The Leeds United striker conundrum TSS May 7, 2013 Leeds United 39 Comments Strikers are a funny thing at Elland Road. In 2010 we signed the only player who’d managed to out-score Jermaine Beckford the season previous in what seemed to be an absolute masterstroke of a move by Simon Grayson. Two years on, and Billy Paynter had been dubbed “barn door” by Leeds fans due to the fact he couldn’t hit one from six yards. Then came Steve Morison, a striker who I, along with many other Leeds United fans, rated highly during his time at Millwall. The second he donned the famous white shirt of Leeds United however, he suddenly seemed clumsy and useless. It doesn’t just happen to Leeds though. You only have to take a look at accomplished strikers who have left Elland Road to see that. Our most recent departure, Luciano Becchio, has done nothing at all noteworthy for Norwich City, while former hero Jermaine Beckford failed to replicate his Elland Road form at Everton and Leicester City. Is it just a case of certain players being over-hyped by a particular fanbase, or is there more to it? For me, it’s a case of strikers fitting systems. Luciano Becchio for example was the perfect hoofball striker, it’s no coincidence his most prolific spell at Leeds came during Neil Warnock’s tenure. It’s also no surprise that he’s already out-of-favour at Norwich. Jermaine Beckford meanwhile benefited from the Snodgrass and Gradel partnership, two wingers who could cut inside and lay the ball on for Beckford to capitalise on with his blistering pace. Stick Beckford in a Warnock team, he’d probably have similar success to what Billy Paynter had in Simon Grayson’s side. Billy Paynter, Steve Morison, Jermaine Beckford, Luciano Becchio – none of these players are bad footballers, they didn’t “fluke” their way to the upper echelons of English football. But if the team isn’t suited to their style of play, you won’t get the best out of them. The exact same thing happened when Fernando Torres moved to Chelsea. The undeniably talented Spanish striker suddenly seemed incapable of playing football. He looked like an imposter. It wasn’t that Torres had been “found out” or had forgotten how to play football, he’d just moved to a club whose system didn’t suit him. From the short passing, quick attacking style of Liverpool to the direct and clinical approach of Chelsea – a style they’d developed to suit Drogba – Torres might as well have changed sport, never mind team. At Elland Road, we’ve spent so many years patching a team together from odds and ends, we’ve ended up with a mismatch of players who don’t suit any particular system. Billy Paynter was never Simon Grayson’s first choice, the man wasn’t an idiot, Paynter was just an option which suited Ken Bates’ budget. Whether he suited our style of play or not was irrelevant to Ken, he was more concerned with cream-cladding the East Stand. Grayson ended up signing several players who didn’t suit the style of team he’d created/inherited, but they were always options forced by a lack of funds. Ross McCormack and Max Gradel is what happened when Grayson got to spend money, the Billy Paynter’s came when he didn’t. And it was no different for Warnock. I hated his style of play, it didn’t suit my idea of Leeds United, but had he been given the money to build an entire team capable of playing the Warnock way, he’d have probably succeeded. So when you’re considering transfer targets this summer, especially strikers, it’s no good looking at the amount of goals they’ve scored unless you consider the style of team they played in. Billy Sharp, a striker I rate highly, was prolific for Scunthorpe and Doncaster, but you have to question whether he’d suit a Brian McDermott team? Early indications suggest McDermott wants to build a short passing team, one more suited to a Ross McCormack than a Luciano Becchio, a Jermaine Beckford than a Billy Paynter, or a Fernando Torres than a Didier Drogba. Every player linked with Leeds United this summer has to be assessed along similar lines. There’s no point signing good players if they don’t suit the system we intend to play. We need a footballing philosophy. Then we need to sign players who suit it.