When Robert Snodgrass was a teenager at Livingston in the Scottish First Division, he was one of the fall guys in a bizarre stunt by club chairman Pearse Flynn, who asked each player to rate their team-mates. Snodgrass, who was out of the side at the time, finished in the bottom four.
There is no danger of the same thing happening to Snodgrass at Leeds United and not just because Ken Bates – for all his quirks – would never go that far. As full-back Andy Hughes said, shouting down from the top of the stairs at their Thorp Arch training base yesterday: "He's the best player in the Championship."
Those who saw Snodgrass help set up three goals as Simon Grayson's upwardly mobile side warmed up for tonight's FA Cup third-round replay against Arsenal with a 4-0 win over Scunthorpe last Saturday might concur. The 23-year-old Scot has become something of a cult hero for the Leeds fans with his jinking runs and crossing ability, and his popularity would have risen another notch had Cesc Fabregas's last-minute penalty at the Emirates not cancelled out his own spot-kick strike 11 days ago.
Some might suggest Leeds' chance came and went in north London but Snodgrass is relishing the prospect of facing the Gunners again. "You need to be confident or else they will run over the top of you. It'll be a fantastic occasion. We will have a full capacity and you've seen the Leeds United fans – they'll make more noise than 60,000 at the Emirates."
If you believe everything you read about Snodgrass, it would be tempting to think that he and Arsenal captain Fabregas have not just tonight's FA Cup date in common, but also a Barcelona connection. Snodgrass, as the oft-told tale goes, turned down the chance of a trial with the Catalan giants after some impressive performances for Scotland at the 2006 European Under-19 Championship.
This is not quite true, according to the player himself who suggests he heard only rumours, nothing more. "The chief executive spoke to somebody at Barcelona but that was the last I heard," said Snodgrass. "Still to this day I don't know much about it." One club Snodgrass did turn down was Celtic. Brought up in the tough district of Gallowgate in Glasgow's East End, he trained with both of the Old Firm clubs as a boy but rejected an offer from Celtic and signed instead for Livingston. "The lads at Celtic who were given the same type of contract I was offered were nowhere near the first team. That swayed me towards Livingston."
It was as a Livingston player that Snodgrass helped Scotland reach the European U19 Championship final, playing alongside two other future Premier League players in Wolves' Steven Fletcher and Graham Dorrans of West Brom. He appeared against a Spain side including Gerard Piqué and Juan Mata, the Valencia striker, yet six months later was playing with part-timers on loan at Stirling Albion.
That followed a difficult period at Livingston which coincided with the deaths of a close friend and three family members within the space of a few months. Yet Stirling provided a crucial step on the road to maturity. "I went out into the second division and I really enjoyed it. Playing alongside lads [who were] working nine to five brought an appreciation of what I had. It made me see the other side of football and I didn't really want to be out of the game and working. It made me grow up."
Leeds has provided another big step. "It's helped me massively," said Snodgrass, whose goal now is Premier League football. Twelve months ago Jermaine Beckford's FA Cup goals for Leeds earned him a move to the top flight with Everton, but Snodgrass wants to get there with the Yorkshire club. "I hope Leeds United get there. You want to play at the highest possible level and my main ambition is to play at the highest possible level I can. Leeds United is inside my heart."
The signs are positive, for where Leeds' league form stuttered after their FA Cup win at Manchester United last January, Grayson's fifth-placed side have lost just one in 16. "After the Man Utd game the results went downhill but we proved on Saturday that wasn't going to be the case. Win, lose or draw tomorrow night, our bread and butter is the league. We will enjoy the day tomorrow, the fans will enjoy it and if we get a victory it will be that bit sweeter."Reuse content