There have been a lot of new beginnings at Leeds United in the last decade. Indeed it’s hard to recall the last new season that felt like a natural continuation of the previous one. Whether it’s ownership, the manager or the players, Leeds United is in a constant state of flux in the 21stcentury; new faces, new ideas, new structure, but the same direction. Well, that’s no direction at all actually, simply standing still.
And of course we have seen change once again this summer. Except that this does feel a little bit different. Not only have Leeds appointed one of the world’s most renowned coaches, but the better players from last season have been retained and the new players added have for once represented quality rather than quantity.
It does look from our close vantage point over the road that the club has adopted a measured patience in their pursuit of manager and players this summer, and this has led to a more considered refinement of what went wrong last season, rather than ripping everything up, ransacking the coaching structure and implementing yet another round of wholesale change. In that respect, as the new season approaches rapidly, things feel different but a bit more ‘in control’, and that can only be a good thing.
All that said, of course there was an uncomfortable sense of familiarity about the team that started against Las Palmas, in the final pre-season friendly at Elland Road last Sunday. At the Old Peacock we had opened our doors to the thirsty hordes once again, and introduced some changes of our own, but on the pitch over the road, things looked pretty much the same.
Marcelo Bielsa started with eleven players who had all been here last season, and who had all disappointed to varying degrees in a campaign that flattered to deceive and had painfully familiar ending dragged out over the final three months. While the players looked sharp and organised, many of the same traits and problems existed, and it was only until some new arrivals were introduced in the second half that you could begin to see some progress from the hours of hard graft undertaken at Thorp Arch during the recent heatwave.
And since then we have seen more new arrivals. While Leeds fans have long since held the loan system in contempt, that is usually because the club has used it in ill-considered desperation or as a cheap option. This summer we have taken well regarded youngsters from Chelsea and Manchester City who on an individual basis will all improve the first team and are all better players than those they have replaced. Jamal Blackman, Lewis Baker and Jack Harrison are the three loanees so far and it already appears that they will bring much more to the team than the players Leeds have unceremoniously shipped out this summer.
Meanwhile, Leeds have also spent a cool £10million on two key signings in positions that we have been traditionally weak, and you can already sense a buzz from the immediate impact they are likely to make. Left-back Barry Douglas was one of the most important players to Wolverhampton Wanderers as they waltzed to the Championship title last season, and quite how Leeds managed to tempt him away for only £3million still baffles me today.
Likewise, striker Patrick Bamford became a key player at Middlesbrough last season and many of their fans were dismayed to see Leeds snap him up for £7million this week. Bamford arrives in much the scenario as Chris Wood did a few years ago. A highly rated striker who has proved he can hit goals at this level, but who has suffered from being farmed out on numerous loans. Chris Wood definitely found a home at Leeds United and it is to be hoped that Bamford flourishes in similar fashion from being given the number 9 shirt and from the trust being shown in him as the ‘main man’.
It seems Leeds might still be looking to do some transfer business in the final few days of the transfer window, and if we can add some more quality to a couple of weak spots – we still look light of options upfront and in central defence – then you have to conclude this is the best summer transfer window we have seen in a long time. And after a frustrating summer of waiting for the club to land some players, everything is now building up nicely to the new season.
Sunday’s opening game against Stoke City is something we have been building up to at the Old Peacock ever since the fixtures were released back in June. Every summer we look at the huge operation that is a matchday at Elland Road and try to find ways we can improve things. The problems are usually obvious; we just can’t serve beer quick enough. But having invested in the marquee a couple of years ago we have this summer installed two more outside bars in the beer garden, to better utilise the space available to us and to provide more beer pumps to hopefully get people served quicker and more often.
You will also no doubt be aware of our new restaurant partnership with the Spiced Mango. This began in July and has so far been a huge success. The guys at the Spiced Mango are also undertaking the matchday food operation and while they are serving up some of their delicious Asian delicacies, in Sheek Kebab wraps and Chicken Tikka wraps, they are also ensuring there is something for everyone, with cheeseburgers and fries also on the agenda.
With the Spiced Mango partnership we are looking to offer something different, and that extends to matchday too. We feel that football fans get short changed with the limited offerings at football stadiums, and hopefully we are breaking ground in that respect.
So Sunday is going to be a huge day, with a late afternoon Kick-Off and a big crowd expected. And August continues apace, with Bolton coming to Elland Road in the League Cup on Tuesday 14th, Rotherham on Saturday 18thand Middlesbrough on Friday 31st.
There’s nothing like the start of the season to whet the appetite at the Old Peacock, and while a lot of things might feel the same, there’s also a lot of difference. So look around, experience it and enjoy it, because this new beginning might just be the real deal.