Jean-Kevin Augustin's dedication to Leeds United shines during coronavirus pandemic - Daniel Chapman

Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.

Tuesday, 14th April 2020, 1:10 pm

Nobody can question Jean-Kevin Augustin’s application now. Drifting in Leipzig, diffident in Monaco, the fitness-training video released over the weekend shows him dedicated to Leeds.

There are a few remarkable things about his physical transformation. Looking at before-and-after photos of not-so Big Kev on Twitter, one person asked what he’d been ‘playing at’ before joining Leeds. Football, that’s what, and Augustin’s physique had been adequate for the French top flight. It just wasn’t adequate for Marcelo Bielsa.

That’s the second thing. Bielsa is lauded for his tactical innovation and intensive teaching techniques. The greater achievement might be how he inspires the players to reach such extraordinary standards of individual fitness. There’s hardly a Peacock standing who hasn’t completely altered his lifestyle because Bielsa has asked them to.

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Or told them to, but that isn’t supposed to work with coddled footballers anymore. And then it was supposed to burn them out, tired, craving biscuits. The feeling in United’s pre-lockdown games against Hull and Huddersfield, though, was that they were just reaching a peak of appetite.

Third and final is that Big Kev’s dedication is even more impressive during this lockdown, because he is working his backside to the bone for, essentially, nothing. There’s no game to aim for, no murderball session to impress the coaches.

Augustin has rights to be more frustrated than most by the league’s pause, because he’s only here initially to visit and had barely stepped on the pitch. The season might only restart after the end of Augustin’s contracted loan, and the easy option would be to sack the whole thing off and let Pat Bamford worry about the theoretical end of the campaign.

He hasn’t taken the easy option. Augustin looks like he wants to shoot his shot at Leeds, and make it his best yet.

DEDICATION: Jean-Kevin Augustin's hard work in training has caught the imagination of Leeds United fans during the coronavirus outbreak. Pic: Bruce Rollinson.

While we stare at our newspapers with disbelieving protest, trying to will the Covid-19 death counts back into classified football results, perhaps Leeds United could help us by publishing the weight measurements Big Kev and the rest are sending into Thorp Arch every day. That’s a league table I’d like to follow.

The absence of new football has been filled by old football that satisfies some escapist cravings.

People have always dismissed football as a refuge from real life and they won’t see any difference now, but what I feel like I need to escape from at the moment is yet another rerun of Mark Viduka’s four goals against Liverpool’s three.

Football means drama, intrigue, tension. It’s better at those things than any average 90 minutes of film or theatre, because there can be no spoilers, no telling what might happen from one minute to the next.

I still insist that last season’s defeat in the play-offs to Derby can not be beaten for high stakes histrionics, an emotional pummelling unlike any 90 other minutes either scripted or not.

Watching the nostalgic version back now would be like going to the opera, peering at it through binoculars to ensure it’s the same as the last performance, reverently observing the predictable pattern of your responses and quietly marvelling at the memory of your feelings. It might move you, but it won’t rock you.

Turning Leeds United’s locked-down training sessions into a televised athletics tournament might bring some of the intrigue back. It could be set up as a bracket, so the first day could be a split screen contest pitting Big Kev against Baby Shack, the next bringing a face-off between Alioski and Meslier, racoon versus spider.

Time the runs, pace the static bikes, first to 500 press-ups takes the prize until it’s last Peacock standing.

It might even replace Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel as the lockdown exercise show of choice, although I’m not sure it’d be wise to train up a generation of ultra-lean muscle-bound seven year olds with heads full of the teachings of Bielsa.

It would bring back an element of discomfort to our pining for football that suits these times better than nostalgic wallowing. Everyone reached first for the Viduka game because, through the drama of Liverpool’s lead, we can always look forward to its reassuring outcome. Knowing that NHS staff are working as hard as they can but still a thousand people are dying of Covid-19 every day, without an end in sight, reassuring outcomes feel very welcome right now.

But that’s exactly where football used to step in. Not as reassurance, but to give us something less important to root for. The escapism we enjoyed depended on not knowing how it ends.

It’s the bet Big Kevin has made, and an example we could follow, to keep on keeping on, looking forward, into the uncertainty that’s like kick-off.