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This week, columnist Dominic Damesick considers the signing of former hero Izale McLeod.
How quickly things can change in football. When I spoke to Karl Robinson in early November our conversation centred on the worrying lack of a goalscorer in the Dons’ ranks. Charlie MacDonald and Ryan Lowe were painfully off-form, and Alan Smith was struggling to lead the line alone – a decade, and a career threatening injury, on from when he made a name for himself as the fiery, bleach-blonde starlet at Leeds. Now, at the beginning of 2013, things are looking very exciting for the Dons in the strikers’ department.
Ryan Lowe has hit a rich vein of form and has started to deliver the goals his career history suggested he was capable of, bagging five in his last seven appearances. As the goals have started to flow Lowe’s whole body language has changed. He looks confident, hungry and committed; and has run himself into the ground over the last few games. Yet, Lowe’s place in the side is by no means secure, due to the impending return of the MK Dons’ top goalscorer, since the name-change of 2004, Izale McLeod.
McLeod enjoyed a superb return during his three seasons in Milton Keynes, netting sixty times in all competitions. To average twenty goals a season over a period of three years is the sort of form many strikers can only dream of, and it will be the sort of form McLeod will be dreaming of recapturing as he returns to play in the town where he still lives (you might say, as he returns ‘home’!). Recent stats suggest that McLeod may be capable of reproducing that form of old – he scored 22 times for Barnet in League Two last season, and had found the back of the net 11 times for Portsmouth so far this season before his departure, by mutual consent, a few days ago.
The only worry that may creep into the mind of some Dons’ fans, as McLeod prepares to pull on an MK Dons shirt again, might relate to his attitude. McLeod, despite his incredible return of goals, did manage to get on the wrong side of sizeable sections of the MK fanbase, during his first stint in Milton Keynes. The pacey striker could appear sulky and disinterested when things were not going his way, and was very prone to picking up needless cards, mostly for dissent or violent conduct.
From perusing some online discussions amongst Portsmouth fans it would appear the same problems still exist. Few Pompey fans denied McLeod’s ability to score goals, but his perceived lack of commitment to the cause and negative body language attracted plenty of criticism, and there were many who did not seem overly sorry to see him leave the South-Coast.
Karl Robinson has built a very good team at stadium:mk: the players appear to have respect for the manager and for each other, and form a tightly- knit group. This mentality would certainly seem to have played a part in the Dons’ successes during Robinson’s tenure. The key question then is: will Izale McLeod be able to fit into this group environment; to avoid disciplinary problems; to commit himself to the cause and work hard for success; to avoid strops and disputes when the dice do not roll in his favour?
Thus, there is no doubting Izale McLeod’s ability, and his fondness for MK Dons (McLeod is reportedly taking a pay cut to return), but there are question marks over his temperament. The much-publicised sagas of Joey Barton and Mario Balotelli should serve as warnings to players that talent alone is insufficient, if one is to reach their full potential as a footballer. Hopefully the main consequence of McLeod’s return to the Dons will be to boost the club’s push for promotion, rather than to upset the apple cart. Ultimately, though, only time will tell.