Leeds United: Star man Gradel has come of age - Lorimer

Max Gradel celebrates scoring against Derby County at Pride Park last season.

Max Gradel celebrates scoring against Derby County at Pride Park last season.

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International recognition with Ivory Coast will be just the tonic for Whites player-of-the-season Max Gradel to get even better, says Peter Lorimer.

MAX GRADEL made his international debut for Ivory Coast on Sunday to help them qualify for the African Cup of Nations finals and it’s crowned an outstanding 2010-11 season for him.

He’s a player who has come along massively in the Championship; nobody really knew nothing about him at this level and knew what to expect.

But as the season has gone on, he’s really got his confidence up and he believes in himself and that’s a big thing for wingers and forwards and he has had a great season.

It’s always nice, especially for a young player, to get that international recognition from your national team. Don’t forget, he’s playing with some big-name players there such as Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Saloman Kalou as well and that can only help him in his career and his future development as they are one of the leading footballing nations in Africa.

He really came of age last season, for me. I’ve actually spoken to him and he said that he owed the Leeds public something after his sending-off in the final game of the 2009-10 season against Bristol Rovers in front of 38,000 at Elland Road, which we had to win to get automatically promoted out of League One.

Amazing

Everyone still remembers that day and it’s just amazing how things can change and careers can have ups and downs as I’m sure if we hadn’t been promoted that day that Max would have probably been run out of town!

He’s still young and got a bit to learn yet; I think everyone realises that.

At times, he can look up and maybe pass to his team-mates a little bit more for instance, rather than looking to score all the time. That’s got to be drummed into him and he’s not the complete player yet by any means. But he’s certainly progressed a lot over the past 12 months and his goals tally for a winger last season was terrific. Hopefully, he can do more of the same next year.

It was good to see Max add to our number of full internationals at the club, joining the likes of Davide Somma, Robert Snodgrass and Ross McCormack. Long may it continue and it’s a real sign that the club is progressing.

Onto the national team – England that is, not my team Scotland! – and I’ve got to say I think they are struggling a bit at the moment and it looks to be excuses after excuses from the manager – and it was the same after their 2-2 European Championship qualifying home draw with Switzerland at Wembley.

Overall, England are going through a period where quite a few of their major players are getting a bit older. A few of the young lads are coming through well, such as the Jack Wilshere’s of this world, but I just think it’s one of those periods for England at the minute where it’s time that the ‘old brigade’, if you like, move on and probably make way for the younger ones who are obviously the long-term future.

I know Fabio Capello spoke of players being tired after a long, hard season after last weekend’s game. But it’s too easy to come up with that excuse.

I don’t think a footballer, if he has played 40 or 50 games in a season – as fit as they now are – will be tired and see one final extra game as a strain upon them. I really don’t, honestly.

In terms of players as well, it’s too easy to turn around and say: ‘Well, we are tired.’

For the rewards they get out of the game and for what they get paid, I think that’s a load of rubbish to say that.

Obviously, there’s all the talk about us not having a mid-winter break like the rest of Europe and that being a factor in the so-called ‘tiredness’ of the England players.

But for me, I’m not for it because a three or four-week break would disrupt a season. Football is traditionally played through the Christmas and new year period and that’s when you get the big crowds and we play two or three fixtures through this period.

For me, it’s mainly the foreign managers who come into our game who want these changes, so they can probably have a vacation for themselves for two or three weeks in winter and get off to Barbados or somewhere nice!

I notice this week there are plans by the FA to revolutionise youth football and scrap 11-a-side fixtures on full-size pitches up to under-13 level and anything that will get us back to playing the ‘Beautiful Game’ has got to be a welcome thing.

The good thing is the FA, finally, seem to be taking on things about the need for players to take more ball skills on board and are not brushing things under the carpet and ignoring the issue, which has happened in the past when they have not picked up on certain things they should have done.

It seems finally they are prepared to do something about it actively and the lack of players truly comfortable with the ball in possession at times.

I remember when I was growing up, there were some fine ball players from my native Scotland, but in terms of developing skills, things were a lot more different when I was young.

You played in the streets and parks with your mates in small-sized games when you weren’t playing on a full-size pitch.

It was five-a-side, four-a-side and sometimes three! I was playing football all the time and when you are doing that, you are working on your skills as well.

I think the biggest problem we have as a nation now and getting more youngsters involved in sport is the internet, mobile phones and computers.

Kids are just not playing football like they used to do and you don’t see them in the park playing football anymore.

Okay, there’s a lot more cars on the streets now and it’s more dangerous, but you hardly see anyone kicking a ball around in an open space and to me, that’s a worrying thing.

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