Somma Love-In

Somma Love-In

Somma Love-In

Every time I think about the suffering of the last year and a half, the poor performances, one name always comes to mind. It’s not the man I blame for the shenanigans (one Kenneth Bates). It’s not either of Leeds United’s managers during this period (or even Neil Redfearn). It’s not even the best players that we’ve lost over this spell. In my mind, the joys of the best football we’ve played in recent memory can be summed up through the absence of one man – Davide Somma.

That’s why I was exceptionally excited to find out Somma has ‘stepped up’ on the road to recovery. Probably the first time this has been said from official channels as well, with Warnock particularly loath to burden the recovering striker with any sort of timescale over the last few months. Given that a chance encounter with Somma led to the man himself suggesting he’d be back around February of this year, it’s been coming. For large swathes of his time injured, we’ve had no idea what the issue was. One day he was photographed boxing with the coaching staff during pre-season, the next he was getting the entire playing staff banned from Twitter for revealing the extent of his injury. The injury that has sidelined him to this day.

Why is Somma such a symbol to me? This is a man who played for a single season, never truly ever able to fight his way properly into the first team. Phantom-like, more ethereal spirit than true presence by the end of the season, Somma would end up below try-hard Billy Paynter in the pecking order. It was impossible to play Somma up front when it meant leaving out one of our midfield three, or one of our two wingers. Yet we always looked better with Somma on the pitch. We always looked more likely to score. We always seemed to score. He always seemed to score.

I remember a game against Coventry. Somma scored, my autistic brother’s first ever live football game (my mum and him sat in the kop, apparently said brother bemusing everyone by shouting at my mum to stand after half time had ended (it’s in the genes clearly)). He had a goal chalked off for offside too. Compare and contrast to the Ipswich game. A useless performance, one which had fans calling out for the presence of the South African from the bench. He never came, and therefore, neither did a goal. Somma was a professional with an ability that is not easily found in these lower leagues – the ability to turn nearly any chance into a goal. Even a man like Beckford, so ruthless in front of the net, did not seem guaranteed to score every time foot made contact with the ball. Davide Enrico Somma inspired that belief.

His loan spell at Lincoln was the making of him, a chance to assert his abilities on the English game. Top scorer in a mere thirteen game. 9 goals overall, saving a club from relegation. Chris Sutton, manager at the time, said it best when he asserted that he’s never been as confident that a player will put the ball into the goal as when seeing Somma stride forward. This is a natural goalscorer.

What do we need right now? Goals. If McCormack and Somma could conveniently return at the same time, this would be the ideal. The Scot, you would hope, would continue his creative form and craft opportunities. Somma, you’d believe, and you know you would believe from the moment he appeared on the touchline, would put them in. Nets busted. ‘Keepers left on the ground. The form of 2010 returned. I live in hope.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1) to receive regular updates asking where Davide Somma is right now.

Aidy White: Man of Mystery

Four minutes. Four minutes was all it took for Aidy White to show his ability as a footballer on a larger stage than any he has been afforded so far for Leeds. Live on Sky Sports, Aidy White beat Premier League stars and completely befuddled a man who has been one of the shining lights of an Everton side with great momentum behind it. He then finished with aplomb, a word never used in a context other than a golazo, and peeled off, seemingly utterly confused with what had just occurred. Leeds had just taken the lead against the team third in the Premier League, and Aidy White’s emotion was spread all around. What had just occurred? Aidy White? Really?

You see, Aidy White doesn’t do this. He’s threatened to come good for around two seasons now, with issue after issue arising that has held him back. First it was cramp. Then Grayson seemed loath to blood youngsters with a potential play-off campaign afoot. He was shipped out on loan and returned. Finally, when he was settling into the left-back berth and actually performing to a level that had larger clubs sniffing, a new manager arrived and moved him to the right side of midfield. Suddenly, his contract was nearly up (we’re talking months here, a time after which Leeds players never usually re-sign) and injury struck. We thought we’d seen the end of him. Then he appeared out of nowhere in pre-season, and was given a contract (word that investment from elsewhere paid for this abounds). Warnock was clearly keen to sign him up. The season began, and, to be honest, nobody was really sure why.

At one point I was tempted to post up that I really rate Aidy White, but I’m not entirely sure what he does. He was a great left-back for the first half of last season (genuinely, aside from some mistakes that come with experience), and I felt that the attempt to convert him into a proper winger by Warnock had just hampered him. The only clip I saw of him in pre-season training was scoring goals, coming in from the right onto his left. Then the season began, Adam Drury got injured and White had to cover at left-back. He was suddenly useless. I was loath to criticise him, as he has been shunted about positionally for a couple of years on the bounce. Warnock was clearly building him up to play on the right – he needed a chance.

He took it last night. The goal was exactly what you’d hope for from a pacey player that is expected to cut inside. It got me thinking. The same Aidy White who struggles to make it to the touchline might be ideally suited to this role. Instead of having to deal with a full-back, trained from a young age to play the same game as him, White can run at the slow, lumbering centre backs that make up defences in this league, forcing them to turn and twist in an attempt to close down the channels that he can run through. Sylvain Distin, a far superior player to those who White will have to face weekly, couldn’t close down the gaps quickly enough.

