Leeds duo looking to build on promising beginning

WHEN Mirco Antenucci and Souleymane Doukara first played together in Sicily during the summer of 2012, the pair hoped swiftly to strike up an understanding.

Leeds United striker Mirco Antenucci (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

The two strikers were newly arrived at Serie A club Catania, Antenucci having joined from Torino and Doukara, then aged just 20 and by seven years the more junior of the pair, from Serie D outfit Vibonese.

Both were hopeful of making a big impression, though also realistic enough to appreciate that they may have to be patient due to the presence of Argentinian pair Gonzalo Bergessio and Maxi Lopez in the Catania squad.

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As it turned out, Doukara was destined to make 12 league appearances in what was his maiden top flight season in Italy.

Leeds United striker Mirco Antenucci (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).

Antenucci, however, managed just one appearance from the bench before being shipped out on loan to Spezia Calcio in the division below.

It seemed that all hopes of the two strikers being able to build on what had been promising beginnings on the training pitch had gone.

Then, though, came Massimo Cellino’s takeover of Leeds United and a transfer policy at Elland Road that saw the Italian lean heavily on his knowledge of the domestic game in his native country.

Fifteen new faces arrived at Leeds during the summer, more than half being either born in Italy or having played the majority of their career in the country.

For Antenucci, the chance to be reunited with Doukara two years on from those couple of months together at Catania was one he relished.

While the duo had to be patient for a chance to start together up front in Leeds colours – the 3-1 win at Bournemouth on September 16 – they have made a decent fist of making up for lost time.

In the dozen games since that surprise victory at Dean Court, Antenucci and Doukara have netted five times apiece. It is a decent record and one that Antenucci believes can only get better in the coming weeks.

“A partnership takes time in football,” said the 30-year-old Italian when speaking to The Yorkshire Post at United’s Thorp Arch training complex. “It also takes time to settle in a new country and at a new club.

“But having Souleymane with me has helped. We had played together before, though not very much. It was one pre-season in Catania. I left very early in the season, my contract was sold.

“I enjoy playing with him. We do well together. Souleymane is great to play with. It is always better to have two strikers together.

“It is important for me when two players are together that they have a feeling together, they understand each other. We have that and it is getting better.”

United have, down the years, been blessed with some wonderful strike partnerships. Going back to Don Revie’s days, Allan Clarke and Mick Jones were the attacking spearhead on which much of the club’s later success was built, while the League title win of 1992 under Howard Wilkinson saw Lee Chapman and Rod Wallace complement each other beautifully.

More recently, Mark Viduka and Alan Smith ruled the roost at Elland Road, while even United’s dip into League One led to Jermaine Beckford and Luciano Becchio emerging as a partnership to strike fear into opposition defences.

Antenucci and Doukara may be some distance from striking up that sort of reputation, but it is clear that the appreciation between the two men is mutual.

“I played against Mirco last season in Italy and he is a very good striker,” said Doukara. “He is a big striker for us and I think he will score more goals for the team.”

Doukara has seven goals to his name this term – the Frenchman’s first two in a Leeds shirt came against Accrington Stanley in the Capital One Cup and before Antenucci’s own debut – to hold the mantle as United’s top scorer.

Compared to the 13 strikes Ross McCormack had to his name at the corresponding stage of last season, it may not appear an overly impressive tally.

However, considering how both he and Antenucci have had to adapt to English football since moving from Catania and Ternana respectively, the dozen goals that the pair have contributed is perfectly respectable. They do, though, want more.

Antenucci, whose English has improved hugely since his arrival in the summer, when he spoke just a few words, said: “As a team, Leeds should be doing better. We need to get some results. We need to win one, two, three games consecutively.

“One match win, two defeats and a draw is no good for us. We need to be higher and the only way to do that is to win games.

“Leeds United is a big club. I knew all about the history before I signed. The club is famous all over the world and the fans are great.

“I have spoken to the media in Italy and told them about 25,000 coming to every home game and how there were 7,000 fans at Blackburn last week. I am not sure people in Italy believe me. No team gets support like that in the division below the top.”

Antenucci’s happiness with life in England has been added to in recent weeks by the arrival of his first child, Camilla.

“It is wonderful,” said the striker, who announced the birth to the wider world by sucking his thumb and then rocking an imaginary cradle with several of his team-mates after scoring against Blackpool.

“We are getting more sleep. She is better. In the first two or three days, it was not so easy, but not now. I still feel very emotional. She is my first child and I did the celebration for her.

“She was born here and that means I have an English daughter. I like that. I want to stay in England for a long time.”