Brown now all smiles again after Warnock reunion

PLAYING alongside a team-mate who takes great delight in mentioning how he was once a 10-year-old ball boy at Maine Road when you were starring in the Manchester City midfield would usually be enough to make anyone feel their age.

For Michael Brown, however, even the well-meaning jibes of fellow Leeds United midfielder Adam Clayton can not upset him right now. Now reunited with Neil Warnock, he is simply enjoying his football too much to worry about anything else.

“Clayts has dropped it in about being a ball boy at every opportunity,” says the 35-year-old with a smile when talking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s eagerly-anticipated encounter with West Ham.

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“I think he believes it is funny to remind me how old I am, even though he is 23 going on about 50 at the moment. He’s never played as many games as this before and it’s catching up with him.”

The last comment is a joke, as Brown makes clear by creasing up with laughter a moment later. When talk turns to how much the veteran midfielder is enjoying his football again, however, he is back in deadly serious mode.

“I knew the moment the gaffer came in that it would be a good thing for Leeds United,” says the ball-winner about a manager he spent four-and-a-half years playing under at Sheffield United.

“I knew exactly what he would be like and I knew what he would do for the squad. He always ran things the right way at Sheffield United.

“The gaffer is someone who lets you know what he needs and what he wants. You also have to toe the line. But then, provided you buy in to what he wants then the chances are you will come to work with a smile on your face.

“He loves cracking a joke and having a laugh with the boys. But when he wants to get serious, then you get serious.

“It will take time to get Leeds playing how he wants us to play. But he will manage it.”

After a frustrating first few months at Elland Road, Brown’s career in a Leeds shirt has finally taken off. Starting roles in all four of Warnock’s games in charge has meant the kind of run in the team he craved but never enjoyed under Simon Grayson.

A switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation that has seen Brown and Clayton play behind the midfield attacking trio of Robert Snodgrass, Ross McCormack and Aidy White has also played to the former Blades man’s strengths.

Brown, who did not feature in the second half of last season at Portsmouth due to the cash-starved club being unable to afford the new contract that one more appearance would have activated, said: “After all that time out last year, I needed a run of games but because of the disappointing start Leeds had this season and me getting injured, it never really happened.

“I’d play once and then be out. I just couldn’t get going. I needed a good run of games in a row. Now I have managed a few games, I am hoping to just keep playing.

“Managers know what they will get from me and that is 100 per cent. Mine might not always be a role that a lot appreciate because I don’t pop up in the box to score goals. But I enjoy it.”

Bursts into the opposition penalty area may not be a familiar part of Brown’s game these days but that did not stop him from bombing forward in the closing stages of last Sunday’s 2-0 win at Middlesbrough and believing a first goal in almost 18 months was coming his way.

“I saw Danny Webber make the break and thought, ‘I’m setting off too’,” says the Hartlepool-born player. “All it needed was for him to roll the ball across and I would have had a tap-in.

“I was certain the ball would come but maybe I was believing Webbs had vision. The ball never came and I was cursing him all the way back to the halfway line. I had a nose bleed from getting so far forward and yet still he didn’t see me.”

The win at the Riverside Stadium has raised optimism around Leeds that Warnock’s side can gatecrash the play-offs. Brown hopes that proves to be the case, though he also recognises that the odds are against the Elland Road outfit.

He said: “We are fighting the table and the games are running out. In many ways, I wish it was Christmas as we would only be halfway through the season and the manager would have even more time to get things right.

“All we can do is our best and if that is enough then great as it would be brilliant to finish what, in many ways, has been a difficult season on a high.

“We started really slowly and have never really recovered, though that could have been down to the fixtures. Southampton, Middlesbrough, Hull and West Ham were our first four games and they are all in the top six more than seven months on.

“Because of what happened on the opening day at Southampton, people were writing us off. They were saying, ‘Southampton have only just come up and yet Leeds lost to them’.

“But I think the results since then have shown what a good team they are. In the end, we took four points from four games and seem to have more or less been playing catch-up ever since.”

Along with the fight to return to the play-off places, the United squad are also playing for their futures due to manager Warnock already having one eye on next season.

Brown’s own future is up in the air after signing a one-year deal last summer and he would like to stay.

He said: “This is a good club and a good dressing room. We all come to work with a smile on our faces, even those of us who drive over (on the M62 from the north-west) every day.

“Some days, we have had seven of us travelling so have had to get the big Voyager out. But, at the moment, we are down to four with Paul Rachubka out on loan and a couple of the lads injured.

“I am sure one day I will be left with just Clayts, who never puts his hand in his pocket for anything. Petrol, sandwiches; you name it, he doesn’t pay for it.

“I’m sure he thinks everything is free.”