Two articles in the press over the last two days – both regarding Leeds United players, one past, one present – have offered contrasting insights into that murky world: the footballers’ brain.

 

A Ray of Light

In an interview with Robert Snodgrass in today’s Yorkshire Evening Post, the Scot revealed his reading of the current malaise in the Leeds United camp. Whilst not offering a denouement of the Grayson era, the Grayson sacking, the anti-Bates agenda or the Bates administration, the Scot still offered a candid insight into the Leeds United dressing room and current morale that would have been approved by the likes of his Scottish Enlightenment forefathers, David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson. Snodgrass postulated:

“There’s not really anything to say, apart from that it’s the players’ fault. We as a team know we need to be better. We can’t sit around and blame anyone else. It’s down to us, the players.”

In a week that has seen Mancini and Tevez out dogging themselves over who is the bigger bowwow, or more realistically, and sticking with their canine simile, who is whose ‘bitch'; in a week too that has seen the unsightly and unjustifiable Suarez-Evra spat reignited, Suarez on this occasion the sinner for not being big enough to offer Evra the ‘handshake of shame’, and then Evra acting the lemming over his post-match celebration of hopping up and down – looking like one of those five-year olds kids on the Disneyland TV commercial after their fawning parents have told them they are going to meet Goofy and Co in Paris) – in front of a shoulder-slunked Suarez who was trying to leave the pitch with more decorum than that he had entered it: how refreshing then to see a player actually acknowledge some personal culpability for the lack of results on the pitch.

Snodgrass sitting for Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’

Anyone who has seen Leeds United this season would offer that Snodgrass is, perhaps alongside McCormack, our only player who can walk away from the current season with his head held high. In our post-Gradel post-Howson midfield, Snodgrass is a super player but no Superman. Being man-marked by two and sometimes three opposition players is more than a justified reason for having been less effectual in 2012 than he was in the first half of this season.

 

A Dim View from a Dimwit

Contrast the Snodgrass 2012 Model with the Thomas Brolin 1995 Model and the brow darkens. In a comical interview with the comical Tomas Brolin (nb. we are laughing AT you Brolin, not WITH you) in the Swedish magazine Offside, and refered to in The Guardian this Wednesday, the Swede and former Leeds United (and I use the word lightly here) ‘player’ opened up and for the first time publicly reflected on his checkered-career at Leeds United.

For those too young, and perhaps simply older willing amnesiacs, Tomas Brolin’s time at Elland Road has entered our clubs pantheon as one of the worst signings we have ever made. If Bates is ever short of exhibits in his Leeds United Museum, a permanent feature should be the ‘Tomas Brolin Affair’.

Brolin in his Leeds Utd 1995/6 Season Away Kit

A short summary of his career reads as follows: precocious footballing protégée and great hope of all Swedes in the early 1990s; success in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups sandwiched club success at Parma; 1995 sees Brolin as one of the worlds most lauded football players (however over-hyped he may well have actually been), and at 26 he was at the peak of his career when a high-flying Leeds United under Howard Wilkinson’s management came in for him in what felt like a massive transfer coup and a little bit of exoticism for our perennially grey-skied West Riding club.

But then it went wrong.

This is were the interview with Brolin picks up interest, with the former player trying to justify why it went wrong and to cast himself as an innocent victim in the affair.

After signing for Leeds, his two seasons with us saw Brolin play only 20 games, scoring 4 goals and being reduced to a bit part player, then a sub, then not even in the squad, and finally not even welcome in Elland Road on match-days. A loan move to FC Zürich was his escape route and after leaving Leeds he managed only 13 games for Crystal Palace and a single game for lowly Swedish outfit, Hudiksvalls A.B.K. before retiring at the nipper age of 29. Thereafter his post-footballing career has been committed to obesity, of which he has mastered with aplomb.

Essentially, his turgid time at Leeds United finished his career. It is, therefore, understandable that Brolin should feel animosity to our club and want to speak publicly about his turbulent time at Elland Road. Unfortunately, in his interview, all we have is a stream of poor excuses regarding being asked to play in positions other than those which he considered himself best suited for – ie. central midfield as a play-maker or up-front in attack.

