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Endless Questions at Leeds United

17 September 2015
Endless Questions at Leeds United
With every new season, manager and squad at Leeds United you hope that you have seen the last of horror shows like Tuesday night at Elland Road, but the mawkish stench of Bates-era torment during the grim 1-0 defeat to Ipswich was chilling. It was every level of the disjointed and error-strewn hopelessness that we have come to expect from regimes far less professional and quality-laden than this one. And then as we filed away dumbfounded into the night to contemplate quite where this leaves us, the answer was provided by the news that executive director Adam Pearson had left his position. 21,312 Leeds fans, minus those hardy souls from Ipswich, looked to the bleak, black skies in unison and could offer nothing but expletives.

Adam Pearson from Endless Questions - Article 1 Adam Pearson

If Leeds fans felt in a state of equilibrium after five draws and one win from six games following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Brentford, there is no doubt which way they were facing on Wednesday morning. Sat as Leeds are in the unbearably well-acquainted position of 14th in the Sky Bet Championship table, with a sense of familiarity so impregnable that we might as well be chained up in stocks, it is hard to see past the abject nature of the defeat to Ipswich Town. But we must, for it is only one game, but following on from the drab 1-1 draw with Brentford it highlighted worrying traits we thought we had waved goodbye to.

Taking matters on the pitch first, there are few, if any, positives that head coach Uwe Rösler could take from the evening’s events. Before kick-off, the expected inclusion of Italian striker Mirco Antenucci appeared to have the knock-on effect of re-shaping the Leeds side completely, to the extent that key assets were playing out of position. Luke Murphy and Tom Adeyemi were exposed and ineffective in central midfield and Lewis Cook was wasted out wide, even when he swapped flanks with Stuart Dallas. The price that Rösler paid for including Antenucci was way over the odds, and it is imperative that Cook is utilised to his maximum driving at the opposition centrally, as he did more in the second half. Rösler’s concession to 4-4-2, after his spikey retort over tactics post-match on Saturday, could be viewed as courageous or uncommitted depending on your mood, but certainly it was not viewed too favourably even after half an hour on Tuesday night.

Following a call to start games with more intensity, Leeds did get out of the traps quickly against an Ipswich side that had conceded five goals at Reading in their last outing. However, as all-too-often happens, if the early goal doesn’t come the parade grinds to a halt and the first half was played out at a funereal pace with, once again, no credible goal-scoring chances created. It is true, though, that Ipswich scored against the run of play.

It is easy to point the finger of blame at goalkeeper Marco Silvestri for the 32nd-minute goal, as he came flapping for a cross with meek intent and little notable contact. It was a risible attempt representative of an inherent lack of command and intrepidity in the Italian, but there were still five or six Leeds defenders in the six-yard box, and none of them was exactly killing themselves to prevent Ipswich defender Tommy Smith nodding home from an awkward angle.

From there a disciplined and organised Ipswich, in characteristic Mick McCarthy mould, rode out the game with few scares. Mis-placed passes and miscommunication littered Leeds’s game, and while they attempted to play with pace and verve, the quality and courage to attack the opposition wasn’t there, and a unit of measurement does not exist to record the brevity of time in which the ball was comfortably within a Leeds player’s control over the ninety minutes.

The scarcity of chances created by Leeds will shock Rösler, particularly given the quality we have already seen from this bunch of players. This time, the German coach didn’t have the answer. The 59th-minute replacement of Dallas with Sam Byram was simply like-for-like when it was clearly the formation that wasn’t working. The introduction of Alex Mowatt on 69 minutes did finally shake Leeds to life and instiled more fluid passing and cohesive movement. This brought an opening for Byram when he was found by a sumptuous Cook through-ball on 85 minutes, but with defenders closing in Byram went down in the box under a push from behind, and what looked like a sure-fire penalty at the time, was perhaps rightly not given having seen the replays. Byram was booked for his troubles, and Leeds kissed goodbye to a game that, as opposed to Saturday, they didn't deserve anything from.

