Leeds United - Squad Review 2010/2011

Here's how I think the players that have worn the white shirt have done this season and my thoughts on their future prospects at the club.

1 - Kasper Schmeichel - A fine shot stopper and a top 'keeper at this level, but he does live off his name somewhat. He's prone to the odd clanger and one has to wonder about his ability to organise a defence given our woeful defensive record this season. He also needs to work on the timing of his kicking. He has great distribution and it could be such a wonderful counterattacking outlet, but too often he rushes his kick and gifts possession to the opposition. He might fetch a decent fee and providing we get a suitable replacement (Kieren Westwood is available on a free) I wouldn't be adverse to seeing him go.

2 - Paul Connolly - Surprisely decent signing of the season. Formed a fine partnership on the right side with Snodgrass, gets forward well and is solid enough at the back. Nothing spectacular but a solid performer at this level.

3 - Patrick Kisnorbo - Incredibly sorely missed. I'd go as far as to say that if he'd been fit all season we'd have gone up automatically. There's no way half of the terrible capitulations we suffered would have happened with a fully fit Paddy in the heart of the defence. It was heart warming to see him make a cameo against Q.P.R. and it looks like the club want to keep him. If he can get back to his best (and that's a big if), he'll be like a fantastic new signing next season.

4 - Alex Bruce - Had some great games - Doncaster and Arsenal spring to mind - but on the whole his season was punctuated with horrible mistakes and shakey performances. Lost his place in the last few months and I don't think anyone would be too disappointed to see him go, otherwise he's decent back-up at this level.

5 - Neill Collins - Always inadequate. We were warned by Preston supporters how bad he could be and this was highlighted no where more so than in the infamous horror show against his former club when he was bullied and humiliated by Jon Parkin. Sheffield United's plight stands as evidence that Grayson was right to get rid in January. Unfortunately he was wrong to sign him in the first place.

6 - Richard Naylor - A strange case. Looked every bit a League One defender out of his depth in the early months of the season - he was personally responsible for the concession of several goals. Suffered (another) long-term injury a couple of months into the season and that looked to be that for his Leeds career. However, desperate times require desperate measures, and when he regained fitness with a few games remaining, and Leeds still leaking goals like we were guaranteed to score ten a game; Naylor was drafted back in. Amazingly he looked more like the Naylor we first signed - strong and a real leader at the back. If only he'd came back a month earlier. It was for this reason I was surprised he wasn't offered an extra year. Hopefully he will be well replaced.

7 - Max Gradel - What a player he has become. He has channeled his reckless temper in to winning determination. Had Leeds not gone up last season, he would have been lambasted as public enemy number one amongst the supporters for his stupid sending off against Bristol Rovers on the last day. He owed us and he has repaid us with 18 goals from the wing and numerous man of the match performances. Player of the year for sure, and if we are serious about challenging for promotion then he is the man we must hold onto above all others.

8 - Neil Kilkenny - Has been treated harshly I feel. The stats say we win an awful lot more games with Kilkenny in the team than we do without him. He was sorely missed in January and should have been an automatic choice when he came back. For some reason he saw his place in the side taken by inferior loanees. Along with Bradley Johnson he's probably likely to leave for free in the summer and the club should be ashamed, and a lot more concerned than they seemingly are, that two fine Championship players coming into their prime are going to walk away and need replacing.

9 - Billy Paynter - Not good enough. He tries hard and he's had his injury problems and not played an awful lot, but he has played enough that he should have scored more than one goal in a team that scores for fun. Bafflingly he seems to be our second choice striker but few would be disappointed to see him moved on this summer.

10 - Luciano Becchio - Incredible season. Had Beckford stayed we'd have hoped for 20 goals from him and he was a 30+ a season goalscorer in League One. For Becchio to better his tally from each of the previous two seasons, and do it at a higher level, is a fantastic achievement. He's a selfless, hardworking player, and although he signed a new three year contract during the season, he's one we'll be sweating about keeping in the summer.

