Falling apart again? Interview
Friday, 17th Jan 2020 11:30 by Clive Whittingham
Leeds opened up an 11 point gap on the chasing pack during a storming first half of the season but are threatening another collapse after one win in six - Nico Franks tells us he's nervous but thinks they'll get the job done this time.
How would you assess Leeds' season overall?
After the living nightmare that was the second leg of the play final against Frank Lampard’s Derby County, I feared the team would take a while to hit its stride. But we came flying out the blocks as we did the year before and by early December had a very nice 11-point cushion. That has slowly been eroded away as our usual Christmas/New Year dip took hold (stimulated by us throwing away a 3-0 lead to Cardiff at home), meaning Elland Road has started to feel particularly nervy and, with the transfer window agape, fans are urging chairman Radrizzani to spend spend spend in order to seize what looks like our best chance to get out of this league in a decade. I keep telling myself to enjoy things as they are but can’t shake an ominous feeling of deju vu.
One win in six, beaten by Sheff Wed last time out, are Leeds falling apart again?
Yes and no. As I said, we’re always terrible this time of year for some reason and the gap to third we were enjoying is narrowing each week, with Brentford looking particularly good at the moment – as you know well. But anyone who watched the first half of our game against Arsenal in the FA Cup a week a half ago would struggle to argue this is a team that really is falling apart – we were immense. Nevertheless, we do have a thin squad, are picking up lots of injuries and have no back up striker for Bamford, who works hard but is far from clinical. A rare win in London this weekend would be a major boost.
League results so far…
Stand out players and weak links in your side?
Kalvin ‘the Yorkshire Pirlo’ Philips has been imperious as ever but has slightly off the boil in recent weeks. Nevertheless he has caught the eye of Gareth Southgate, meaning he could be the first Leeds player to be called up to the England team in 16 years. Ben White has been amazing but please don’t tell Brighton that. Helder Costa is beginning to justify his hefty price tag while Jackie Harrison has been contributing lots assists and the odd goal, although he does have a frustrating tendency to make the wrong decision in the final third. Kiko the goalkeeper has been erratic in the past few games and dropped some real clangers, despite a really strong start to the season, so he’s the definite weak link at the moment.
Any January business being rumoured? Eddie Nketiah and Jack Clarke both recalled from loans so presumably they'll be replaced?
We need a striker to come in to give Bamford some competition and Che Adams has been the name most mentioned – although Southampton’s manager is reluctant to let him go, so it seems like we’re having to look elsewhere, with Andre Gray mentioned as an alternative. Either would be very nice, thank you. We’re desperate not to have a repeat of the disaster in last year’s window when Dan James was on the verge of signing – so much so he had already done his photoshoot in a Leeds kit – when Swansea stopped answering the phone. James is now plying his trade at a struggling team somewhere in Lancashire.
Ins: Ben White, 21, CB, Brighton, Loan >>> Eddie Nketiah, 20, CF, Arsenal, Loan >>> Helder Costa, 25, RW, Wolves, Loan >>> Liam McCarron, 18, CF, Carlisle, Undis >>> Jack Clarke, 18, RW, Spurs, Loan >>> Jack Harrison, 22, LM, Man City, Loan >>> Illan Meslier, 19, GK, L’Orient, Loan
Outs: Jack Clarke, 18, RW, Spurs, £9.9m >>> Pontus Jansson, 28, CB, Brentford, £5.54m >>> Kemar Roofe, 26, CF, Anderlecht, £5.4m >>> Bailey Peacock-Farrell, 22, GK, Burnley, £2.4m >>> Samu Saiz, 28, AM, Girona, £2.25m >>> Caleb Ekuban, 25, CF, Trabzonspor, £900k >>> Tom Pearce, 21, LB, Wigan, £250k >>> Aapo Halme, 21, CB, Barnsley, £200k >>> Tyler Denton, 23, RB, Stevenage, Undisclosed >>> Hadi Sacko, 25, RW, Denizlispor (Turkey), Undisclosed >>> Yosuke Ideguchi 22, CM, Gamba Osaka, Undisclosed >>> Paudie O’Connor, 21, CB, Bradford, Free >>> Sam Dalby, 19, CF, Watford, Free >>> Lewie Coyle, 23, RB, Fleetwood, Loan >>> Laurens De Bock, 26, LB, Sunderland, Loan >>> Pawel Cibicki, 25, CF, Den Haag, Loan >>> Jay Roy Grot, 21 CF, Vitesse, Loan >>> Conor Shaughnessy, 23, CB, Mansfield, Loan
Speaking of which, what can QPR fans expect from Jack Clarke?
Lots of huffing and puffing down the wing, and (usually unsuccessful) attempts to take the ball past the defender and get a cross in. He looked great for us this time last year but then dropped off completely and has been mooching about in the under 23s most of this season. He’ll inevitably score on Saturday and go on to do amazingly well for club and country. Just don’t give him any Red Bull.
Do you think you'll see promotion through this season?
I do. The standard in the Championship is lower this season compared to last and we’ve got plenty of the bottom half to play at home still. A team doesn’t average almost two points per game one half a season and suddenly become awful the next. If we bring a striker in then I definitely think we’ll be fine. But if we have to rely on Bamford then it could be a very tense and nervy second half of the season. Although it wouldn’t really be Leeds if we got promotion without an inordinate amount of suffering.
What are the consequences if you don't? Chairman have the money to keep going? Presumably Bielsa wouldn't stay, though we said that last year...
Bielsa may not stay even if we DO get promoted: he’s too pure for the corporate fairground that is the Premier League. He’ll definitely go if we don’t get promoted though and Leeds will, as happened with Chile, become ‘widows of Bielsa.’ I genuinely get emotional thinking of him leaving, it’s no understatement to say he’s changed the whole city for the better and his philosophy both on and off the pitch shouldn’t ever be forgotten. Radrizzani gave himself five years to get Leeds promoted in 2017 but, after failing with the best coach in the world, may feel like he’s taken us as far as he can, realise we’re cursed and sell up. Knowing our luck, probably to some unhinged demagogue who puts Steve Evans back in charge.
(What’s that Skip? You wanna see the LFW Steve Evans photo collection again?)
Links >>> Leeds United official website >>> Yorkshire Evening Post – Local Paper >>> Yorkshire Post – Local Paper >>> The Square Ball – Fanzine >>> WACCOE – Forum >>> Marching on Together – Forum >>> Not 606 – Forum >>> SB Nation – Blog
The Twitter @ @loftforwords, @NicoFranks
Pictures – Action Images
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