Immediately after the final whistle it emerged, without warning, that executive director Adam Pearson had left his position after only four months, to take a break “from Leeds United and football in general”. Right at that moment, thousands of us felt like doing exactly the same, and an element of jealousy invaded my thoughts that he was in the enviable position to do so.

Certainly the open letter from Pearson posted on Leeds United's official website reads like health problems could be a factor, and no Leeds fan would argue that the pressure and strain involved in discovering and addressing the many problems at Elland Road over these four months wouldn’t have a detrimental effect. However, Pearson cites personal and business issues, with the intimation in the media being that his ownership and responsibilities at Hull FC Rugby League club are a draining factor on his abilities to competently operate both roles. While there can be some sympathy for this, the developing situation can have come as no surprise to Pearson, nor Leeds owner Massimo Cellino, who appointed Pearson in May in a move that has capacitated the most seamless and serene of summers, and most importantly, transfer windows. Add to that the fact that the Super League Rugby League season is almost over for Hull FC, who have two Super 8 fixtures remaining and little chance of reaching the Semi-Finals in the competition. Leeds fans will rightly point to a more pressing workload at Elland Road, but in truth we know little of Pearson’s personal circumstances and therefore priorities.

On the face of it, Pearson’s open letter is a gracious and transparent move by the club and Cellino’s supporting comments suggest, to use a distasteful Bates-ism, a ‘kissy-kissy’ relationship prevails between owner and former executive director. Tellingly, only Cellino talks about a possible return to the club, where as Pearson’s comments have an air of closure and ‘job done’. Inevitably talk between Leeds fans has already turned to Pearson’s long-held desire to own Leeds United, and whether this unexpected move is a conduit to putting some form of wheels in motion in that respect. Certainly, Pearson has seen the scale and status of the situation at Leeds at close hand – something that was speculated as his intentions right from the moment he joined at the end of last season - and therefore his sudden retreat from the club might be seen several ways.

Cellino’s imminent court cases in October – and therefore, potential Football League bans - will, assuming they finally reach a conclusion, reveal all in this respect, but equally, it is hard to ignore the fact that Leeds’s turnover of staff in key positions at all levels of the club has been alarming since Cellino walked through the door in January 2014. Pearson’s position never felt long term despite his success and natural ease in the Elland Road hot seat, and you have to wonder why he would willingly leave a position he admits he has made such a success of and had so openly yearned to return to in his years away from Elland Road? To buyout or to be brushed off? You sense this is not the last we have seen of Adam Pearson and literally anything could happen next.

Now, Cellino is charged with addressing this vacancy, and given the workload undertaken and results achieved by Adam Pearson, it is inconceivable to see the position remain unoccupied, if only to provide the necessary buffer between Cellino and possible kneejerk decisions. Meanwhile, Leeds fans are dismayed that the period of stability and clear leadership from the top was evident for only four months, and choppy waters are back on the horizon.

As Uwe Rösler prepares for this weekend’s away trip to MK Dons, his homework may have overlooked the fact that visits to the unpopular franchise club in Milton Keynes have previous, and their soulless Meccano stadium is something of a graveyard for Leeds bosses, as Gary McAllister will attest. More pertinently, with a staunch ally now departed, Rösler looks increasingly vulnerable with one win in eight games, and must now be viewing the situation like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, where the guard dog has been distracted by a juicy piece of steak leaving Cellino eyeing the candy in the sweet shop. The question is, who can now stop him gorging on another head coach?

If Adam Pearson’s legacy is to have indoctrinated some principles in running an English football club in a professional manner, we must hope that the key one is having the courage of your convictions, trust in your considered investments, and belief in stability and longevity. Meanwhile, for Leeds fans, the restless sense of paranoid apprehension is already palpable.

Jon contributes sports content for Leeds Living, he is an established sports and lifestyle writer for various organisations, and is a twice published author.