At the start of this week Brian McDermott was quoted as saying: “At Leeds there is expectation, then hope, then disappointment. We have to break that cycle.”
He’s not wrong but the expectation he’s talking about has existed at Leeds United for years. In truth, his comments are pretty much English football. We’re all depressed about the national team at the moment but win a few games, qualify for Brazil and certain pundits will tell you that England are good enough to win the World Cup. Even though they aren’t.
Like England, Leeds United and expectation go hand-in-hand. I played there long enough to understand that. So with the new Championship season here, I know that supporters across the city will be thinking about nothing other than promotion. All I’d say is that they need to be realistic about what this season will bring.
There’s a new era at Elland Road and a bit of buzz now that Ken Bates has gone. I’m well aware that a lot of fans are happy to see him go. Some might think that major investment by the new owners is the next step but I don’t see that happening. Not yet anyway.
The trouble with the Championship is that guaranteeing promotion from it is hideously expensive. To my mind a cast-iron guarantee would cost £50million or somewhere close. If that sounds ridiculous then I’ll explain.
I look at the squad at Leeds and I reckon it’s five top players short of winning the league. Top players at this level would probably cost you three or four million a go in transfer fees. Then you’ve got the wages. These lads are going to be worth a bit of cash so you’ll find yourself paying £20,000 a week and giving them four-year deals. So in effect, you’re paying seven or eight million a head. That’s the reality.
A much safer bet for most boards is to accept that you’re part of the huge group of teams who start each season with a chance of the play-offs. That’s what Leeds have done. There’s certainly no point in trying to outspend a Queens Park Rangers.
The advantage for a side like QPR – a team coming down from the Premier League – isn’t really the parachute payments.
Most of that money will have been spent already; this year’s, next year’s and the year’s after. The real benefit is that they drop into the Championship with quality players who are paid so much that they struggle to find transfers elsewhere. Almost by default, these clubs usually retain a strong squad.
Leeds don’t have a bad squad but you can see Neil Warnock’s influence there. He had his ways and he brought in a lot of older heads who don’t necessarily fit with what Brian McDermott is trying to do. I think they need a centre-forward who’ll score goals like Luciano Becchio did and the creativity in the centre of midfield concerns me. Luke Murphy was pinched from under the noses of other clubs and that says a lot about his reputation but he’s a young player who needs time to settle. New signings rarely have poor debuts or poor first months so expect him to make a quick impact but the bigger question is how he’ll do over 46 games.
I’d be wary of putting too much pressure on someone who’s making the step up from League One.
I suppose the positive aspect of the past week is Ken’s departure after so many years. That could add five or 10 thousand to the gate which in money terms might fund the signing of another player.
I know people who had no intention of attending Elland Road while Bates was involved, rightly or wrongly. My view on him is simple – some of his decisions and policies I’d question but he did take the club from a terrible position and make it pretty stable again. You might not like me saying that but when he bought the club in 2005, it was him or nobody. Talk of ‘wealthy Yorkshire consortiums’ has existed since I was at Leeds, well over a decade ago.
So with a bigger crowd, a good manager and a squad which has its strengths, what should the fans be asking for this season? The top two to me is out of the question. I don’t see any point going in with that hope. If McDermott can find rough diamonds, turn average players into good players and turn good players into great players then the play-offs are achievable and that would be a very good achievement.
Anything below top 10 I’d be disappointed with. But finishing in the top 10, playing football the right way and moving in the right direction? That would be a bonus. Sometimes a club need to walk before they run and maybe this is one of those years.