United we stand
James Pearson looks at how lower league talent is currently helping Leeds recapture former glory.
Last Updated: 09/10/09 1:49pm
At the turn of the century, Leeds United would splash out millions on new talent as they sought to climb higher and higher up the Premier League ladder.
Sadly, ex-chairman Peter Ridsdale's precarious house of cards came crashing down.
However, the club's demise did not fall short of dropping into the Championship.
Leeds managed to fall to the third tier of English football for the first time in their illustrious history in May 2007, a move which also saw the club move into administration due to a crippling debt mountain.
Long gone were the days of big-name arrivals and press conferences at Elland Road to unveil some of the brightest talent British football had to offer.
Leeds' current mainstays might not be household names to many a Premier League fan, but ask any Whites supporter if they would like to see any of their heroes depart and the question will be given short-shrift.
While the likes of Patrick Kisnorbo, Jermaine Beckford and Shane Higgs have impressed for Simon Grayson's troops, it is a former Northampton Town midfielder who is now showing his true potential.
When Bradley Johnson was snapped up from the Cobblers one could have been forgiven for asking: "Who?" In fact, his first season was nothing to write home about and he quickly fell out of favour under Gary McAllister in his second term.
The youngster failed to even make McAllister's bench at times and eventually joined Brighton on a three-month loan, where he proceeded to show Leeds fans what they had been missing out on.
A flurry of goals brought about questions of McAllister, which were answered just before Christmas Day in 2008 when Ken Bates wielded the axe on the fans' favourite, whose popularity around Elland Road remains despite failing at the helm.
The £250,000 capture has gone from strength to strength under manager Simon Grayson and the midfielder credits his form and confidence to one man and one man only.
"I feel going to Brighton has benefited me well," he told skysports.com. "It was the right time for me to go there.
"At the beginning of last season I got injured under Gary McAllister and I couldn't get a look in.
"I kept asking the questions why I couldn't get into the team and he couldn't answer them. So I asked if I could go out on loan.
"I went down and proved that I can play in central midfield. It's my position, but he wouldn't play me there.
"I went down there and proved to everyone that I can. I scored five in 10 and showed what I can do, which is score goals from midfield.
"I didn't think I was ever going to be recalled. This year's Simon's getting lot more out of me.
"It's paying off in my performances that I'm giving back to him. He's given me a lot of confidence on and off the pitch."
Leeds failed to perform consistently under McAllister and Johnson believes having a settled XI has been one of the reasons behind Grayson's early success.
"At the beginning of the season under McAllister last year he was swapping the team around nearly every week," he continued.
"Under him I felt that if you do one bad thing then you're out of the team.
"I think this year with Simon, he's kept the same team. Well he's had to keep the same team because of the results.
"His man-management on and off the pitch is really good and everyone is happy at the club even if they are not playing."
Off all the Leeds players who could be in with an outside shout of playing in next summer's World Cup finals, the one about to be revealed may be the one you would least expect.
Yes, you guessed it, the ever-improving Johnson.
With England? Certainly not yet, but how about with the United States?
Johnson qualifies for the USA though his African-American grandfather and he admits he has already held talks with head coach Bob Bradley, although a shock call-up is unlikely to happen before South Africa next summer.
The winger admits he would jump at the chance of playing international football and would not hesitate in playing for the US should Bradley ever come knocking.
"My grandfather is an African-American. I've spoken to the USA coach over the phone," he said.
"The football takes care of itself. If I get called up I'll be happy.
"My chances of playing for England are slim, but if I get the chance to play for America I wouldn't say no.
"I've just got to keep playing how I'm playing and everything will fall into place.
"Everyone's dream is to play for their country. It would be good for me to play for England on my mum's side, but my dad's side of the family are American.
"I'm not looking too far ahead with the World Cup coming up. But I've got to take that chance if America want me to play for them I'll play for America.
"I haven't had a call-up or anything yet. I'm just concentrating on Leeds and if anything does come up I'll look at it."