So it has finally been announced that Jake Leberl (or Jake Lebrel as he was known to many a stadium announcer) has finally left the club. It’s been the worst kept secret around the club at the moment, and it would have been announced with the others last week, but the club somehow couldn’t get in touch with Jake. So now Jake gets an announcement of his own, and to be honest I find that more fitting somehow.
Jake joined in the summer of 2007 as one of Terry Brown first signings, much vaunted as he had chosen to step down from Conference Champions Dagenham & Redbridge, a professional contract and the chance to play in the Football League for the opportunity to finally guide Wimbledon out of the Ryman League. Jake was already a Wimbledon supporter from childhood and the Plough Lane days onwards, holding a season ticket at Selhurst Park. So while it must have been a dream come true for him to step out in Wimbledon colours, he never over-played it, mentioning his Wimbledon history in a couple of early interviews, seemingly happy to build his own reputation among the supporters based on performance.
While Terry appeared to have signed him primarily as a centre half, initial turnouts in that position were disappointing as Browns Dons took time to gel in the early days. Jake found his feet as a solid ball winning defensive midfielder, amassing 32 appearances in the league, including three as substitute, as Wimbledon finally escaped the Ryman Premier via those nerve-wracking playoffs.
The introduction of two extremely capable centre halves in Alan Inns and Ben Judge saw Jake fall back to fourth in the pecking order for that position, into the ’emergencies only’ category. The promotion of young Kennedy Adjei into the holding midfield position saw Jake relegated to the bench, or out of the squad altogether. But Terry used his squad effectively, as Wimbledon kept winning, and consolidation was forgotten about in place of back-to-back promotions. Young Adjei, while comfortable in possession and decent distribution wise, found himself muscled out of many challenges, and combined with the unfortunate injury to Luke Garrard Jake found himself starting more and more often.
And whether he found himself in midfield, right back or centre half, Jake always turned in a positive and professional performance. I was a little unfair on him when I described his performances in my end of season player evaluation as resembling a midfielder who had made an unsuccessful conversion to centre half, this was based on a couple of performances where we were forced to chase the game (and indeed the title), sacrificing the midfield and forcing Jake forward to win the ball in midfield allowing Ben Judge to sweep up behind him.
Wimbledon’s success over the last couple of years (by no means a coincidence with the likes of Jake and Jason Goodliffe putting in important contributions) has ironically meant Jake is left without a future at the club; presumably Jake has been on a decent contract, money that Terry has presumably earmarked for younger talent next term.
As one door closes, another one opens, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the rumours that Jake is on the verge of signing for his former club Dover (he was forced to leave last time due to financial problems), and if there turns out to be nothing in that he should find his way to another Conference South club. Jake can be satisfied he achieved his ambition to help Wimbledon up the pyramid, achieved ahead of our wildest expectations. Whoever does pick him up can be assured of having signed a wholehearted, loyal player, and I’m sure all Dons fans will echo the good luck that I wish him whichever club he goes to. Unless that club turns out to be Hampton of course!