The Full Leeds United Season Preview
Summer is never an easy time for Leeds United fans. Ever since their relegation from the Premier League, the first team squad has proved easy pickings for the vultures preying on United’s precarious financial situation. Even now, with the club on a secure financial footing, the sale of the best players is still necessary to keep Leeds above board. In the last couple of seasons, the likes of Jermaine Beckford, Max Gradel, Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson have all moved on to pastures new. This summer, it was the turn of captain and talisman Robert Snodgrass to desert the ship, joining Leeds’s apparent parent club Norwich for a fee of £3 million.
Snodgrass’s departure, along with the failed takeover bid has caused a certain level of despondency among the supporters. The takeover in itself is a joke, indeed news regarding its progress had been sparse all summer, before word got through that the bid had fallen through. Although it is reportedly back on, the club still remains in the hands of Ken Bates going into the new season, a situation that everyone connected with the club had hoped would not be the case. The lack of development on the takeover almost caused Neil Warnock to walk away, which would have left Leeds seriously struggling.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and in fairness to Warnock, he’s pulled out his usual trick and worked wonders on a limited budget. The sale of Snodgrass, and also Adam Clayton and Andy Lonergan funded an entire squad revamp that ensures almost the entire first team will be different personnel to last season. Paddy Kenny has been reunited with his favourite manager to play between the sticks and this is a positive sign given his form in the 2010/11 Championship season when QPR got promoted. Lee Peltier, Jason Pearce and Adam Drury have all arrived to form a new back four with youngster Tom Lees who was the pick of Leeds’s side last season. Defence was the main area where the Whites suffered last season, conceding goals with a worrying regularity, but Warnock appears to have addressed this problem and you’d be surprised to see Leeds as shaky at the back again next season.
Even in the days of Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson, Leeds always looked lightweight through the middle of the park, but the arrival of Jamaican enforcer Rodolph Austin has ensured this won’t be the case in 2012/13 and he is fast on his way to achieving cult hero status at Elland Road. David Norris and Paul Green appear shrewd purchases on paper and Luke Varney’s performances in pre-season and the Capital One Cup suggests he will have a big part to play down the left hand side. The question marks remain up front. Ross McCormack’s future is still up in the air with his contract due up in a year, but the player has suggested he wants to stay at Elland Road and the fans certainly want last year’s top marksman to lead the line in the coming campaign. Luciano Becchio will start up front, but he looked short of form and fitness last season and needs to recapture his previous best to remind everyone of why he’s so revered around these parts of West Yorkshire.
You’d expect Warnock to make a couple of new additions before August ends, the squad still lacks depth, especially up front, while a touch of stardust ala Robert Snodgrass is needed to challenge at the top. The wildcard signing of maverick El-Hadji Diouf could prove to be a masterstroke in this department, but the fans haven’t exactly warmed to him while nobody knows whether Diouf’s temperament will last five minutes, let alone a whole season. The opening game against Wolves will be an interesting test of Leeds’s promotion credentials, especially against a side just relegated from the Premier League. The next home game sees Blackburn travel to Elland Road as well, so Warnock has to negate a tough start to get the Whites on track.
Everyone talks about Warnock’s reputation in winning promotions, indeed they seem to be his speciality. You have to wonder whether this could be a bridge too far even for his magical abilities as Leeds seem to be behind their promotion rivals in terms of ambition and spending power. However, the current Leeds squad now has more than a passing resemblance to the one Warnock assembled at QPR two years ago, with plenty of grit and determination amongst a sprinkling of quality on display at the club. Automatic promotion may be out of the Whites’ grasp, but you’d hope for a playoff challenge at the very least. Warnock famously told Nigel Clough when his Derby side won 2-0 at Elland Road ‘you’ll never see a Neil Warnock or a Leeds United side play like this again’ and you can only hope he’s right!