Antenucci backed to fill the boots of ‘talisman’ McCormack

Former Leeds 'talisman' Ross McCormack. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Former Leeds 'talisman' Ross McCormack. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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THE king is dead, long live the king is the traditional proclamation which denotes the ascension of a new monarch.

Leeds United may have lost their own majestic on-pitch ruler from last season in Ross McCormack, who fired a head-turning 29 goals in 2013-14, but ahead of his first return to Elland Road with Fulham on Saturday, a worthy successor is emerging.

Step forward Mirco Antenucci, whose increasingly stylish performances in front of goal are mitigating for the loss of the Scot, who moved to the Cottagers for £11m in July, while providing some reassurance in the process.

The Italian’s princely two-goal statement in the recent 2-0 usurping of Championship leaders Derby County and the acclaim which came with it represented a rewind to some of McCormack’s sumptuous contributions of last season – and which have left United supporters hankering for more.

In his role as a leading pundit on United, Eddie Gray is perfectly qualified to comment on the merits of Antenucci in his attempts to fill the considerable shoes of the McCormack.

The former Leeds manager sees clear similarities between the pair and while it will be going some if Antenucci is to get close to McCormack’s prolific haul, Gray is confident he can break one significant barrier.

Gray said: “Antenucci has done well and is a good player and a good finisher and it would not surprise you if he ended up scoring 20 goals this season.

“Like Ross, if Antenucci gets the opportunity in front of goal, he will stick the ball in the back of the net. It will be interesting to see the two of them up against each other.

“Both him and Ross are sharp in and around the box, with good feet. Antenucci is a good striker of the ball with two feet and Ross was like that as well.

“They are also roughly the same size and rely on their technical ability rather than brute strength.”

Antenucci, who has hit four goals in his last four games for United, has struck eight times so far in his debut season in England, with McCormack having netted on just five occasions in 2014-15 – this time last year he had scored 16 goals.

Form may be temporary, but class is permanent and McCormack provided plenty of that during his final few seasons at Elland Road and was fully entitled to be bracketed under the term of ‘talisman’ – a word in the footballing lexicon which is liberally used, but often not deserved.

Gray feels his compatriot fully deserved that accolade in his time with Leeds and believes he will be given a warm reception on Saturday, before kick-off.

Gray said: “Ross was a talismanic player for us, but people do move on in football.

“The thing about Ross is it is not as if the club lost money on him; they pocketed top-dollar.

“He was a terrific player for the club.

“The fans liked him and he was player of the season and I do think he should get a good reception.

“But I don’t think Leeds fans will be too happy if he comes here and sticks one or two in the back of the net.

“He enjoyed his time at Leeds. But these things happen in football and Ross was at the age when he was thinking that he wants to play at the highest level and he must have thought he had a better chance of doing that at Fulham than Leeds.

“But I think he thought he was going to a club who would bounce straight back.

“It does not look as if it is going to be that easy for them.”