Leeds United: Captain McCormack says it is up to players to perform

Ross McCormack

Ross McCormack

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They say that footballers are immune to anything unconnected to the ball on the field; that football is simple when your only concern is playing the game and playing it well.

They say that footballers are immune to anything unconnected to the ball on the field; that football is simple when your only concern is playing the game and playing it well.

Leeds United’s problems are complex and tangled – a scenario where issues exist at every level – but Ross McCormack’s view is plain: the vitriol surrounding the club and their manager would fade away if the squad at Leeds weren’t failing both.

It was McCormack who fought Brian McDermott’s corner on transfer deadline day, the day when McDermott was briefly and illegitimately sacked, so it stood to reason that McCormack would speak out when the threat to his manager increased again.

Massimo Cellino was the instigator of the attempt to remove McDermott in January – a sacking which the club’s supporters fought against vociferously – but the United boss and his players can sense that public support is no longer behind the 52-year-old in the way it was six weeks ago.

Leeds were routed 5-1 by Bolton last Saturday and beaten heavily by Reading on Tuesday, 4-0 down inside an hour on both occasions. They have two wins from 15 games and are realistically out of contention for the play-offs, by McCormack’s own admission. These are hard times at a club where hard times always play out badly.

The attendance between Saturday and Tuesday dropped by 10,000 and those who stuck with Leeds for the second time in four days attacked McDermott’s team with chants of “we’re s**t and we’re sick of it” and “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” after Reading’s fourth goal sailed past goalkeeper Jack Butland. It felt like breaking point.

“I was a fan, and growing up I heard my dad shouting the odds at a certain team in Scotland (Celtic) when they weren’t pulling their weight,” said McCormack yesterday. “The fans have got every right to criticise at 2-0, 3-0 down at home. That shouldn’t happen at Elland Road, no way.

“For me, 1-0 down at half-time when they’re booing you off the pitch – I don’t think that’s the answer. But at 4-0 down after an hour, they’ve got every right to vent their frustration..”

The question is why it has reached this stage; the stage where Leeds are so vulnerable and brittle that two games publicised as their chance to move towards the Championship play-off positions ended in two brutal losses.

Cellino’s attempted takeover of United, the sole topic of conversation in Leeds for the past two months, is an uncertain backdrop for a Championship term. The delay in completion has tested McDermott’s patience and the club’s manager spoke at his press conference yesterday afternoon with an unusual tone of aggression and defiance. Behind him, his squad are struggling to see their season out.

“I don’t think (the takeover) affects the players,” McCormack said, “but outside the group of players it’s probably affecting everyone. The sooner that can be resolved the better, I think.

“But to answer the question, I don’t think it affects the players because we don’t know anything. All we know is we’ve got a game at Burnley tomorrow and we’ve got to win it.”

Is doubt about McDermott affecting the squad? “Yes and no,” McCormack said. “You can’t really worry about anyone else’s fate.

“But if you turn that around, it’s our performances that are putting him under pressure. It’s up to us again, as professionals, to put on performances and get results. Then there’ll be no questions about the manager’s future.

“It’s a very young team here and you’ve got to take that into consideration. We will have off days. We just shouldn’t be having as many as we’re having.

“The bottom line is that things wouldn’t be coming into question if we were playing well, and we’re not playing well.”

As club captain, McCormack has much responsibility for the dressing room and the mood among the squad.

He described it yesterday as “not the best it’s been all season.” “Training was pretty upbeat, though,” he said. “And Burnley away is probably the perfect game

“Everyone’s expecting us to get beat by two, three or four goals but that’s not going to happen. We’ll get a positive result.

“Me as a captain, I’m never going to be shouting and bawling. I’m not going to be grabbing people by the throat at half-time. That might have been the way in the ʼ60s and ʼ70s but not in modern-day football. Forget about it.

“I like to speak to the lads one-to-one, get inside their heads and get the best out of them.

“Sometimes that works, sometimes it might not, but that’s how I am.”

He is honest too, and honest enough to accept that 11 points to the play-offs with 12 games remaining is too big a gap to clear.

“In my head, I’m not thinking about them,” he said.

“I know I’ll probably get slaughtered for it and I don’t think they’re gone because I’ve seen silly things happen in this league.

“But unless something changes, I can’t see it happening, no.”

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