Whatever really happened at Thorp Arch last week – and I’m no clearer on the facts than anyone else – people will always point the finger when several players cry off injured just before a game.
On the face of it, the situation does stink and we’re sitting at the end of another terrible week of bad press. Over the years Leeds United have had enough negative publicity without creating their own and it depresses me to see the club getting ridiculed again.
Personally I’m wary of wading in and criticising the six foreign lads who missed the game away at Charlton because, like most other people, I can only guess about what’s gone on.
Maybe all six were truly injured. Maybe only a few of them were. I’m not going to accuse all six of downing tools en masse because I don’t know if that’s true and I’d be doing them an injustice if it wasn’t.
All I know is that the situation is very unusual and very strange.
If a player walks into a physio and tells him that, for the sake of argument, he’s got a sore calf, a physio has to take that at face value. This is nothing to do with the medical staff at Thorp Arch. They’re just doing their jobs. At the end of the day, a footballer is injured if he thinks he is. It’s a mindset which is more and more common in the modern age.
What really disappoints me is that all six players ruled themselves out there and then on Friday. There didn’t seem to be any willingness – unlike, say, Gaetano Berardi – to travel down on the coach, give it another 24 hours and hope to be passed fit on Saturday morning.
Maybe it’s a generational thing but I can’t relate to that at all. Back in my day we all wanted to play every week – and when I say wanted, I mean you were p***** off if you were left out. Most of us used to hide injuries or play them down, mainly because you didn’t want to give anyone an excuse to drop you.
I suppose we were all very aware of who was paying our wages. We all knew that people were travelling hundreds and thousands of miles and paying good money to watch us in the freezing cold. It wasn’t the done thing to err on the side of caution and when you see some of the old boys like Johnny Giles and Trevor Cherry having a go this week, the reason they’re doing so is because they’ve got genuine passion for the club. The success of Leeds United has always mattered to us and the bad times make us angry.
Football these days, and I’m not only talking about the foreign lads here, is weighted far too heavily in favour of the players. They’re almost untouchable and sometimes they really do need a reality check.
Let’s be honest, this week has been a reality check for everyone at Leeds. If any of the six players were 100 per cent unfit to play then I’m sorry that they’ve come in for a barrage of criticism. But at the same time, the reaction of the fans makes me think that no player at Leeds will ever be tempted to pull a fast one again. It’s the one thing the supporters cannot accept – a lack of dedication or commitment.
The thing that worries me more at the moment is the air of conflict between the fans and the club. I heard what the supporters were chanting at Charlton and I’m sure the message will have got back to Massimo Cellino too.
I’m not going to criticise our support in any way because I am seriously amazed at the loyalty they’ve shown over the past 10 or 12 years. Others would have walked away from all this. And I won’t have any player tell me that the backing this season hasn’t been superb. On the contrary, it’s been outstanding in a year when the club have given the crowd very little back. The fans have been 100 per cent fair and the squad should be very grateful for that.
But my concern is that we’re going to be our own worst enemies. I can see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears that sections of the support are critical of Massimo and losing faith in him. To cut to the chase, they were chanting, at Charlton, for him to sell the club and clear off.
I know the rumours suggest otherwise but I’m telling you now, there’s no queue of people out there waiting to buy Leeds United. For all the talk on social media, I speak to people and I keep my ear to the ground and I’m not convinced that cash-rich buyers are on the doorstep begging Massimo to sell his shares.
We’ve been in situations before where the club had an owner who the fans wanted out. They got their way but then, before long, the next owner was under pressure to sell up and go. We seem to be stuck in a permanent cycle of pressure and change.
My opinion of Massimo is that he’s got to come back in next month and give us a statement of intent. He’s got to show us where we’re going, which players and coaches we’re going there with and he’s got to find a way to bring the club under control; to stop the daily doses of chaos. We’re all sick of it and he must be as well.
I’m not pretending for a moment that he doesn’t have to deliver. Of course he does. And if he can’t deliver then it goes without saying that he’s going to get a lot of heat from the fans. But as I’ve said before, it’s very hard to draw a final conclusion about him when for most of this season he’s been fighting the Football League. He’s been banned for the second half of it and in January we were under a transfer embargo. No owner is going to do a great job in those circumstances.
I’m not arguing that the current situation is acceptable. Weeks like this one are so frustrating.
But I still believe we should be careful in making sure that Massimo isn’t forced out before he’s had a proper chance to make it work. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves going round in circles again.