JAMES BEATTIE’S return to Yorkshire as first team coach at Leeds United under new manager Gary Monk, revives bitter-sweet memories for Sheffield United fans. These days they can only dream of watching a player of his talent in a red-and-white-striped shirt at Bramall Lane.
Beattie is also an involuntary monument to the lack of vision and ambition that has undermined the club and led to a dramatic decline and stagnation of what will now be six seasons in League One.
A club record £4million paid to Everton following relegation from the Premier League in 2007, it was money well spent and the only contribution worth remembering during Bryan Robson’s desperate nine months in charge.
Beattie scored 22 Championship goals in his first season at the Lane, joint second top scorer alongside Southampton’s Kevin Phillips, and was voted United’s Player of the Year.
He had scored 12 more by Boxing Day of the following campaign before the club’s short-sighted, cost-cutting Board sold, against his will, to Premier League Stoke City for more than £500,000 less than they paid for him. This, despite Beattie’s record of a goal very two matches – 34 in 65 appearances – during his 18-month stay.
It conjures memories of another infamous decision amongst United’s catalogue of boardroom disasters when top scorers Jan Aage Fjortoft and Brian Deane were jettisoned on the same day – Black Thursday – in January 1998. The Blades, desperate to cut the wage bill – a familiar cry – made a £400,000 loss on those deals.
I say ‘against his will’ because Beattie went on public record adamant he didn’t want to leave United. The club claimed the player was making new wage demands, which he denied, and had forced their decision.
AGAINST ALL ODDS
For a man accused of holding United to ransom, it didn’t seem to matter as he returned two years later on a short-term deal. By then he was a shadow of his former self and didn’t manage one goal in 19 appearances before being released.
Now, after 16 months in charge of Accrington Stanley – he quit his first managerial role in September 2014 and later became a coach under Monk at Premier League Swansea – Beattie is hoping to triumph against all the odds at Elland Road.
It never ceases to amaze why anyone other than long-suffering and die-hard fans would want to touch Leeds with the proverbial bargepole. But flock they do to the madcap world of owner Massimo Cellino, the crazed Sardinian who has two criminal convictions in his homeland relating to financial impropriety.
In 2013 he was arrested by the Italian authorities and held in custody for alleged embezzlement and fraudulent misrepresentation. He makes Sheffield United’s record of appointing nine managers in as many years and a series of boardroom reshuffles appear a model of calm and stability.
Monk sacked by Swansea last December along with his coaching staff, became the seventh incumbent at Elland Road since Cellino assumed control in February 2014. That’s an average of one manager every five months. An improvement by Cellino’s standards. During 22 years at Italian club Cagliari, he sacked 36 managers.
Desperate men make desperate choices and Beattie has rejoined the fray with pal Monk and another of Swansea’s former backroom staff, Spaniard Pep Clotet, hoping to put their careers back on track courtesy of Cellino’s shilling. Good luck with that.
It’s a calculated gamble. If recent history is to go by it will almost inevitably end in tears.