The news that Leeds had dispensed with the services of manager Simon Grayson on Wednesday came as little surprise. Despite working under difficult circumstances in recent months, Grayson was under pressure because of a string of inconsistent results. Strangely though, the team’s form is not fans’ biggest concern.
Anyone around long enough to have witnessed Ken Bates’ entire time at Chelsea will still try and argue that he is trying to accomplish similar achievements in Yorkshire. Developments away from the playing field include improvements to the East Stand and talks of a hotel, whereas supporters remain focused a long-desired return to the Premier League and big-time football.
The stats are staggering. Adam Smith, Grayson’s last recruit, was his 33rd loan signing in just over three years with the club. Gone are players the calibre of Jermaine Beckford, Bradley Johnson, Max Gradel, Kasper Schmeichel and, most recently, Johnny Howson. These are the talents that brought the club back to the brink of promotion to the top flight. Their replacements, simply, have not had the desired impact.
Like Leeds or not, it’s a club that has suffered at the hands of some speculative owners and chief executives over the past decade or more. Nobody wants to ‘do a Leeds’ and collapse in the fashion they did – almost going out of business – but what about the supporters who still fill the stands? Is there any worse feeling in football than believing your club to be in danger and being reduced to a watching brief from the sidelines?
Ken Bates justified the club’s loan policy by pointing out that Leeds had been knocked out of the FA Cup last month by a player on loan at Arsenal (Thierry Henry), but nobody in football can successfully argue that a team full of players with short-term aims is going to progress over a longer period.
Leeds have been leaking too many goals this season, of course. The incident with Ireland international Andy O’Brien and the club’s subsequent and embarrassing (for LUFC itself) statement on his personal circumstances – the defender has been undergoing treatment for depression – hints at bigger issues behind the scene. There is also the not-so-insignificant consideration that promotion out of the Championship is not easily achieved, no matter how illustrious your past history.
Whatever happens now, the FA Cup win over Manchester United at Old Trafford (January 2010) seems a long time ago, much as a possible return to the Premier League seems light years away. In the meantime, Bates is on the lookout for another manager while fans step up their campaign to have the former Chelsea man leave Elland Road for good.