Pro Evolution Leeds United Matt BB March 23, 2012 Leeds United To mention the phrase above to any of the current cache of young go-getters running our club, Bates (112), Warnock (63), Williams (107) might result in them looking somewhat bewildered and going for a nice sit down and a cup of tea. But fear not my nonagenarian friends, we’re not about to start discussing the merits of console based soccer games. This rather is what Leeds United needs to be thinking about – not the next set of signings and contracts – but the next 10 years. Howard Wilkinson not only dragged us out of the mire in 1990 he also created arguably the finest production line of talent in the Football League. No better investment has been made by our great football club than Thorp Arch. Not only did the players I mentioned offer us some incredible profit margins – and save us from utter financial collapse, they afforded the English game some of it’s finest talents. Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Alan Smith, Jonathan Woodgate, Ian Harte, I won’t go on as it’s making me feel somewhat despondent, even wistful. There have been lesser lights too who’ve steered us on our dark journey through the doldrums post 2004, Matt Kilgallon, Jonny Howson, Ben Parker and there are ones for the future too, Aidan White, Tom Lees. Good teams don’t just live fleetingly, they evolve. Look at Manchester United (if you can), probably the best example of this. Financial decisions aside, the fact that Scholes, Giggs, the Neville brothers all have the disgraceful red badge running through them like Blackpool rock, has set them on a footing in the European game like no other. New players augment the core, even aid their development. Leeds just don’t have that, and haven’t done for quite some time. The days of the club stalwart are numbered it would seem, with the paucity of finance available in the lower leagues, when you get a good youngster on your books, then the Premier League vultures are circling, often before they’ve even run on the pitch. Neil Warnock’s biggest challenge is probably self-imposed. He wants to get Leeds United in the Premier League by the end of next season – and if he can by the end of this season, though that appears unlikely. What will interest a lot of supporters is how far he’s going to tap into that Thorp Arch conveyor belt. Is Neil Warnock going to build a team purely for promotion, or is he going to build a team for the next 10 years? The snappy catch answer is that he’ll go for option one. Doubtless bin off the Grayson deadwood, and bring in his old(er) guard, seasoned campaigners from Sheffield United, QPR, and maybe even Crystal Palace, whom he knows and trusts to do him a job. But you have to wonder how far he now has his eye on Thorp Arch too, he’s seen what Lees can do – and is an admirer. One wonders whether his vanity will stretch to unearthing others, so that his promotion isn’t just a final flourish, but people talk about his legacy too – much like Wilkinson? If Leeds United do go up and don’t blood some of their youth team in the coming season and a bit, then one would have to say it’s not only a lost opportunity (come on how many have ended up as dross – I can’t think of one in fact) but strategically suicidal. To compete at the top table, we have to accept that we need a `real’ 30 man squad. Not 12 professionals, and a hotch potch, rag-tag group of 18 others under 15 years old or with fragile hamstrings, a pathological fear of scoring goals or some kind of beef with the coach. To do that you’ve either got to invest heavily in a decent squad (not going to happen) or else start blending your youth players with the more senior group. Grayson was probably at fault here, as he seemed more likely to go out and buy a Forssell or a Grella than blood a Poleon or an Ions. And the impact of those same players drafted in last minute, by and large, has been minimal to the extent that their trialling and recruitment has been pointless. Those academy players are going to be younger, fitter, and in a position where they have a point to prove. They’re of course already bought and paid for – and in the shop window. If the issue on Tuesday was heavy legs – really? – Well wouldn’t some youthful exuberance have been key? The last couple of times I’ve played as a thirty something the last thing you wanted was some bright spark bringing along his nephew – 17 years old, a trainee at wolves – they just buzz around you like a mosquito until, flapping and tired you just give up. Sure they might not always be the best but the youthful energy of perhaps times earlier this season was definitely missing. So why don’t we actively start evolving our core team right now? Building for the future, how Darwinian. Or rather spend less on finding has beens with 6 months left in the locker – and start using our already expensively assembled – but better value youth players – there may be another Howson, Smith or Woodgate lurking, who knows?