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.