Considering Brolin had scored both goals in Leeds’ 2-0 win over West Ham United from a stand-in role in the wide-right midfield position, it was not unreasonable that Howard Wilkinson thought that the Swede might well be just as productive in that position against Liverpool. However, an Andy Hughes utility-type player Tomas Brolin certainly was not and possibly fearing being typecast as such a useful commodity made sure that he would not be asked to play out wide  ever again. It is here that the most shocking revelation comes when Brolin admits deliberately playing poorly on the right wing, coincidently Snodgrass’s position, in order to draw attention to his disappointment at being asked to do so. Players are often scrutinized as deliberately underperforming when asked to do something they believe beneath them, but to admit to this is to loose all credibility as a professional footballer, not gain kudos for honesty.

But here Brolin can speak for himself:

“It may not sound that bad, to be a wide midfielder at Leeds, but the defensive responsibilities I had … it was not like when I had Roland Nilsson behind me in the Swedish national team,” he says. “At Leeds I was going to run up and down the right like an idiot. That wasn’t me. So I decided … I was going to be piss-poor against Liverpool.”

Leeds lost 5-0 that day and Brolin only ever started once more for Leeds.

Offering an insight into the mind of this miscreant, Brolin offers no apology for this act. There are no mature genuflections over the immature actions of a pampered and vainglorious football player: the man of 1995 remains the man of 2012. Instead we have the Swede’s whines that it was Wilkinson (and later George Graham), we the fans, and them the media, whom all failed him. Apparently, according to Brolin, Wilkinson and Graham wrongly asked him to play as part of a team in positions that were required more than desired; us the fans and journalists then subsequently failed him for never asking:

“How the hell can you go from being a success to being a disaster in one week? And, as I wasn’t picked any more, everyone just assumed I was rubbish.”

Well, we all asked it, Tomas. We really did! As we scratched our heads in dumbfoundness. Only we asked you to answer it on the pitch – you know, as a professional footballer – and less so in some press conference ego-stroking limelight where you could talk at length about yourself.

 

Rainbows on the Horizon or (more) Storm Clouds Gathering?

It wouldn’t be fitting to be writing about Leeds United in this comic-tragical season without ending with a something of a dampener. For all the praise for Snodgrass and his candidness over our collective lack of performance on the field, especially compared with Brolin’s candidness over his lack of personal performance on the field back in the mid1990s, such intelligence comes with possible repercussions.

In his interview, Snodgrass goes on to say:

“There’s enough talent here for us to go and win matches but it’s down to getting the mindset right – the mental approach to the game. You need a winning mentality and I don’t think we’ve got it right now. That’s what it takes to be up there at the top.”

True words, and almost not entirely clichéd. Unfortunately it is hard not to read those last two sentences and sense that Snodgrass is reflecting on the club’s current lack of fulfillment and ambition, and pitting it against his self-awareness that HE has what it takes to be up there at the top of the English football game, even if Leeds United currently do not. For let us not doubt, without Robert Snodgrass the current Leeds United squad is extraordinarily ordinary.

 

Written by Dje.

 

  • WoodyUK

    Fairly decent article. Let’s face it KBs view was that something was wrong with the manager and that SG wasn’t utilising his full squad or getting the best out of his players (and had a bloody cheek to ask for more players) – of course it wasn’t the players fault and it definately wasn’t KBs fault so someone else had to fall on their sword. So in comes Redfearn and makes a few changes. Lets face it Adam Smith was always going to start playing at right back instead of Thompson and Townsend had been living on borrowed time since his initial promising first game with Robbie Rogers signing intimating a change was on the cards prior to SG being axed. So what can we presume from the last 3 games with redders in charge ? The players that SG was playing were the best available to him ? As honest fans who else in the squad would we be utilising instead of our current crop – of those not on the physio table we have Maik Taylor, Connolly, Bruce, O’Brien, Vayrynen, Brown, Sam, Nunez, Paynter and Forssell to pick from. As bad as we are playing at the moment I am not entirely sure using any of these players would make us better (our squad is a decent size but it’s now packed with sub-standard players). Of course a team with Lonergan, White, Lees, Clayton, Snodgrass, Delph, Becchio and McCormack have a decent core and should be performing better than they are at the moment (if we can’t beat Coventry something is very definately not right) but the fact remains that our team is not promotion strength and our squad as a whole is poor.

  • TSS

    I think half the problem is that Snoddy is now considered the most experienced player and we’re all looking to him for a response, despite the fact he continues to play well.

