It was a welcome throwback to yesteryear for the FA Cup this weekend as no fewer than five top flight teams surrendered to lower league opposition, including one who became first Premier League team to be defeated by a non league side. It was also a lurch back into the past for Leeds United as an inspired performance full of passion saw the Whites overcome vastly superior opposition in the shape of Tottenham Hotspur.
Leeds, and Neil Warnock, got their tactics virtually spot on, nullifying Tottenham’s influential wingers whilst counter attacking with menace and efficiency, albeit aided by some questionable Spurs defending. The inquest into the flatness of the Tottenham display and Villas Boas’ team selection that included no recognised striker in the starting eleven will no doubt still be rumbling on down in North London. But it was an afternoon to saviour for Leeds, and also one to use as inspiration for what could be on offer every weekend if promotion is assured.
When in full voice, there are fewer tougher grounds to go to in the country than Elland Road, as a respectful Villas Boas highlighted post match. But for too long now, Leeds have been absent from the top table of English football and despite the impressive nature of the victory over Spurs, a Premier League return still doesn’t appear on the horizon in the immediate future.
Whilst revelling in the domestic cups, Leeds have laboured in the league this season, struggling for any real consistency. It is painfully obvious the departments that Leeds lack quality and that they are, at least, three players short of having a squad that is capable of challenging at the forefront of the Championship. The main area that Leeds need reinforcements is on the wing. Jerome Thomas provided a short term solution but since his hasty return to West Brom, the shortage of pace has surfaced once more.
It wasn’t too long ago that Leeds were blessed in that particular department with both Robert Snodgrass and Max Gradel giving sleepless nights to defences in League One, and then again in the Championship following promotion. The latter is now rumoured to be back on the radar at Elland Road and the possibility of a shock return before the closure of the transfer window has been mooted according to The Yorkshire Post.
Gradel left Leeds to play football in France for St Ettiene eighteen months ago, but has recently found himself on the periphery of the squad. He was a well liked player amongst the Leeds faithful, and the positive relationship between the player and fans was certainly mutual, so any return would be well received at Elland Road.
Gradel had two fine seasons at Elland Road, and, after being instrumental in Leeds’ promotion season in 2010, he made the adaptation to the second tier quickly and developed as a player at a remarkable rate. And he possesses the exact qualities that Leeds so desperately lack at the moment. Quick, creative and with an eye for goal, he ticks all the boxes. But there are several stumbling blocks that mean that this potential deal will never materialise.
Firstly, and as usual, is the financial aspects of the deal. Leeds haven’t spent great deals of money on players in a while, and the arrival of the new owners has hardly coincided with a rapid influx of spending, indicating that they don’t possess the financial prowess many initially anticipated they would have. Secondly, and every bit as important, is that surely Gradel would be reluctant to take such a step down. He has moved on as a player since his Elland Road days, and the harsh reality is that Leeds, if anything, have gone backwards.
All in all, a return for Gradel seems optimistic and a distant dream. Admittedly, Leeds fans have been allowed to dream this week, and still have Premier League dreams of their own this season. But Leeds will have to look elsewhere to turn that dream into reality.