To achieve success, new manager will need guarantees from Bates

Sat, Feb 4, 2012, 00:00

SOCCER ANGLES:The chairman may be impervious to criticism but even he can’t ignore fans boycotting games, writes MICHAEL WALKER

IF LEEDS United wanted measurements of where they are this week, there were a few scattered around. One came in the paragraph in the London Times on Thursday that announced the departure of Simon Grayson from Elland Road the previous afternoon – there was more coverage of Carlos Tevez’s latest whatever.

Another measure came in Sven-Goran Eriksson declaring that he was “flattered” to be linked with the vacancy. Always a head-shaker, that.

A third was the 4-1 home defeat to Birmingham City on Tuesday night. There were just under 20,000 at Elland Road, meaning the famous old ground was half-empty.

Into their eighth season outside the Premier League, that seemed like an appropriate description of Leeds United.

This can feel like a club still searching for, rather than clawing back, the national relevance that not that long ago it took for granted. It is still a damned United.

A question many disgruntled Leeds fans will ask is: what’s that got to do with Simon Grayson?

Under Grayson, Leeds have just won two and drawn one of the last four league games – seven points from 12. It’s not brilliant, but it’s not awful.

Unfortunately for Grayson, the man above him, chairman-owner Ken Bates, clearly took note that the preceding four had featured three defeats and a draw – 1 point from 12.

A superficial reading of Leeds collecting eight points from 24 against seven teams outside the current top six, at a stage of the season when a club of Leeds’s supposed stature retains belief in automatic promotion, has its own killer logic.

It did for Grayson, a likeable man who supported Leeds as a boy, who played in the youth team alongside Gary Speed, and who, as countless fans have stated, appeared to be managing without full control.

There must have been times when Grayson thought of walking away from Leeds, and Bates’s presence there would have provided sympathy for such a gesture. By Wednesday such thoughts were too late.

There are plenty who have questioned Grayson’s ability to lift Leeds from where they are, though. The manager, they say, had three years to forge a workable position under Bates.

Ultimately, supporters everywhere want someone they are totally convinced by, as opposed to a man they want to be convinced by. Faith in Grayson was ebbing. Were Bates popular, punters could well have turned on Grayson earlier this season – say during the dramatically bad 4-1 defeat at Barnsley a month ago.

But what disturbs Leeds fans more is Bates and his tone. When the chairman said in the wake of Grayson’s dismissal: “We are building a club first and a team second,” those who march against Bates and sing loudly of their disdain for the 80 year-old Monaco-based former Chelsea owner banged their fists anew.

There is a lot of innate anger at Bates simply because of that description – Monaco-based former Chelsea owner – but there is accumulated fury too. The idea that you build a club, and a team follows, simply dumbfounds the vast majority of supporters. The evidence has been it is the team on the park that generates the interest, which in turn brings money. From there a club develops its infrastructure. In good times the two run in tandem.

At Elland Road fans think the opposite is going on. They are suspicious of Bates, not just because of Chelsea, but because of the emphasis on revamping the stadium. It is outstripping the team. Jonny Howson, the talented young captain, has just been sold to Norwich City. A legitimate question here is: why didn’t Howson want to stay at his hometown club? Bates’s style is to trample over such details. To the disappointment of supporters, he seems impervious to all criticism.

Yet an attendance of under 20,000 hurts even a bull like Bates. He knows it is the most painful sacrifice of all, to forgo a game, but the reminder of Tuesday night is the single greatest act a Leeds fan can perform is the boycotting of games.

While they go and chant, he can belittle them; if they’re not there, he can’t. It is the same story for the disaffected fan everywhere. But it leaves them conflicted.

Half-empty.

This knowledge will not stop the White thousands travelling through the bitter cold to Bristol City today and that will re-enforce those eyeing the post vacated by Grayson what potential lies within Leeds.

But the attraction needs to be set against the distraction – sitting in the midst of the Bates-fan squabble can sap energy. A future Leeds manager should be seeking guarantees, and not about the napkins in the executive boxes.

Lee Clark, at nearby Huddersfield, has leapt to the front of the betting list. Clark denied any contact with Bates yesterday morning but made a curious statement: “We have only two defeats in 53 league games, the value of the squad is hugely higher than when I came to the club, and the corporate side of the club is going through the roof, which is only down to the way the team plays.

“I don’t think I’m too bad a manager, really and that’s why people are interested, I think.”

There is club-building commercial talk in there, which is Bates language. But also: “which is only down to the way the team plays.” If Clark is to be the next manager of Leeds United, he may have just discovered his first upstairs argument.

Lose at QPR and McCarthy may lose it all

IT WILL be six years in July since Mick McCarthy succeeded Glenn Hoddle at Wolves. McCarthy has had disappointments in that time but also days of triumph, not least promotion, or last season when Wolves beat Manchester City, Chelsea and United, among others, at Molineux.

The 2-1 victory over United, when Kevin Doyle scored the winner, was a year ago this weekend. Wolves remained in the relegation zone then. They got out of it in May, which meant a third consecutive season in the Premier League. That has brought Wolves a lot of income, just ask Ken Bates.

Molineux is being redeveloped, due in no small part to McCarthy’s work at the club but the manner of Tuesday’s loss to Liverpool has damaged him.

McCarthy’s chairman Steve Morgan entered the dressing room afterwards to call the performance “unacceptable”. What hurt McCarthy just as much was that this got out.

“I wouldn’t say I was delighted by it,” McCarthy said yesterday. “I have made my feelings quite clear. But anything I have said has been said to Steve privately and that’s where it will remain.”

There is a clear difference of managerial process here, and it has been voiced.

Lose at QPR today and McCarthy could find Morgan’s presence in the Wolves dressingroom is no longer McCarthy’s concern.