Which Leeds legends would play in your ultimate five-a-side team?
Ever since my book Above Head Height came out, people have been asking me about a Leeds United five-a-side team, but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to write it out.
If it’s difficult to select an all time XI; imagine halving it. Fortunately there are some self-imposed guidelines I can introduce.
Being good in the air like Lee Chapman is pointless when there’s a head height rule. Big ungainly fellas like Jack Charlton will take up too much room, and heroes turned villains like Kewell and Cantona can forget about it.
Five-a-side is about skill, invention, speed of foot and thought. It requires lethal finishing and deft passes, so I’m going to pick my team to suit the small court. I’ll pick eight to give me three rolling subs.
Most Leeds fans’ favourite keepers are David Harvey or Nigel Martyn but I’m going with someone else. With such small goals, height and ability in the air isn’t vital but close shot-stopping and distribution are.
A decent passer in goals can get the ball straight to the striker, so I’m choosing Kasper Schmeichel.
He was small but very agile and during his solitary year at the club he was, in my opinion, the best passer of the ball we had. His speed and imagination in distributing from the back would be a bonus.
In five-a-side you’ve got to be able to do everything but you need one clear cut striker and a defined defender.
For the latter, I thought about Lucas Radebe for his class, Jonathan Woodgate for his effortless way of gliding out with the ball, Tony Dorigo for his pace and left foot or Gaetano Berardi for his selfless commitment. But in the end I’ve gone for the character and ability of Gary Kelly.
As many a winger knows, Kelly was a great character and would throw himself at anything, doing whatever it took to get in the way of the ball. A former striker turned full back, he’d be capable of bringing the ball out from the back and burying it in one move.
I have to pick our greatest ever player – Billy Bremner. Goals, tenacity, leadership - and he fits my below-head-height theme of smaller players. As soon as you have Bremner in the line-up you know you have a footballing fight on your hands. A never-say-die attitude and confidence to score amazing goals make him a must.
I’m going with another small red-headed goalscorer, team captain and title winner in Gordon Strachan alongside Bremner. Both were super competitive, Strachan as inventive as Bremner was forceful. He was a lovely player to have at Elland Road, dominating matches despite being no taller than a ball boy, and his goals could so often come out of nothing.
When it comes to goals it’s the hardest decision of all. We need someone with quick feet, a fast brain and the ability to switch in a heartbeat from being greedy and dangerous to creative and generous.
From the current team you think Pablo Hernandez or Samuel Saiz - or I could complete the set and select a pocket rocket like Maxi Gradel. Or sheer power with Hasselbaink, Lorimer or Yeboah. My childhood hero Allan Clarke would be hard to leave out, adept at finishing scruffy loose balls.
Eddie Gray’s dribble around five Burnley players makes him a contender. Robbies Fowler and Keane were barely here at all but both are widely recognised as two of the best finishers of the 90s and both scored goals for us.
Two players that I’m going to shortlist played in the same era and I’ve included them for different reasons.
Mark Viduka was a cabinet of a centre forward, but unusual in that his bulk came with precise skill. I’m thinking of the four he took in one game against Liverpool. He brought players into the game well and was a fantastic finisher. The little guys could rotate around him.
Michael Bridges had something else. His Leeds United career ended with injury and disappointment but I think if it hadn’t, he would have followed in Shearer’s England footsteps. While Hasselbaink could hit a 90 mile an hour shot with little or no backlift, Bridges had the ability to just skip round lunging legs and unleash the ball into the opposition net.
Subs are difficult to choose but I’m going to add midfielder David Batty because he was Leeds United to the core and can add bite and break-up play that was a different class. His close passing with Strachan, Speed and McAllister was overlooked in a team dripping with goals but vital in setting the more attacking midfielders on their way. Batty would allow us to be more defensive when needed alongside his mate Kelly. Finally I think I’m going to go for Rod Wallace. Rod could dribble, stumble, shoot, latch onto a loose ball or squeeze his way through the tightest of defences and I don’t ever have any memories of him missing a chance. Five-a-side can be scrappy as well as beautiful and Rod fits the bill with both.
It’s a small fast team with masses of character. And I’d have Hasselbaink and Lucas on standby in case anyone couldn’t get a babysitter.
* Leeds-born writer and broadcaster James Brown is best known for creating Loaded, the era-defining men’s magazine of the 1990s. He has also edited GQ and Leeds Leeds Leeds. Above Head Height – A Five-A-Side Life is available now in paperback. Follow Brown on Instagram and Twitter @jamesjamesbrown.