Great Whites hope
Leeds United skipper Jonny Howson talks to James Marshment about his contract talks, the honour of captaining the Whites and why promotion is a realistic target this season.
Last Updated: 09/11/11 1:10pm
JM: Hi Jonny, we're here at Elland Road to talk about all things Leeds United. Once again it's been something of an up-and-down season - can you put a finger on why Leeds are so inconsistent?
JH: I'm not too sure really. As you say it has been very up and down, but we're still in a pretty good position. This is one of those leagues where anyone can beat anyone and I think there's a few teams who have had similar seasons to us. But what matters most is where we are at the end of the season.
JM: A big part of finding more consistency must surely be keeping it tight at the back. Has Simon Grayson been working you all hard in training to make you a better defensive unit?
JH: Yeah, he has and I think barring the Blackpool game [Leeds lost 0-5] there's been plenty of proof of that. But it's a team effort: we score goals as a team and keep clean sheets as a team. But the boss have been working on the defensive side of things and I think it has been paying off.
JM: Speaking of the boss, what's he like to play for?
JH: Yeah, he's very good. He brings a calm atmosphere to training and a fun environment to work in. He gets on well with all the lads and I think we have a really tight-knit group. We've got a good team spirit here and everyone really gets on. The evidence in just how together we are is when you see us nicking late goals and pinching late points.
JM: It seems like quite a wide open Championship this season. How well realistically do you think Leeds can do?
JH: I think we've got a very good chance of going up. It all stems back to that consistency. If we can get that right, we'll have a very good chance of going up. It's all about putting a run together and any team that does that, will be the one that goes up. So if we can just keep in and around the top of the table, who knows what can happen.
You can't read too much into the table now as there might be teams currently down the lower reaches, who might be in and amongst it come the end of the season.
So at this stage, it's really hard to tell. But if we keep continuing to cut out the silly errors, there's no reason why we can't be in the hunt.
JM: We're about a third of the way through the Championship season so far. Southampton are currently five points clear at the top, are they the best team you've faced and who are your tips for promotion?
JH: I think they are the best we've faced. It was only the first day of the season, but you could tell then they looked really strong. They are probably the best side we've faced, especially going forward where they've got some very good players such as (Rickie) Lambert and (Adam) Lallana. Lallana's a top player and arguably one of the best in this league and he's been a big part in them getting off to a great start.
They've just carried on where they left off from last season, so it's really up to us and the rest of the sides to try and catch them.
JM: You're Leeds born and bred - just how big an honour is it to captain your hometown club?
JH: It's something myself and all my family are really proud of. It's a dream come true just playing for the club never mind captaining them, so obviously I'm chuffed to bits and loving every minute of it.
JM: And you're the youngest Leeds captain since the legendary Billy Bremner. How does it feel being mentioned in the same breath as him?
JH: Unbelievable, really! It's something people do mention to me and it makes me extremely proud. I have to be honest and say I never really expected the captaincy at such a young age.
JM: You've formed a good central midfield partnership with Adam Clayton this season. What's he like to play alongside?
JH: Yeah, very good. I think anyone can see the ability he has. When you're playing alongside good players, you can only improve yourself. We get on really well off the field too so I think that's helped us form a solid partnership. It's going very well for us.
JM: I saw in the game against Blackpool you switched to right-back once we went down to 10 men. Do you see a future for yourself in that position?
JH: No, hopefully not. I much prefer being in the thick of it in midfield rather than in defence. However, I guess that's maybe for the manager to decide. Maybe if he sees something in my game, I've no idea. If I was picking the team, then no - I prefer to be much further up the field. But who knows, as long as I'm out there I suppose I don't really care where I play.
JM: Your current contract is due to expire next summer. How are the talks over a new deal going?
JH: They're going well. We've been in talks for the past month or so and although it's taking a bit of time, I'm not in a massive rush. That's always the way with negotiations but I'm sure they'll be finalised and I'll sign soon.
JM: The papers recently had you linked with a move to Bolton, amongst others. Any comment on that?
JH: I don't read the papers or anything like that. No disrespect to the media but not everything you read or hear is true and I've not heard anything about that. I've certainly not spoken to Bolton or anyone connected to the club.
JM: But surely the ultimate aim is to be playing in the Premier League?
JH: I think for any professional player it's an ambition to play at the highest level and I'm no different. In an ideal situation I'd love to do that with Leeds and hopefully that's where we'll be next season.
JM: A lot of fans have called for investment in the team. Do you think Ken Bates needs to dip into his pockets if Leeds are to achieve promotion?JH: The way it's going at the minute, I wouldn't say so. It's a united team and we've had different players come into the side and I think they've proved we have strength in depth.
Fans always want something to happen, that big name signing or money to be spent, but I think at the minute the team is in good shape.
JM: Thanks Jonny. Now to finish, some quick-fire questions about your team-mates and some of your experiences in the game.
Who is the best trainer you have played alongside?
JH: Neil Kilkenny was up there. He was the same every day - always giving 100%, even though he was a bit of a moaner too, but I think that was because of the high standards he set himself.
JM: And the laziest?
JH: There's been a few, but if I had to name one I'd pick Armando Sa (a Mozambique international, who played 11 games on loan for Leeds in 2007) . I think he was one of those who just prefer to play games rather than train.
JM: Hardest team-mate?
JH: I'd have to say 'Nails' (Richard Naylor). Last season he cracked a rib, which is as painful as you can get, just five minutes before half-time. During the interval, he had a painkilling injection and still finished the game. Solid!
JM: Biggest girl's blouse?
JH: Possibly Kilkenny. He was all for the technical side of the game rather the physical aspect of it.
JM: Most skilful team-mate?
JH: It would either be Lee Trundle or Seb Carole. They both had quite a few tricks and could do all sorts with the ball. When it came off during a match it was spectacular to watch.
JM: What's the best prank you've played or ever had played on you?
JH: It'll be when I was in the youth team. We used to stay in the hostel up at Thorp Arch (Leeds' training complex). One day I was in the computer room and when I came back, everything out of my bedroom, down to the bedding, had been removed.
JM: Who would you say is the best player you've played against?
JH: It's a tough one because on paper I'd probably have to say Steven Gerrard, though he only played 10 minutes or so (of the September 2009 Carling Cup tie). For someone I've played against for longer, it'd either be Ryan Giggs or Gareth Bale. Both of them just totally took over the game.
JM: I was convinced you were going to say Fabregas?
JH: Yeah, but he was another who only came on for 10 or 15 minutes and as effective as he was, I think Giggs and Bale shade it.
JM: Your best moment in a Leeds shirt?
JH: It's either the win at Man United or promotion on the last day against Bristol Rovers. On reflection, I'd say promotion because that's what meant more - it's what we'd set out to do at the start of the season. It was just sheer overall relief and a real adrenaline rush. The Man United game though was an amazing day and an amazing result.
JM: And your worst moment in a Leeds shirt?
JH: Possibly the other night against Blackpool. We couldn't get near them, couldn't get the ball off them - it got even tougher with 10 men too.
JM: And finally, I took my seven-year-old nephew Zack to the Leeds-Blackpool game last week. It was his first ever match - have you any words of encouragement for him so we don't lose him as a fan?
JH: (Embarrassed laugh) Yeah, I think I can almost guarantee that every game is not going to be like that. You come down to Elland Road and you will always see plenty of goals - unfortunately that day they just all went against us!
Jonny Howson was speaking at the Sportingbet Leeds Zone. www.leedszone.com gives fans the opportunity to get closer to the club they love.