Craven Cottage for £11m.

Matt Smith. Smith, like Poleon and White, struggled initially to make an impact at Leeds. It took a while for the spark to ignite between himself and McCormack, but the partnership eventually came to fruition. Smith was always a handful for defenders, and his aerial ability gave us different options up front and from set-pieces. Smith scored 12 goals in 42 games for Leeds, which isn't a horrendous rate. His 'target man' abilities provided lots of chances for McCormack going forward.

THE BENCH:

Jamie Ashdown, Danny Pugh, Marius Zaliukas, Chris Dawson, Noel Hunt, Steve Morison.

And there you have it. A full matchday squad that can be made up by players that have either been released or sold since Cellino's reign began. In terms of quality, and forgive me for being forever the optimist, I would suggest that on paper our current ‘likely’ matchday squad is stronger. Now that's not to say I wouldn't take the likes of McCormack, Byram and Cook back if I could; just imagine the threat we would bring to the Championship had we kept that spine of talent and quality and combined it with what we have now...

So what do you think? Would you change that starting XI? Did I forget someone? Are there any players that haven't made the cut at all that you'd like to include? Let us know in the comments below.