11 - Lloyd Sam - The incredible disappearing man. Started the season fantastically well but since September has hardly been seen. Injured? Out of favour? Snodgrass and Gradel came in and made the wing places their own but surely Sam could have still contributed, especially when Snodgrass became knackered as is now tradition in the last quarter of the season. I know he did pick up a couple of injuries but I never heard word of anything really serious so it definitely is a strange case. Like Kisnorbo, will be like a new signing.

12 - Shane Higgs - Predominanty sub and as good a back-up 'keeper as you're really likely to get at this level so it's a little strange that he hasn't been offered a new one year contract. I guess maybe he wants to drop down a level and play every week and who could blame him?

13 - Mike Grella - Doesn't look like he's going to make it here. There's talent there, that much is obvious, and by all accounts he did okay in loan spells at Carlisle and Swindon (before his questionable attitude brought the latter to an abrupt end), but he's not ruthless enough to be a regular goalscorer and he has too many players ahead of him at Leeds. I'd expect to see him go this summer.

14 - Jonny Howson - How do you solve a problem like Howson? No doubt Jonny is a talented boy but he only flourishes in an attacking role behind a lone striker in 4-5-1 formation. In a 4-4-2 he is anonymous. With the likes of Somma and McCormack being underutilized, I'd love to see Leeds go 4-4-2 next season, but if we do that then Jonny must be left out or else we will be carrying a passenger. Undoubtedly the "crown jewels" these days are Howson, Becchio, Gradel and Snodgrass, and as much as I hope we keep all of them, if one must go; Howson is at the top of the list for me.

15 - Adam Clayton - Brought in as one for the future but I think we could have done worse than play him instead of bringing in loanees and sending him out. He's flourished at League One level by all accounts and it will be interesting to see how he's used next season.

16 - Bradley Johnson - The great opinion divider. Many think he's poor, and he does have more than his fair share of dodgy moments. However, I think he's generally pretty solid, can play several positions, and chips in with his fair share of goals. His contract is up and it looks like he'll be off, no doubt to the Premier League. I don't know how much he wants, maybe he's being greedy, but the fact we lost as valuable an asset as Jermaine Beckford for nothing, Kilkenny is in the same situation and Gradel has been allowed to get down to one remaining year on his contract, suggests poor management and forethought by the club. Why is it always crap like Andy Robinson that we get lumbered with on long-term contracts? Two very good, young Championship midfielders look set to walk away from Elland Road on a free and that is a disgrace...

17 - Amdy Faye - Did a job as a stop-gap, but we went all season without the defensive midfielder we've been crying out for.

17 - Jake Livermore - Started brightly against Forest but then proved to be a major disappointment. Reckless challenges and silly mistakes littered his game as the likes of Kilkenny must have thought they couldn't get away from Elland Road quick enough. An unnecessary signing.

18 - Sanchez Watt - Potentially great but too often injured. His early season performance against Millwall was a joy to behold, but coupled with his constant niggling injuries and the form of Snodgrass and Gradel keeping him out of the side, this must go down as a disappointing season for the Arsenal youngster. It's hard to see him making the break through at the Emirates, and at the right price would be a decent acquisition provided he stays fit.

19 - Ben Parker - Must have run over Grayson's cat. Returned from long-term injury against Arsenal, and after doing okay for a couple of games, found himself dropped for the returning George McCartney. No matter how badly McCartney played (and often he was woeful) Parker never got a sniff, and one has to wonder about his future at Elland Road under Grayson...

20 - Eric Lihaj - Seemed an unnecessary signing with Connolly doing pretty well but turned out to be a really good signing. Solid at the back but his real talent is getting forward and even at left-back he was better than McCartney. If he's available snap him up, but if money is at a premium (and let's face it we're talking about Ken Bates here) then other areas require addressing more urgently.

21 - Fede Bessone - Poor from the get go, but was he any worse than McCartney? No, not really, and his wages were a lot less. Expect to see him moved on in the summer if we can get rid of him. Our good young players leave on frees, it's dross like this that we tie into long deals and can't get rid of...

22 - Andy Hughes - I was a bit surprised when he left. He could fill several positions adequately and always gave 100%, so it seemed a strange one to let him go. Well liked but no great loss.

