In Part 2 of our exclusive interview, stand-up comedian and Elland Road MC Jed Stone offers HITC a peak behind the curtain at Leeds United, from Dave Hockaday's six-game disaster to missing out on Gareth McAuley.
Bielsa and his bucket
During six years at the club, Jed has seen eight managers come and go; Dave Hockaday, Darko Milanic, Neil Redfearn, Uwe Rosler, Steve Evans, Garry Monk, Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom. Marcelo Bielsa, however, has brought something a little more than consistency – a belief, a winning mentality and a real sense of pride.
Leeds missed out on promotion last season in shattering fashion in May but Bielsa has the supporters fantasizing again, signing a new one-year deal over the summer to end fears that this dream marriage would end in a premature separation.
But can the mythical Argentine succeed where so many failed, including the much-admired Simon Grayson, by bringing Premier League football back to West Yorkshire?
Stone thinks he can, describing this current Leeds team as the best in the Championship ‘without any shadow of a doubt’. But he’s confident that Elland Road would have hosted Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United during the Grayson era between 2008 and 2012 if the popular former manager had been backed by then-owner Ken Bates who, while not quite as wacky as Cellino, is equally despised today.
“If Ken Bates had put his hand in his pocket, we’d have gone to the Premier league. That team that came up from League One was better than any team we had in the Championship,” Stone says, reflecting fondly on a squad containing Luciano Becchio, Robert Snodgrass and Johnny Howson.
“They all went to bloody Norwich didn’t they? They all buggered off to Norwich!”
“All Simon wanted was (former Republic of Ireland centre-back) Gareth McAuley. But when Simon went to see Bates, he said ‘sod it’. Then he goes to West Brom and plays in the Premier League!”
With Bielsa in the dugout and Andrea Radrizzani guiding this battered old ship into calmer waters at last, Leeds are desperate to make up for lost time.
Director of football Victor Orta has won over the majority with his infectious passion despite a mixed record in the transfer market, while managing director Angus ‘we’re not dicking around with the play-offs’ Kinnear is well respected behind the scenes and on the terraces.
“You see they are living and breathing the club,” says Jed, thrilled to see the club move away from its ‘basket-case’ reputation.
“What they’ve done on the inside and outside, the West Stand, the dressing rooms, its beautiful. Angus Kinnear is deadly serious about trying to get us up.
“You need everyone pulling in the same direction from the chairman to the tea lady and that’s there.”
While Radrizzani, Orta and Kinnear are working wonders in the boardroom, it’s Bielsa who has transformed Leeds from an ugly, directionless duckling into an elegant swan on the pitch.
Jed would love to shake the hand of the bespectacled, bucket-perching coach before he shuffles off into the sunset, hands behind his back and glasses bouncing on their string.
“I’ve never met Marcelo but I’m hoping I get to at the centenary celebrations. I assume he’s been invited! It would be nice if he could be there. Though I’ve heard he can be found in a certain coffee shop in Wetherby!”
Committed members of ‘Bielsa watch’ will know which branch, and brand, of coffee chain Jed is referring too.
The 64-year-old has shed his ‘El Loco’ moniker since arriving in England. He lets his football do the talking these days with Stoke City, in August 2018, becoming the first of many teams blown away by the ferocious pressing and possession which makes ‘Bielsaball’ so special.
“(Former Stoke striker) Peter Crouch said afterwards he hadn’t seen anything like it in the Premier League, let alone the Championship. I thought ‘Wow, what’s changed?’.”
Bielsa’s ability to transform players is legendary. Just look at the strides made by Kalvin Phillips, the jack-of-all-trades turned ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’, not to mention Liam Cooper, Luke Ayling, Ben White, Adam Forshaw, Jack Clarke and, until his move to Anderlecht, Kemar Roofe.
Gianni Alioski, the wacky cult hero who makes up for a lack of technical ability with a zany charm that makes even the most red-blooded fan swoon, has also evolved beyond all expectations.
“You could say Alioski is Bielsa’s love child,” Jed beams. “He reminds me of Lee Bowyer. At left-back he’s been a revelation and I’ll tell you who’s been another revelation; Stu Dallas at right-back.
“Who’d have thought someone like Marcelo Bielsa would come to Leeds! You contrast that to Dave Hockaday and Darko Milanic. Steve Evans!”
The dark days of Hockaday, headhunted by Cellino after leading Forest Green to a mid-table finish in the conference, feel like a lifetime ago. Soon enough, once Cellino had washed down poor Brian McDermott, Hockaday became the ‘Manager Eater’s’ second course after just six games in charge at the start of an erratic 2013/14 campaign.
Hockaday is now the Head of Male Football at Gloucester and Stroud University and the contrast with Bielsa, a former Argentina, Chile and Marseille boss, could hardly be more pronounced.
“Hockaday must have thought all his dreams had come at once. Imagine if he’d pulled it off! The problem with Cellino is that he thought anyone could manage a football club, including himself. The ‘Manager Eater’. It was just completely mad,” says Jed, who was perhaps fortunate to survive Cellino himself given he celebrates his birthday on September 17th.
“With Radrizzani, he’s the first one to show condolences if someone passes away, he’s the first one to get on Twitter and praise someone if they do something good. It’s nice.”
‘Nice’ isn’t a word that is often associated with ‘Dirty Leeds’.
In 2019, while the football has dazzled, negative headlines are never far away. But even after ‘spygate’ and that Aston Villa debacle, Leeds still walked away with FIFA’s annual Fair Play award, leaving oppositions fans, not to mention a certain former Derby County manager, spitting feathers.
How typically, gloriously Leeds.
Coincidentally, Jed is celebrating his 50th season as a Leeds fan in the club’s centenary year. Wouldn’t it be fitting for Leeds’ 100th birthday to end with an open top bus tour around the city centre and a bronze statue of Bielsa?
The days of Granddi N’Goyi, Steve Morison and Luke Murphy are long gone with Bielsa and Orta putting together a fine squad of players with character and quality in abundance.
Jed loves the Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah and he’s predicting a bright future for young Ryan Edmondson too, the jewel of the current academy crop.
“My soon-to-be brother in law is a massive Arsenal fan. He actually works at Man City as an interpreter. He’s saying Nketiah will be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s replacement, he’s that highly thought of at Arsenal. 22 clubs went in for him you know, including Premier League teams.”
“And you look at Edmondson too. He’s scoring for fun isn’t he in the reserves. It’s always lovely when you see one of your own come through. You see the ones in the past you have to let go (including Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor). It’s heart-breaking.”
Even Kiko Casilla and Patrick Bamford, who have their fair share of critics, appear to have made big steps forward after being dunked head-first into the bubbling Elland Road cauldron.
“Kiko is a nice enough fella, a bit of a joker. He seems like good company,” says Jed, who has spent time with both players in recent months.
“I said to Patrick ‘do you set yourself targets for the season?’ and he said yes. I said ‘please don’t say it’s six goals!’. We laughed and then Barry Douglas said ‘no, it seven’. (Patrick) is a very positive guy.”
Bamford, like everyone connected with Leeds up and down the land, has more than enough reasons to feel positive right now.
Part 1 of our exclusive Jed Stone interview can be found on our website.
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