Salem's Lot - Stick or Twist with Warnock? - Chris Brunskill
On many fronts GFH seem to be doing the right thing to re-engage Leeds United fans with the club. However the most important area, the team itself, is proving to be trickiest problem to solve. Stephen Clark is having as many difficulties as the manager in deciding what should be done to improve matters on the pitch.
When GFH Capital finally completed their convoluted takeover of Leeds United, there were many who were sceptical about their capabilities to make the changes that the fans of the club wanted to see. Many believed that the decision to keep Ken Bates on board until the end of the season meant that there would be little in the way of change, despite all the good intentions we had seen from Messrs Haigh and Patel on Twitter.
However right from the very start, the new owners have done their very best to make good on their promises to reengage a dwindling and increasingly disillusioned fan base. The morning of the takeover saw the club launch an official Twitter feed, only a small offering, but one that many supporters had been clamouring for.
Since then the despised chairman's notes in the programme have disappeared, removing the mouthpiece for Mr Bates to spout his nonsense on a weekly basis. The BBC were welcomed back to the club for the FA Cup tie against Birmingham, and when the old rules were put back in place for the next league game, the outrage of the supporters saw them reinstated.
Then last week saw the biggest move yet, a huge reduction in ticket prices for the forthcoming matches against Peterborough and Blackpool. This follows hot on the heels of the reasonable prices for the tickets for the match against Tottenham in the FA Cup on Sunday, a game that would almost certainly have seen the previous owner try to cash in.
What they are trying to do is put some of the stay away bums back on seats, and with crowds now regularly under the 20,000 mark, it is a task which is becoming more and more urgent. However the one thing that will guarantee a rise in attendance is the actual product being witnessed on the pitch.
Even during the dark days of League 1, attendances very rarely dipped under 20K, particularly on Saturday afternoons. It can be argued that the crowds were so good because we were winning regularly, but that argument is easily countered by our current home form, six wins on the bounce the best run since the early days of SImon Grayson's time at the helm, and against a higher standard of opposition.
The difference between now and then is the type of football that is being played. In League One, Leeds were filled with hungry young players with a point to prove, on a mission to return Leeds from the pit of despair they found themselves in, playing at the third level of the English game. With an exciting attacking partnership, pacy wingers and a desire to impose themselves on the opposition, the Whites were roared forward by a crowd who turned up at Elland Road expecting to win, and backing the side from the off.
Compare that to now. A pedestrian side of journeymen midfielders, going through the motions. Playing a turgid long ball game, with no width to speak of, watched by a crowd who almost resent being there to watch. Rather than being inspired to cheer the side on, they take the chance to ridicule the efforts going on in front of them. Sarcasm is the underlying emotion being felt around the situation, laughing at our own inabilities to master the simplest of games.
As I sat there on Saturday in my regular spot in the East stand, I was longing for the days when the second half would unfold in front of me with Leeds going for broke. Limited players such as Andy Hughes and Paul Connolly linked up with Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel to pulverise opponents, producing countless amounts of ammunition for Jermaine Beckford and Luciano Becchio to feast upon.
What I got against Bristol City was a young right back, far and away the shining light in the side, looking desperately for someone to make a run to get an attack going, only for him to forced inside time and time again, the move breaking down as Leeds slowly moved the ball backwards to start all over again with a hopeful punt forward. One can only dream of what a partnership of Sam Byram and Snodgrass would have done in this division.
Unfortunately we have a manager who is more pragmatic than purist, a footballing dinosaur who still believes in tactics which won him the majority of his promotions in the late 80's and 90's. He has thrown us a sop in the last two games by making more of an effort to keep the ball on the floor, and in some ways it has worked with two victories. However it has been painful to watch, the build up slow, the quality dreadful, both games won by the odd moment of magic.
If only the manager truly believed in playing that way, how different things may be. Our best performances of the season have been against Everton, Southampton and Huddersfield. In those matches Leeds played lovely passing football, moving the ball on the floor quickly and effectively. Sunday offers another chance to try that with nothing to lose against Tottenham in the Cup. Will it be taken or will we revert to type, clogging the middle of the park while Lennon and Bale make hay on the flanks.
So how is this GFH's problem? Well they have been left in the awkward position of having a manger who has less than 6 months left on his contract, producing an awful product for their customers, yet are still on the fringes of a "promotion" challenge. If Leeds were well adrift, then it would make sense to move the manager on and begin the planning for next season and beyond. However they can't really do that when there is still a slight chance that their ultimate aim can be achieved, no matter how terrible the method of doing so.
They also have to decide to back this man's judgement in the transfer market, knowing full well that he hasn't spent wisely so far and could bring in players that will be surplus to requirements next year. What do they do?
It seems that despite the calls for Warnock to go, we are stuck with him until the wheels finally do come off. However GFH should ensure that he isn't able to meddle in the future of the club, and resist all attempts to do deals which may see one of of our favourite sons sold off in an attempt to fund the purchase of a player who will only have his head turned upwards to see another howitzer coming his way.
The owners have done the business off the pitch, and in my opinion should leave it that way until the end of the season. A strict "hands off Becchio" should be their only decision in this transfer window. If Warnock wants funds for another player, then he can sell off the deadwood he has brought in, not the precious commodity he inherited. This is his squad and he should be given the opportunity to see them through to the end of the season, or until our season is over, whichever comes first.
GFH should sit back and concentrate on making sure that their first footballing decision makes as much sense as those they are making off the field. The appointment of the man to take Leeds United forward will be so much tougher and therefore infinitely more important than cutting ticket prices. It could ensure a profitable future for every one concerned.