Welcome back, everyone. I'm delighted to have signed on for the eighth season of my Independent column, only a couple of years from a testimonial! It's been quite a long break due to the Euros and the Olympics but it hasn't seemed it because I've needed every day to transform the squad I inherited at Leeds. As of this moment, 12 players have left and 10 new signings arrived. It's been one of the most difficult summers I've had, partly because we've had potential buyers doing due diligence regarding a proposed takeover, so I've not really had a clear idea of my budget. At times I've been planning to spend substantial amounts of money but then had to change tack. But I still think we have done well to get the players we have and, with the takeover talk on-going, there may be more to add.
My best signing has got to be Paddy Kenny. He's been with me everywhere, right back to Bury, and I wouldn't swap him for any Premier League goalkeeper, let alone a Championship one. But that is not the signing you want to hear about, is it? You want to know how I've ended up with El Hadji Diouf, given the things I called him a couple of years ago.
It all started in June when I bumped into him at a function. We ended up having a couple of hours talking about football. I made it clear to him what I disliked about his approach and certain issues, but I enjoyed the conversation. So when it was put to me a couple of weeks ago that I might want to have a look at him I thought, "Why not?"
If the takeover had happened I would have spent a large amount on a wide player, but I can't spend what I haven't got and there's no denying Diouf has got ability. So I spoke to him, and others who know him, like Mickey Walker, Doncaster's director of football last season, and Sam Allardyce, who had Diouf at Bolton. Mickey said he was a credit helping the young lads and worked hard in training. Big Sam told me a lot about him, 80 per cent of which was good. It would have been easier for me not to sign him, as I knew I would get stick from certain journalists who have nothing else to write about, but I always believe people deserve to be given a second chance. So I signed him as a non-contract player and gave him a run against Shrewsbury in the Capital One Cup last week. Then after the game the referee's assessor mentioned him. I thought, "What's he done now?" but the assessor proceeded to tell me about a disabled children's party at Blackburn last year when Diouf was first in and last out and talked to every kid at great length. I guess we've always heard more about the bad things he's done but it's amazing how many people have spoken well of him since he came to us. We've enjoyed having him and he's fitted in well so far.
2. Crowd are fantastic
I'm delighted to announce Ross McCormack, last season's top scorer, yesterday signed a new three-year contract. That helps to compensate for losing Robert Snodgrass to the lure of the Premier League. As a young manager losing a player like that is a dagger in the heart but as you get older you accept these things happen and it gives opportunities to other lads. Indeed, a couple of our younger players, Sam Byram and Dominic Poleon, stepped into the squad in pre-season and have done very well. I've ended up with a decent squad, but unlike the bigger-spending clubs I can't afford injuries to certain players so I'll keep fingers crossed. However, the main player for Leeds this season will be the crowd. To have 18,000 turning up against Shrewsbury in the first round of the Capital One Cup must take some beating.
I knew it would be a big gate from the number of fans who joined us in Cornwall at pre-season to enjoy a fantastic week's weather in one of the best parts of the country. We had an open-day training season attended by over 1,000 people, and had more than 3,000 converging on Torquay's Plainmoor to fill their new stand for a friendly. I expect that support to play a major part, beginning with our mouth-watering lunch-time kick-off in front of the cameras against Wolves today.
3. Olympics obsessed
I've never been as glued to the TV as I was during the Olympics. One night Sharon and I were jumping up and down cheering when I suddenly saw the time and said to her: "Do you realise it's 1am and we're watching volleyball?" That summed it up. What fantastic memories. The look on the faces of Sophie Hosking and Kat Copeland, the rowers, when they realised they had won gold; Charlotte Dujardin in the dressage; Nicola Adams, the boxing lass from Leeds with the fantastic smile. It was great to see so many medal winners from Yorkshire. We were in front of Australia for a long time – as I kept pointing out to Paddy Kisnorbo,
The golden Saturday night I rushed home from a good pre-season win against a decent Preston team, opened a bottle of wine, sat on the bed and settled down to watch, one by one, Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah win gold. I was especially rooting for Jess as she's a Sheffield girl. Watching that last lap, the noise of the crowd, even through the TV, was deafening. Seeing her sprint past everyone to win that 800m, there couldn't have been a dry eye in the country. It was such an emotional night. Rutherford seemed to be carried through the air by the crowd. To top it off, Farah was incredible. All those years getting up at 4am, seven days a week, in all weathers, paid off but can you imagine telling footballers to do that? We'd have the union and their agents on to us in no time.
4. Swimmers a class act
While I'm in Leeds the family have moved to Devon. It's not ideal but with Will starting senior school it is only right we stop moving him from pillar to post. He's joined Amy at Plymouth College, so we had a special interest in some Olympic events. Remember the 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte who won the 100m breaststroke? She's in Amy's year so we all cheered her to the finishing line. Amy was so pleased. Tom Daley is also at the school and I was delighted when under all that pressure he came up with a bronze. Amy was telling me how dedicated the swimmers are. They are up at the crack of dawn to train before school. Two other girls at the school swam in the Olympics, Uganda's Jamila Lunkuse, who is also in Amy's year, and Zambia's Jade Howard. It'll be some school assembly when they do the sports results.
5. We're up for the Cup
As we left the Shrewsbury game Amy said: "Dad, do you think we can win the cup this year?" in a tone that suggested I don't normally try to. I said: "Course we can darling. Leave it to me."Reuse content