23 - Robert Snodgrass - Looked set to be the player of the season before he burned out in the final few weeks. An absolute cut above at this level, I would say he's the best player Leeds have had since our Premier League days. In him and Gradel we have the best set of wingers in the league and it is imperative we hold onto both. If we do, then we will have a real chance of going up, provided we address our weaknesses in the close season. The only question mark is his fitness which seems to become an issue towards the end of every season. Whether this is his fault or Grayson needs to rest him more often I'm not sure. Certainly giving him regular breaks couldn't hurt, and in Lloyd Sam we have a player capable enough to step in.

25 - Barry Bannan - Seemed a good signing at the time but ultimately proved pointless. A similar player to Kilkenny but less effective. When we were crying out for a hard man in the midfield we brought in the kind of player we already had - a powder puff who needs a hard man beside him to flourish.

26 - Leigh Bromby - Frozen out for most of the season, he eventually came back in and did well initially before becoming part of the much of a muchness which seemed to be our defence this season - terrible no matter the personnel. Certainly as good as Bruce and a decent squad player at this level.

27 - Davide Somma - A man who can feel hard done by. Made the step up from League Two like no one could have predicted, looking like he was going to end up with more goals than appearances to his name. He seemed to be far more effective from the bench, however when he started it was usually in the Becchio lone-striker role and he's not cut out to be a target man. A man of his goal scoring ability needs to be utilized more and frankly the idea of 4-4-2 with a proper midfield and two of Somma, McCormack and Becchio up front excites me greatly.

29 - George McCartney - On paper looked like a good signing. On grass was pretty much awful. Given that the club made such a fuss about how the Arsenal games had given us the money to get him in until the end of season, one has to feel the money could have been much better spent. There is no way Parker could have done worse. In fact we'd probably have been no worse off sticking with Bessone, or even Hughes. Did this guy really command a £6 million fee a couple of years ago? Staggering.

30 - Jason Brown - Decent 'keeper. Did a job when we needed him.

32 - Aidan White - Had a good season out on loan at Oldham and hopefully it will have helped sort out his problem of suffering cramp late on in games. He can possibly feel a bit aggrieved for not getting more of a run in the Leeds team at left-back given that he did well against Doncaster and he couldn't have done worse than McCartney. Here's hoping he really makes the breakthrough into Grayson's plans next season.

33 - Ramon Nunez - I think Grayson has done the right thing with him. He shone in the reserves but it's a hard standard to base a real opinion on. He went to Scunthorpe and proved he can flourish at this level, so like Beckford and Somma before him, here's hoping he comes back from his loan spell and becomes a key player next season.

40 - Andy O'Brien - Improved our defence at first but since Christmas he has been inconsistent at best. A decent reader of the game, he's not a leader at the back, but he improved when Naylor came back into the side and I think alongside a strong leader he would be a decent centre-back at this level. I think he could form a decent partnership with Kisnorbo but in truth I'd like us to sign a better centre-back.

44 - Ross McCormack - Criminally underused. Got injured straight away and then failed to force his way into the team, mostly because we were performing better in a 4-5-1 formation. It almost seemed like he was being punished for that terrible miss against Middlesbrough, because from the turn of the year he was pretty much the forgotten man, usually not even making the bench. It was all the more baffling considering he's a proven goalscorer at this level, is a good age, and was Grayson's only real money signing in the summer. However, with promotion all but out the window, and little left to play for, Grayson finally went 4-4-2 and started McCormack in the final two games of the season. Impressive performances were capped with the winning goals in both games and it looks like he's rescued his Leeds career. If we go 4-4-2 next season, McCormack, Becchio and Somma are three of the best strikers in the league to have vying for the front spots. Playing a lone striker means one, if not two, are going to be wasted.

It's hard to know how to feel about this season. I think in the summer, and certainly during the period of 2-5 to Barnsley, 4-6 to Preston and 0-4 to Cardiff, we'd have taken seventh place and snapped your hand off for it. But considering how long we spent in the top six, gunning for second, it's impossible not to be disappointed. I'm loathe to be too critical of Grayson - on the face of it he's done a fine job - but questions need to be asked.

