The learned men of football tell me that Eunan O’Kane’s strength is in sitting deep, dictating the rhythm and playing simple balls out from the back. By ‘learned men’ I mean those I converse with on Twitter, and while they might fall short of professional pundits, they do offer the only explanation for his continued presence at Elland Road.

I’m not usually one for total character assassinations of our own players and O’Kane is far from lonely in the ‘stealing a living’ club, but even when he plays his role effectively – which he hasn’t for some time – I’m at a total loss to understand why anyone thinks his contribution is anything more than an absurd luxury.

Perhaps growing up in an era of David Batty and Gordon Strachan spoiled me a little, but when did a deep-sitting midfield who offers practically nothing to the defence become a thing? The whole concept of his role is lunacy. Are we genuinely trying to convince ourselves that the other ten men are so good, we can afford to have one whose only role is playing simple passes? And why is an ability to play simple passes no longer something we expect of every midfielder, but a specialised role?

A deep-sitting midfielder dictating the rhythm is hardly a new thing in football, but those who came before O’Kane had the very important distinction of being a disruptive force and a shield to the defence. Perhaps the most notable example of this is Patrick Vieira, who was an absolute brickwall of a player, but who also filled the bare minimum requirement of a midfielder insofar as he could pass a ball – the only skill O’Kane apparently has and something we’re now to believe is a specialised artform.

And he’s not alone in being a bit one-dimensional. Wingers used to beat their man and get a ball in to the striker, while dropping back and helping out the full-back when out of possession. But now we’re to accept that Hadi Sacko is a winger because he’s quicker than most players, despite him having no idea when to release the ball. That’s if he remembers to take it with him.

Then there’s Felix Wiedwald; a goalkeeper who can control and pass a ball, which presumably makes him second in line for Leeds United’s defensive midfield spot. That he rarely makes the right decision in deciding whether to stay on his line or come for a cross and seems totally incapable of catching – two things I’d have previously said were the bare minimum requirements for a goalkeeper – apparently aren’t as important.

There are many things wrong with the current Leeds United side and to put all the blame for recent performances on a handful of players is incredibly harsh. But when things aren’t going for you in football, a ‘back to basics’ approach is usually called for and that’s exactly where we’d be at, had Leeds United not signed so many players who’ve totally redefined the basic expectations of their role.

There’s been a lot of blame placed on Orta for underwhelming signings, but this habit of signing players who fail at the very basics long precedes him. It’s part of what’s made Heckingbottom’s transition so difficult. When you arrive at a club where the goalkeeper can’t catch, the winger can’t cross and the holding midfielder can’t tackle, you’re not able to enforce the Paul Heckingbottom way, because too many of the players fail at what he should rightly be able to expect from a player in their position.

9 Responses

  1. Gill Stephenson

    Agreed. Time to bring in some of our youngsters I think. Another basic which we seem somehow to have forgotten is that if we didn’t concede so many soft goals then we wouldn’t have to score as much !! I noticed that, having spurned the chance of capturing Marriott in January (and opted instead to buy a young man who is immediately sidelined and is unlikely to play this season ?!) he scored AGAIN at the week-end. Which bit of “we need a fit, strong, cunning, skillful marksman that works hard and shrugs off challengers” does Orta not understand ? MOT

  2. maxwatson

    Was never really sure about O’Kane, and as for the rhythm of the team, it always seemed to me that Leeds played better without him. Now his confidence also seems to be shot and he’s become ultra tentative in defence. He might as well have dived in at Sheffield and tried an actual tackle – their move was designed to attract exactly the move he performed. And yesterday he just watched the second goal go in rather than try to prevent it, maybe worrying more about giving away a penalty (which would have been no surprise, as well as their card record Leeds have conceded more goals from penalties than anyone else in the division) than preventing a goal. Would much prefer Vieira, the unfairly maligned Phillips or for that matter Anita, who I thought did OK yesterday, yet again playing out of position. Anyhow – absolutely agree.

