Written just before Beckford joined Everton, this Leeds United fan highlight the ups and downs of Jermaine Beckford and considers what the player has to offer. Fans of Leicester City take note...
For those whose football teams lie some distance from the Champions League, perhaps in a small working class port, or the sort of light industrial city The Office was set in or perhaps, like mine, within the stadium of a fallen giant, there are times when the dissatisfied views of the fans of the ‘Big Four’ seem not only spoilt but also downright bizarre. Such a moment came last year when a frustrated Arsenal fan was screeching down the phone to 5Live’s 606 phone-in that Arsene Wenger should take a chance and sign up Jermaine Beckford.
For those of us football fans who have witnessed the ups and downs of Beckford’s three seasons in the first team at Elland Road the suggestion seemed as weird as British Forces asking for Action Man to be sent to Helmand Land. Sure his physique and goals scored record might well have fooled disorientated Gunners into thinking Jermaine might be the Second Coming of Thierry Henry but in reality I believe JB could only currently be described as a Netto version of the Va Va Voom Ball Handler.
Fans of Everton, who JB is believed to have signed a pre-contract with, will shortly come to realise that Beckford benefits from the perspective that things always look better from a distance. Just as football fans admire players from foreign leagues and fantasise about how they might do fitting into their own side, so some fans look down the divisions, see a fantastic goal rate and assume if the player can do it against Swindon or Carlisle they can presumably do it against Aston Villa or Liverpool. Ok let's face it, he's just shot my team out of the Third Division and into the Second and now he's legging it, I'm slightly disappointed but most of these impressions have built up over the last two seasons when he was perceived to have been flying.
In the modern game when International Stars fill the shirts of our leading clubs many Lower Division legends never get the chance to hit the big time, others – perhaps wisely choose not to. Wolves’ Steve Bull was probably the last centre forward to carve out the sort of reputation Jermaine Beckford has fashioned for himself outside of the top division, only Bully spurned the opportunity to leave his hometown club for brighter lights and bigger stadia. There are those amongst us at Leeds that wish Beckford would spend a few more years examining the value of the Steve Bull Career Guide than following a path which has prompted Leeds' manager, a steady no-nonsense fellow who played most of his career in the Premiership with Leicester, Aston Villa and Blackburn, to suggest ‘Jermaine is being badly advised.’ At the heart of this lies the belief that Beckford's been great for us but he isn't good enough to play in a Top Eight Prem club and that both he and Leeds would benefit from a year in the Championship first.
Such is the lure of the big time and better money and the chance to play against some of the biggest names in world football that Beckford appears to be jumping a division and a club higher than his ability warrants. There is no doubting his ability to score goals in the Third Division but few who have seen him play week in week out believe he has the footballing brain or skill to go up against average Premier League defenders never mind the international stars of Chelsea, Manchester United and co. There is no Dunne, Vermaelen or Vidic at Yeovil, Tranmere or Hereford. One who does believe Beckford will prosper anywhere is Leeds and Scotland great Eddie Gray who sees him as an out and out natural goalscorer who will only improve from better service.
Beckford certainly performed excellently in Leeds United’s three FA Cup games against Manchester United and Spurs last season, embarrassing Wes Brown by highlighting what a poor defender he is, but to me it was a poor first touch and then a great finish that gave him the beating of Brown. Call that luck. We will take it thank you very much but it's unclear how tolerant fans of a team with greater European expectations will be when Jermaine misses chances, as he often does, and the luck goes the other way. At Leeds he was our most prolific striker so when he was off target and off form we had to lump it, this just doesn't happen in the Premiership does it?
The main opportunity for Beckford at the highest level in English football is that he becomes a student of the Lineker Owen Poaching School. His pace will ‘always make him a threat’ as Grayson and other managers happily report. However this is countered not by a poor first touch but a poor second touch. That's not to say he can't finish. At Walsall last autumn he put seven balls onto the motorway before hitting a beautiful spinning volley into the back of the net from distance. Like Henry at Arsenal Beckford is best when picking the ball up in the inside left position and charging into the goal area curling the ball round trembling centre backs and a blinded keeper. His hunger to drive into the box though waivers and his talent is often undermined by a lack of effort, patience and even confidence -which can all make him a baffling and frustrating player. Notably within a game his popularity can see him range from being called 'Jermaine' or 'Beckford' by the same fans within seconds. At times he has managed to be both one of Leeds most prolific strikers and one of our most unpopular. Fans love attitude and application and JB can at times make a lazy f***** like Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink look like Tevez or Bellamy. Despite all that most fans would want him in our side on any given week. They just feel he tends to drift out and toss it off sometimes when he should be chasing down.
Leeds plucked him from Wealdstone where he had ended up after being released from Chelsea’s youth system. He spent time in the LUFC reserves and out on loan at Carlisle and Scunthorpe where he fired in 8 goals in the last two months of a season that saw Scunthorpe promoted to the Championship and Leeds relegated to League One. Clearing out senior forwards like Richard Cresswell, Robbie Blake and David Healey, who hadn't responded to him Dennis Wise decided it was time to give the two bargain basement reserves – Beckford and Kandol a go. And they did well at in league One. Beckford fired in 20 goals in his first season in the first team as we racked up 91 points but had 15 taken away for financial f***-ups. Carrying an injury on the day, he failed to push Leeds past Doncaster in the Play Off Final at Wembley. The following year he notched up 34 and this season just gone he joined the great John Charles in being the only Leeds United players to score 30 goals in a season twice.
What has rarely been highlighted in his rise has been the arrival two seasons ago of Robert Snodgrass, 22, the one senior player on Leeds United’s books that most people agree could definitely fit into a first team squad in the Premiership. Until the latter half of this season when he has looked tired Snodgrass has been Beardsley to Beckford’s Andy Cole, sending in crosses and through balls that have given JB goals on a plate. It was no co-incidence that Leeds' goal drought throughout spring coincided with a loss of form from the tough young Scot.
Beckford’s tally of 85 odd goals in three first team seasons has thankfully and finally been enough to drive Leeds United back onto an upward trajectory but there are many of us that believe a season in the Championship with the club he has grown with, who plucked him from obscurity, would serve his career better than a season spent in the Everton reserves before he is farmed out to Preston on loan. Players like Michael Carrick and Matthew Upson have shown that a gradual move from club to club will see their career better structured than the wild leap into the dark that the move from second in the Third Division to eighth in the Premiership offers.
But at this exciting time with the champagne still flowing into the drains at Elland Road I am being uncharitable. In scoring the winning goal at Elland Road to give Leeds promotion to the Championship Beckford went out in style, with his name ringing round the stadium. The perception might have sometimes been he didn't care but his delight at bagging the winner against Bristol Rovers and the weirdly blue tongue that he stuck out in delight as he celebrated, showed the true joy he experienced in finishing the job at hand. Unlike Harry Kewell who slunk away from his last possible appearance at Elland Road claiming a bereavement of a distant relative of his wife was more important than the chance to say goodbye – an understanding that his star had fallen in the eyes of the Super Whites fans, but a failure to understand that come the end of the season everyone is normally given a fond farewell. Beckford was captain for the day and now he will remain a hero for a lifetime.
This was a truly fantastic way for Jermaine Beckford to depart and Leeds fans will wish him the best of luck. His finale has meant he will be well and truly admired as a short-term LUFC legend. We would like him to stay, but he obviously isn’t going to, lets hope the next time he plays at Elland Road it isn’t for someone smaller than the club he's leaving.
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