When you think how hard players try to say nothing controversial, Yann Kermorgant’s comments about Leeds United sound very much like fighting talk.
This whole back-and-forward between Leeds and Reading – who has the fancier tactics, who has more strings to their bow – is the innate competitiveness of football shining through. The season’s getting to a very tense stage and tension makes you do things you otherwise wouldn’t.
Perhaps Kermorgant felt the need to wind things up before tomorrow’s game between the clubs. Reading are coming off the back of a great win at Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds are coming off the back of an equally good win over Brighton so this will be a major collision. From the perspective of a neutral it’s nice to know that it matters, even if some of what’s said is pretty questionable.
To claim, as Kermorgant did, that Leeds have no plan B without Chris Wood rather ignores the results in the games in which Wood hasn’t played. You can overstate his influence and you can’t imagine that Leeds would be in the play-offs without him but it’s not as if Wood has compensated for a terrible defence. Leeds are very good in a few areas, particularly at the back, and the worry of losing a top player is not unique to them.
Put simply, and accepting that injuries are always a threat, if plan A is working then what is there to talk about? The hypothetical scenario of Wood being out for weeks on end is exactly that unless it actually happens. Some more cover for him would have be nice, and clearly Garry Monk wanted it, but a lot is being made about a problem which hasn’t really occurred.
As for Reading, I’ve watched them this season and the first thing I should say is that they’ve been transformed under Jaap Stam, much like Leeds have been under Monk. Their win at Hillsborough before the international break was a big statement and I expect them to make the play-offs but I’ve seen a few games this season where they’ve had masses of possession without offering much penetration. They have a very defined way of playing, as most of the top six do, and I wouldn’t say that plan B is Reading’s biggest strength.
How much impact Kermorgant’s comments or previous remarks made by Stam will have on tomorrow’s game is difficult for me to say. The old cliche of pinning articles to a dressing room wall is very much that – to be quite honest, no player can really be bothered to go home and wheel out the ink-jet printer – but I can think of occasions when opposition comments were brought up or paraphrased in team meetings. If someone has a dig, or what you perceive to be a dig, certain managers will make the most of that. It can make a difference in terms of a squad’s focus and determination.
Garry, being Garry, has played all this with a straight bat, which in public is usually the best way to act. He’s said what he needed to but no more than that. Even so, his players will be well aware of everything and they’ll have taken the remarks on board. Teams try to concentrate on themselves first and foremost but footballers are competitive animals. If Reading are shouting the odds, or vice versa, you naturally want to make a point. All in all we’re in for a really feisty game tomorrow.
If a younger player had said what Kermorgant said, he’d probably have been hauled over the coals. You’d have collared him and asked him what he was doing. But Kermorgant is 35, he’s a big player for Reading, he’s an experienced head and I doubt anyone will argue with him. Reading’s fans probably like the fact that he seems well up for it. Deep down, the Leeds fans probably like the fact that there’s something to rail against.
That’s where we’re at, with so few games to go. The time for niceties are gone, which obviously doesn’t mean that you lose your decorum completely, but this is the stage where promotion is won and lost. The reality with managers is that all of them like to think they’ve got the shiniest toy. All of them like to think that their way and their philosophy is best.
At the end of the day, medals speak louder than anything else and I doubt that either club has forgotten that fact.