For the second season in a row we have capitulated post-Christmas, and while we managed to scrape promotion last season by the skin of our teeth, in truth we should have won the league comfortably. It was thanks to our form pre-Christmas that we went up. This season, our 4-1 win over Nottingham Forest should have pushed them back as the team the chasing pack were shooting for, but in typical Leeds fashion we became the team to be shot at and ultimately Forest pipped us to sixth place. Looking at what Norwich achieved also makes seventh place a bitter pill to swallow.

Grayson's dealings in the transfer market have also been questionable. In fact, this season they have been nothing short of appalling. Collins and Bessone were both so bad they were moved on in the next transfer window. His inexplicable treatment of McCormack is contrasted by his favouring of Paynter who is clearly not good enough for this level. Of course, no one knows how much money he has to spend but clearly it isn't very much so he should be spending it on players he has specific plans for in his first team. He seems to lose faith in players so quickly, even (if not especially) the ones he has signed, and when he has a decent sized squad available he needs to learn how to rotate. I don't mean wholesale changes on a regular basis, but some players (Snodgrass being the prime example) would have benefitted greatly from a rest here and there.

We went into January very much in the automatic promotion mix but instead of strengthening the squad we weakened it. The players we let go were no great loss but the failure to get the tough tackling midfielder we were craving ultimately cost us promotion in my opinion. I'm loathe to say it but Alan Smith would have been ideal. Other teams, like Norwich, took the gamble and strengthened in January and it paid off. If Ken Bates really thinks he can get into the Premier League on the cheap he's living in a fantasy world. It took us three years to get out of League One. By no means does he need to break the bank but real quality costs money and it takes real quality to make the difference in this league where so many teams are of a similar standard. There will be more than a dozen teams fancying there chances of at least bagging a play-off spot next season.

Grayson's use of the loan system was poor this year. The club made a big fuss about the Arsenal games funding McCartney's loan until the end of the season but in truth he was the worst of the lot. Bannan and Livermore were needless signings - midfielders the likes of which we already had. In truth Lichaj was the only successful loan signing (and I say that because Watt was injured so often), but really even he wasn't a necessary signing because Connolly was doing pretty well.

I also have to wonder about Grayson's use of young players. In the time he has been here he hasn't given a debut to one single youth team player. Obviously it's very possible, likely even; that none have been good enough but if that is the case then it's a disgrace. Over the last 15-20 years Leeds has been amongst the best clubs in the country at bringing through Premier League quality players. In fact, players that didn't make it usually ended up being released to clubs at the level we've been playing at for the last few seasons. The last player to make the break through at Leeds was Aidan White in 2008. Hopefully White will be given more of a chance next season; and Tom Lees seems to have done very well at League Two level in the last couple of seasons so it will be interesting to see what happens with him.

I honestly believe we're not too far away from having a squad good enough to go up automatically. If Kilkenny and Johnson leave then we have virtually no central mdifield and this is obviously the area we need to strengthen most. Some would say it's the defence, but I honestly feel that with the right midfield in front of them we have the personnel to assemble a decent defence. I've heard mutterings about Lee Bowyer but I think that's a pipe dream. Shaun Derry would also be a great player to bring back if he's deemed surplus to requirements at Loftus Road. Attacking wise we don't need anything else, we just need to hold onto the players we have.

Ideally this is the team I'd like to see next season:


Lichaj/Connolly   Kisnorbo   O'Brien/New Centre-Back   Parker/White

Snodgrass/Sam   Kilkenny/Johnson/Nunez   Bowyer/Derry   Gradel

McCormack/Somma   Becchio

If we fail to strengthen or lose our best players, or worse - a combination of both; we will be in real trouble next year. There is a clutch of clubs that finished behind us that will fancy their chances next season - Burnley, Hull, Leicester, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Millwall, Middlesbrough - allied to the play-off losers, those coming down and even Brighton and Southampton. We paid the price for standing still in January, it's imperative we don't make the same mistake in this transfer window. We went into last season not really knowing what to expect, next season there can be no question - promotion back to the Premier League. Anything else must be considered failure.

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