    As Dje says, alongside Ross McCormack, Snoddy is the only player to escape recent fixtures with any real credibility. Andy O’Brien’s return to first team action might be a bigger blessing than we initially realised – maybe he has the experience required to lead this team?

    • Dje

      @TSS Got to definitely agree on O’Brien being a possible godsend. If we can get him match fit I think we should be trying to get a partnership going at the heart of the defence with him and Lees. O’Dea is a limited footballer and, ultimately, at the end of the season, not one of our players. If the worse becomes the mundane and we are in the Championship again next season then we should be at least trying to form the nucleus of one glaring problem we have had for a coupe of season now, the defense. Invariably that takes time to gel, so let’s make the most of it.

      Beyond that I wouldn’t mind seeing some entirely new youngsters in the first team. Dropped in the deep-end might not sound like it would work, but often youth comes with (albeit naive) fearlessness and a surprising eagerness to want the ball and use it – two things crestfallen old hands are prone to turn their back-on.

    • WoodyUK

      I don’t think O’Brien will be the heaven sent saviour even when match fit – he wasn’t before his initial injury (prior to his depression). Our goals against is a problem and has been for a few years but if we can’t control the midfield and dominate possession we will always put pressure on our defense. The old adage “defense starts with your strikers” is absolutely true, on occassions our team has lacked shape with the back four under a constant barrage – sooner or later one of them makes a mistake and we’re toast – previously only rescued by our strikers and midfield being prolific going forward. Now I didn’t travel to Coventry but from what I’ve heard we were second best all over the park (even without their talisman Clingan).

      • Dje

        @WoodyUK Fair point Woody, I thought O’Brien looked good when he was with us on loan in the 2010-11 season, but as we did ship out 70 odd goals it is a bit pointless being a shining cog in a four man leaky machine. I haven’t followed what he has said about his depression but I’m sure it was something that was ticking over and effecting his game long before his altercation with Grayson. So I am hoping that we can return to a pre-depression O’Brien and at 32 his legs should just about be still working for him.

        Yeah, the midfield cover thing is utterly confusing. On the right we have Snodgrass who always puts in a good workload and tracking back, then on the left we have Pugh and White working well together. That leaves the centre midfield of Clayton and Howson-now-Delph. I’m not sure if these three are just geniuses at looking busy when they aren’t actually, because I just can’t fathom who between them is the weak link defensively?!

        • WoodyUK

          Dje – you’re right of course. All our midfield deliver the goods in terms of work rate, I honestly don’t think we have a single lazy midfielder currently – the trouble is they don’t play as a unit. We don’t control passages of play with ball retention (maybe this is due to poor confidence), we’ve stopped passing the ball from between midfield and defence to link the two units and when the opposition breaks on us or start to generate control and pressure individuals look isolated marking dead space (and that’s all of them, not just one or two). I guess if it was easy SG wouldn’t have lost his job and Redfearn would have turned the team around.

  • Dje

    Yeah, the Batty connection does just make it worse. I can understand Wilkinson’s logic in bringing in Brolin as a creative playmaker type, and for one I was quite excited about the proposition and in early games looked OK. It soon turned sour though!

  • mattbb1

    well done Phil Hay – a superb piece in the YEP – Damning Bates ineptitude in all of this, and interestingly suggesting what many of us thought that Bates and his idiot sidekick Williams saw something in Redfearn that marked him out as a sotp boss, I aseem to recall Williams thought the same of John Carver. If we make one more sacking this Year – please let it be Williams.

    I fully expect a new boss by Monday, and I expect it to be Neil Warnock, lets face it anything is an improvement on the present situation. I am awaiting my reponse from LUST to setting up a petition to Downing St to investigate Bates’ ownership!

    • WoodyUK

      After years of sitting on the fence the YEP at last are starting to be a proper local newspaper and their journalists are being allowed to be just that – journalists. The one thing that the YEP seemed to have forgotten was that it is Leeds United supporters that buy their paper – not the bosses at Elland Road. What the YEP writes will be picked up by the bigger national newspapers (as is always the case – re-hashing a story is often easier than thinking of one of your own for a lazy journo). The management’s view that a change was needed to turn the clubs fortune’s around was right – unfortunately it turned them from promotion being possible to being highly unlikely. KB should have given SG the whole season to fulfill his promise of improvement and then if we’d failed to better 7th place to have searched in the 4 free months for a new manager. Hay’s predictions of exodus send shivers up my spine but at least he’s being realistic and honest. Well done the YEP

    • Dje

      @mattbb1 I’m thinking that if Warnock was to return back to Yorkshire, it’d be to Huddersfield not Leeds.