    Wiedwald – more difficult. Not good enough as a goalie but not that much worse than Lonergan; and his distribution is indeed far better – Lonergan’s random kicks into the midfield mixer (or just belted over the touchline), placing the defence under constant siege, was a major part of the problem with the late 2017 losing run. Should have brought in a new reserve goalie in January to have given ourselves room to manouevre. Not sure this is fixable this season.

    Sacko – he actually holds the ball better than Alioski; last ball can be dismal but with wingers it’s also a question of having strikers in the box; if Sacko at least hangs on to the ball it gives time for the attack to move forward. We’ve been playing 4-5-1 for so long that everyone’s forgotten what this looked like – with Wood we only ever had Wood there and other players running to create space specifically for him. Lasogga prefers to work from the edge of the box most of the time. Yesterday after Roofe came on we suddenly had a bit of extra threat up front and in that environment I think Sacko’s actually got a part to play (maybe still as a sub though).

    Other thing is, don’t think we (or the manager) knows the best 11 (including selecting from maybe 7 people who could wing/wide midfield) and that 11 still don’t know how to play as a unit. The best argument for Alioski was that he and Saiz had developed an understanding as to how to play forward; that was never really replicated beyond the two players.

  3. Wilfred Martin

    While I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of this piece, I think that it is fair re-affirm, as TSS points out, that O’Kane & Sacko were brought to the club by Cellini & Monk, not Orta. He seems to have become a bit of a “fans fall guy” for our performance & personnel deficiencies. I have no issues with the quality of players like Saiz, Forshaw, Lasogga. I have an issue that current lack of self belief means that some players are “bottling it” and not using their true abilities. Heckingbottom is aware of that and dealing with it – but it needs time & a string of good all round performances both individually & collectively to change.

    • Chareose

      your not looking at the full picture when it comes to Orta………he presided over the Rob Green debacle,letting an experienced international go whos proven he can handle wearing a leeds shirt for a german goal keeper who had a very poor record in the Bundesliga……..i assume the idea was that a very average keeper in the german first div MUST be better than the average championship fair ??
      Then there was the Charlie Taylor replacement strategy…….. eventually we got a kid from Manure who had a diabolical season for Wolves and who went on to repeat it at Leeds. WRONG A top full back like Bryan at Bristol should have been the main target of the summer
      Orta clearly had done no homework on who the key players were at Leeds last season ; Wood, Jansson, Bartley, Green, Taylor in that order……….none of those that left were adequately replaced

      Recruitment has been completely slipshod as it was before Radrizani. I don’t think orta has a clue and I think he simply got lucky with Saiz

      • TSS

        Hoping January marked a shift in strategy. Standard of signings seem to move up a gear. Forshaw in particular is very good, and while De Bock had a howler last week, he started well and looks like he’ll be an improvement on what we had.

  4. Steven Clarkson

    He gets stuck in and he makes some mistakes.

    We have other players that can go most of the match with hardly
    a touch of the ball.

    Well you can’t make any mistakes like that, but they add

    Can’t see us making the playoffs and sometimes I think we have
    players who don’t want to make them.

    Perhaps the new broom/ coach will get it right next season.

  5. Chareose

    leeds fans were screaming for taylor, wood and bartley to be replaced as a top priority ……..the fans could see that before the season even started and we are not a paid “expert” like orta…………the blokes an idiot who probably still doesn’t know what our strengths and weaknesses are

    • Irving 08

      It is the business model, I am afraid: essentially no change from Massimo, though the otherwise financially risky long contracts might give Rad more leverage with potential purchasers.

  6. Irving 08

    Bianchi looked like he could be the player none of our current midfielders (including Forshaw, perhaps) seem suited to be but, alas, he got injured and like a few of the other Italian signings (Bellusci and Doukara especially) were at the right club at the wrong time. Vieria might become the player we need but at the first sign of confirmed promise he will be sold before we get promoted (judging by the Head of our self- consuming recruitment structure’s interview comments).


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