White playing on the right also gives Byram the ability to bomb on from right-back. He can overlap without any concern for defensive frailty as White can fill in behind. Similarly, this allows Diouf to float out to the wing, where he has been a constant menace this season. Oddly enough, White has even shown at times a willingness to use his right boot. Not to criticise Robert Snodgrass, a reasonably one-paced player but still the best we’ve had over the last few years, and a real loss to the time, but his reliance on his left foot alone is nearing farcical levels. White put balls into the box in his short cameo against Forest at the weekend, using his right boot.

I’m not suggesting that one performance alone should cause levels of confidence we’ve never had before. He needs to do it consistently. But yesterday White showed that maybe his time as the man of mystery, a man of many positions and yet none, might finally be over. He’s captain of Ireland’s Under-21 team. The potential is there. Do what he did last night weekly and our man of potential will become a man of ability. Best of all? He just signed a new deal.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).

Does it make a difference?

Cast your mind back to this point around two seasons ago. We had come up from League One. Things were not perfect – Cardiff would come to Elland Road and win 4-0. We looked flimsy defensively, but there was a sense of hope around the club. The period before Christmas would lead to a rise up the table on the back of a long undefeated run. We looked better than we had done for years. To watch moments like our comeback against Burnley, it started to look as though we would storm the division – see the flowing movement culminating with Connolly’s cross and Becchio’s goal.

Then January came and nothing happened. Sure, we committed to the permanent signing of Andy O’Brien, but I’m sure Grayson would have ideally wanted to add to our relatively weak central midfield – after all, Howson, Johnson and Kilkenny started a majority of matches and aside from this, no backup was to be found. We had lucked our way into being promoted with two wingers that would eventually play in top leagues in various nations. Our primary striker was (and still is) vastly underrated by the fans. And yet we did not spend.

Flash forward to now. Grayson has gone and we have promotion specialist Neil Warnock in charge. Free flowing football does not exist at Elland Road. Well, except in the form of Hull. They’ve all gone. It doesn’t need to be restated, lest depression take over. Our team torn to pieces to fund…something. I’m not sure what exactly. The season began and we looked decent. The first eleven, at the very least, looked decent. Sam Byram appeared out of nowhere and has, through performance and effort and general dawgone ability, turned himself into an asset for the side.

But it’s not enough. Is the arrival of Sam Byram any different to the fluky development of Davide Somma, coincidentally loaned out to the right club and manager who taught him how to finish? Is it any different to Adam Clayton appearing out of nowhere and being the shining light of an otherwise average side in the first half of last season? Rodolph Austin has appeared and dominated, a genuine asset. Yes, he’s better than a Grayson signing like Fede Bessone was in his own position. But is Luke Varney better than Simon Grayson’s left wing recruit? He’s a third of the player Gradel was. Grayson brought in our only player left with genuine quality and deftness with the ball, Ross McCormack.

Look at Grayson’s Huddersfield thus far. There is no doubt that he has got them playing, despite the loss of their main goal threat. He managed them to a play-off final and brought them out the other side. He is at the very least, doing a ‘good job’. They will probably threaten the playoffs this season. This despite a complete rebuild to get the team playing according to his own principles. Grayson has shown time and time again that he can get a team playing and, given the right investment, challenging. Huddersfield Town will go far.

So this all brings us to the question. If Simon Grayson were still in charge of Leeds, would we be in any different a position? In reality, no. We wouldn’t have recruited Austin or Kenny, but that is the only genuine negative point I can see. Simon Grayson, were he given investment at Leeds, would have got us promoted to the Premier League. Neil Warnock will be a miracle worker if he can get this Leeds United side up the table, funded on a shoestring at best. Grayson already proved himself a miracle worker – sacked with a team 3 points off the playoffs last season. Warnock himself could not coax anything from that side. It was dross, and yet Grayson, hampered by a chairman more tight than any, still got them going.

I am not calling for Warnock’s head, nor am I saying Grayson should have stayed in charge. It made sense to take advantage of Warnock’s availability, even though it meant the loss of a young manager who I predict will go on to be a star in managerial quarters. I am simply saying that it does not matter who stands on the touchline, who coaches, who picks the team when Ken Bates is ultimately in control of the eleven players we can put on the pitch. Ultimately, Warnock will struggle unless Bates departs. Grayson and Huddersfield will probably finish above us in the league unless things change. They have a chairman who supports the manager, we have an aged ogre whose presence is ruining the club.

Ultimately, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Grayson’s departure still rankles to this day. I imagine if you ask Warnock his opinion of him, he’d probably consider him very highly. We’ve changed the man in the dugout, gone for experience and nous over youth and attacking flair, yet it won’t matter. I offer a single regret: that Simon Grayson had the poor luck to be manager of the club he loves whilst Ken Bates was chairman.

Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).