      Despite the Huddersfield Chairman acting like a dick over the sacking of Clark, he’s still more reasonable, accommodating and supporting than Bates is.

      Admittedly Huddersfield are, at least for now, in a division lower than Leeds, and a division lower than Warnock would imagine he’d be managing, but they have a good squad, a good stadium, a good crowd, and he has a good history with that club, a bad one with ours. I think Blades fans would have understood Warnock taking the Leeds job after being sacked by QPR, but now the Huddersfield job is on the table to opt for Leeds would because he WANTS Leeds. So he could really f*** up his legacy now!

      All things considered, I think Bates will be opting for Di Matteo.

      • TimPM

        @Dje @mattbb1 Thing is, if Warnock is looking for one more promotion for his record then would he choose a grubby little jewel like Udders’ field, or the sleeping giants Leeds United who’ve been failed by several managers for several years?

        • TimPM

          @Dje @mattbb1 Not that you can always blame the managers, mind…

        • Dje

          @TimPM@mattbb1 Using the Bates line when he left Chelsea, I reckon Warnock will be thinking he’s got ‘one more challenge in him’. Leeds, under Bates, is a poisoned chalice. If he comes in on a short 18 month contract and fails to get us to the playoffs there is no guarantee that Bates wont sack him. And we are money on not to get to the playoffs.

          Huddersfield crave automatic promotion but aren’t too dumb to realize that there are four solid teams competing for two berths. To finish fourth will be no lesser than Clark was doing and there is the second lottery of the playoffs to fall back on and failing that a summer of rebuilding the squad on the back of the Rhodes transfer fee. Can you see Bates giving Warnock a penny of the Snodgrass transfer fee this summer?

  • TimPM

    Good article Dje.

    It makes me wonder if we’re in danger of expecting too much from Snoddy. He wins us points on his own but he can’t do it every match, especially when marked out of the match. The key last season was when he was marked out (e.g. Arsenal) we had someone of equal ability on the other wing to tear the single markers apart.

    Then Max was let go.

    I don’t think White is the kind of winger we need for our current gameplan. Rogers or Townsend are. I’d give Rogers a go.

    I’d also put in Vayrynen and Pugh into centre-mid to have some experienced heads and in Vayrynen someone who will physically boss the centre. Clayton’s a good player but he’s also inexperienced and he’s more attacking minded to me. I’d give him a break for a couple of matches and see if we could help the young defence out from the centre.

    • WoodyUK

      Vayrynen and Pugh in for Delph and Clayton – maybe not the most mainstream thoughts but I agree that we should be moving White back to left back and letting a more attacking winger have a go (White is blessed with enough pace to be a winger but I’m still not convinced he does enough with the ball when he gets it – unfortunately I’m not convinced Townsend does either). Delph’s loan finishes soon so I have a feeling Pugh will be playing alongside Clayton within the next few games anyway (and maybe that’ll work as Clayton gets forward well and Pugh is naturally more defensive).

      • TimPM

        @WoodyUK Delph will be gone soon enough so why bother relying on him? Clayton, if you focus on him in matches, is never passing when he should, he’s not doing enough by himself to forgive that, and he’s not a particularly good player on the defence.

        The more I see of him the more I’m convinced we could cut 10% of our goals out by replacing him, and probably score an extra 10% ourselves in players making the right passes instead of hogging it.

        You might be right with playing Clayton ahead of Pugh, but even then Clayton needs to sort his passing out. He’s got plenty of talent no doubt, but with his inexperience I’d be tempted to sort him out a montage of the last few games and getting him working with a coach on fixing that part of the game before giving him a chance to take his place back. Then again, it’s not even the last few matches. I said earlier in the season: he hogs the ball way too much for a midfielder.

        • TSS

          @TimPM@WoodyUK Delph has already gone. Returned to Villa to receive treatment for injury, can’t see him coming back personally.

  • TSS

    I disagree, he was solid when he first arrived and clearly has the talent. Maybe the new manager and a new system will get more out of him. I’m going to remain optimistic on OB.