The only safe prediction for Leeds United whether lazy river ride or helter skelter awaits

Here we go with Leeds United.

By Graham Smyth
Saturday, 6th August 2022, 7:00 am

Into what the Whites are marching, no one quite knows.

The mid-season World Cup will make this a unique and eventful experience for everyone but the hope is for something a little more sedate than what transpired in the club’s second Premier League campaign since promotion.

It was a helter skelter of a season with enough unexpected twists and turns to leave even the most mature and hardened of Leeds fans feeling queasy.

For all the adrenaline it provided, you will not find anyone queuing up for another go.

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All and sundry would snap your hand off for a season more akin to a lazy river ride than the white-knuckle roller coaster that was 2021/22.

Joe Gelhardt’s new contract brought the footage of his winner against Norwich City back to the fore this week and while moments just like that, on a more frequent basis, are what everyone at Leeds wants to see, that particular video was a window into the stress and tension that gripped the club.

A NEW DAWN: For Leeds United under recently-appointed head coach Jesse Marsch, left, following the arrival of seven summer signings including USA international midfielder Tyler Adams, right, the pair pictured after the final pre-season friendly 6-2 thrashing of Cagliari. Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images.

Training a camera on the dugout has given a glimpse into the emotions felt in and around the technical area, not only by the main characters but the supporting cast at Elland Road.

Watching and rewatching the moment Gelhardt finished off Raphinha’s pass in the dying seconds, as Norwich fans chanted ‘you’re not singing anymore’ to their counterparts, was proof of just how intensely the coaches, the doctor, the physios, fitness staff and analysts all lived last season.

It was of course the goal’s meaning, the result’s significance and the state of the league table that fuelled the temporary separation of humans and their senses inside the stadium, but the club was gripped by a horrible tension so the ball hitting the net acted as a release valve of sorts.

That was how it went week after week. Those moments of joy simply bled a little pressure but by the time the next kick-off came the gauge was flickering into the red again.

Speak to those behind the scenes and they tell a story of difficulty and stress.

Not long after he arrived Jesse Marsch had his eyes opened to just how psychological his job would be in those initial months and that, more than a tactical revolution or evolution, required his focus.

If the 2022/23 season ever becomes half as fraught as the one that ended in such relief at Brentford, then something will either have gone horribly wrong or astoundingly right.

Ask 100 Leeds fans what they would take, in terms of an experience from here until next May and the answers will of course vary but a team plying its trade clear of the relegation zone will be the consistent bare minimum expectation.

Anything else will be regarded as a bonus.

If that is Leeds’ pending reality, then it begs the question: would a lower midtable existence inspire scenes quite as wild and glorious as the ones that greeted Gelhardt’s goal, or Pascal Struijk’s equaliser against Brighton or Luke Ayling’s at Wolves?

Leeds limbs are guaranteed for dramatic winning goals regardless of the position the club occupies in the table before and after the ball hits the net but if Marsch wins enough games to create a comfort zone between the Whites and the drop zone, will it feel as raw? Or as vital?

Will it matter as much?

There is never nothing to worry about at Leeds so goals and victories will always take on huge significance, but if the stress of a relegation fight is absent, this season will be more enjoyable than the one that preceded it.

The pursuit of midtable safety – anything from 14th up would surely do fine – might sound a little pedestrian for a club with the history and following that Leeds enjoys yet to get to where the club wants to be, a place in which every goal and point would matter hugely, the club needs to go through a period of stability.

It needs to remain in the Premier League, where the flow of finance is such that the longer you keep it coming, the easier it is to build the kind of squad and off-field infrastructure that gives you established top flight status.

If there’s nothing but placement money on the line by the time May rolls around then Marsch will at least have masterminded something that represents a step forward from the 2021/22 achievement of 17th and Leeds can set their sights a little higher for the following year.

As ambitions go, it’s not altogether very sexy but it could help them eventually reach a far more exciting destination and an existence that thrills for all the right reasons.

But first things first. It starts against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday. A nearly-new head coach, new players, a new style of football, a new kit and the start of a new dawn.

Good luck predicting what is going to happen next but this is Leeds United – it won’t be boring.