Watching Leeds United at the moment is like looking at stars in the night sky. Some figures recur, but there are shapes and patterns I can’t identify, drifting with an order that isn’t apparent. I don’t understand what is going on, which scares me a bit. When it comes to the vastness of the cosmos, romantics and philosophers will tell you this fear is fine, beautiful even, but the helplessness of this season hits differently.
This week I read about SSN 7, a pair of stars 200,000 light years away, the bigger of which is feeding off the little’n, sucking away matter to the tune of thirteen earth masses each year.
It got me thinking about how the Premier League is made up of big clubs and everyone else, and how Manchester City can poach Leeds United’s favourite person then leave him on the bench when Pep Guardiola got more mass than he bargained for.
I thought stars were all about fire and light, but Wikipedia tells me that a star’s brightness, its position in the sky, the way it evolves over time all have a lot to do with just how much stuff there is, as Marcelo Bielsa proved with the case of little Joffy Gelhardt.
Stars know nothing of murderball, but one way a star can lose mass is through stellar pulsation, by which matter is ejected from the outer layers to maintain equilibrium.
Maybe it would be easier if Leeds United were at the mercy of the laws of physics rather than run by directors making daily decisions which balance balancing the books with building a well-balanced Premier League squad.
What if Leeds United surrendered to the natural exchange of mass? What if, instead of Victor Orta’s mountain to Mohammed overtures, the pull of Leeds United was enough to accrete Cody Gakpo? What if United swallowed reality, Jean-Kévin Augustin and all, before warping time to escape the wormhole? What if Bielsa’s expected trajectory came to pass and the sun rose again in the morning?
After defeat at Bournemouth, Leeds finally gave in to the rules of its universe. With Jesse Marsch reduced to cosmic waffle and Javi Gracia out-relevanted by Pluto, the Whites were in deep peril, and the fourth law of the Premier League is that with Sam Allardyce in charge, you might not prosper but you could live longer.
And as the earth spins at 1,000 miles per hour, it has been very comforting to see the elements react as predicted. Allardyce stepped into the vacuum and said ‘no one is bigger than me’, giving his discombobulated players the simple task of stepping into his orbit.
In the three days between appointment and Manchester City, Big Sam didn’t have time to brush up on his astrophysics, and it showed. Rather than the empty space its name suggests, a black hole is a huge amount of matter packed densely into a small area, which creates such a strong gravitational pull that nothing can escape. Not light, not ball, not Patrick Bamford.
With so much time to look and learn up close, City’s approach to the Whites’ defensive third in the first half reminded me of speedcubing. Neither are particularly spectator sports — we all know how the result looks, it’s just a question of how and when. Most of a speedcuber’s work is done with their eyes and brain, taking time to inspect the challenge before picking up the puzzle and going from chaos to cube in less than five seconds.
And after solving it once nineteen minutes in, Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan didn’t bother with any of the 43,252,003,274,489,856,999 other combinations. Patient on the attack, City could choose the moment that felt just right while Leeds accepted any and all that came their way.
That’s what it is to be the feeder, that’s what it means to be truly massive. Your fans boo time-wasting in the opening ten minutes, as a chance to gorge passes with each second. Your substitutions have less to do with this game than the next, more important one. Your playmaker is quite possibly an alien, who can make an assist with the outside of his boot while facing away from goal. Your striker is so special that supporters cheer when the ball leaves his boot, certain of its path.
But Erling Haaland is not so inevitable as camera phones at corner kicks and, to many, massive sounds like remaining sure ‘we’ve got the best fucking team in the world’ while on a direct collision course with an earth-shattering meteorite.
Regarding SSN 7, the good news for Leeds fans is that this week astrophysicists forecast that, in roughly 800,000 years, the balance of power will change as the smaller star collapses in on itself to form a black hole. After a few million years of uncomfortable co-existence, the black hole that was once the smaller star will then eat off the companion that it was formerly feeding.
Then, billions of years from now, the eternal companions will collide with such a force that it creates ripples in the space-time continuum.
So at least there’s that to look forward to. ⬢