Summer might be The Beach Boys favourite season, but for Leeds fans the last few been more like Purgatory on Groundhog Day. Rather than having at least comfort in the pre-season optimism nearly all football folk get as the post-Wimbledon weeks tick by, most of us up here have spent our recent early Augusts hiding under the duvet, rocking quietly with our fingers in our ears and praying for some kind of divine intervention. None came. Life's like that.
The promulgated memories from twelve months ago are still fresh: the appointment of Dave Hockaday as first team coach (We don't “Do” managers any more), a disastrous pre-season training schedule that saw us play a pub team and then ourselves (we won), a conveyor belt of players arriving of whom most we had to search the bowels of YouTube for any kind of clues to their ability. As build ups go, here then was the preparation of a club with all the apparent organisation of a tossed salad.
At the centre of all this Cabaret was new owner Massimo Cellino, the flamboyant and flawed Italian who wanted to run things at Elland Road as parochially as he had Cagliari, the Sardinian team he'd retained a parochially vice-like grip over for more than 20 years. Plucked from non-league football, Hockaday seemed to be part cheerleader, part automaton, a drone hired to to implement the diamond system with such rigour that against Brighton in early season it was if a Rhomboid shaped force field had been placed in the vicinity of the centre circle. Confidence, it had to be said, was not high.
Fast forward through twelve of the most predictably turbulent months imaginable and the contrast is obvious. The catalyst was the appointment in May of Executive Director Adam Pearson, whose experience and apparent ability seemed to have convinced his boss that the Premier League dream cannot be fulfilled from chaos and by extension, requires proper and sustained investment. Uwe Rösler has replaced Neil Redfearn – more about that later – and in his place have arrived a comparatively ostentatious back room staff and a philosophy more akin to a dynamic, forward looking outfit attempting to go places. On the playing front in have come former Leicester striker Chris Wood, the highly rated Stuart Dallas from Brentford and Cardiff's Tom Adeyemi on loan, partly funded by the departure of Billy Sharp to Bramall Lane.
Perhaps just as telling though has been the retention of the young players, a group of Academy graduates who were so instrumental in United's climb away from the relegation battle they'd slipped into by late last year. True, the story isn't quite as reassuring as Cellino might wish to convince us it is: revelatory starlet Lewis Cook has agreed to a short term contract extension, whilst Sam Byram has entered the final year of his deal with the club at alleged loggerheads with his agent. For now however, the blend looks promising enough for supporters to cock a derisory snook at Four Four Two's apocryphal prediction that we'll end the season languishing in The Championship's twenty first place.
The elephant in the metaphorical room, however, remains Cellino. The more things normalise, the more you fear his whims and ego. Amongst the the euphoric feeling of getting the basics right at last, Redfearn's ugly recent departure gave us a glimpse of the “Old” Leeds, a ghost of the paranoid, vindictive organisation from which culturally no success on the field is ever likely to spring. Ironically, the more he fades into the background behind the poise and veneer of a formerly comatose giant finally back on the up, the more his idle hands may feel like finding work to do. United are back: let's hope our Sloop John B isn't torpedoed from within.