Events in the South Pacific do not make this the most tactful time to talk about French tests, but tonight's Uefa Cup first round, first leg match against Monaco should establish whether Leeds United have absorbed the lessons of their last, ill-starred, European venture.
Three years ago, in the Champions' Cup, Leeds imploded in a 3-0 defeat in Stuttgart. Then, after a reprieve because the Germans breached the rules, they scored quickly at Rangers, yet went on to lose both legs. "Mistakes were made," Howard Wilkinson said last night as if reciting a French philosopher's maxim, "But intelligent people learn from their errors."
While only four of the class of '92 remain, the experience has stung the Leeds' manager into planning for the tie with a thoroughness Don Revie would have appreciated. Wilkinson has stopped short of dispensing the dossiers for which his famous predecessor was renowned, but visited the principality to see Monaco play Lille. He has also watched on video their other two most recent fixtures, even sitting through Saturday's 2-1 defeat at the French leaders, Paris St- Germain, on the flight over.
"They're a better team than people in our country, who tend to be too insular, probably give them credit for," Wilkinson said. "They're our equivalent over here: good technique, and they pass the ball well. I've now got to distill down to two or three important points everything I know about them."
The playing surface in the Louis II Stadium is not at its smoothest, having had grand prix athletes tramping over it last weekend. Leeds had been forewarned by Glenn Hoddle, who played for Monaco in the 1980s. "It's a fact of life," Wilkinson said. "It'll be as good or bad for them as it is for us.
History, along with an expected following of 3,000, is on Leeds's side. Only two of the 16 European ties between teams from the two nations have resulted in victories for the French, the last coming when Bastia put Newcastle out of the Uefa Cup fully 18 years ago.
"People keep telling me about this record," Wilkinson smiled, "and I wish they wouldn't. I've seen some good French sides in the past few years, and they've surprised some of our best teams, if only in one leg."
Jean Tigana, the Monaco coach, has stressed the importance of not conceding a goal. Wilkinson is equally determined not to have to chase the game. What could happen, therefore, is a stand-off, with both teams holding back and trying to play on the break.Reuse content