Leeds United: What is going wrong at Elland Road?
An assessment of Leeds United both, on and off the field amidst a torrid start to 2018
I've been delaying writing about Leeds for a few weeks now, partly because my emotions may run away with me, I’ll do my best to keep them in check. I make no secret of my love for Leeds United, in-fact I’m an extremely proud supporter, but, as fellow Leeds fans will know, it is an extremely painful club to support.
Where to begin? I suppose we should work backwards. On Sunday evening the Leeds hierarchy called time on Thomas Christiansen’s tenure as head-coach at Elland Road following a humiliating 4-1 home defeat to Cardiff.
Time called on the Christiansen experiment
The loss to Cardiff was the final nail in the coffin for Christiansen, not for the result, but for the manner of the defeat that has become far too familiar in 2018 thus far. The Whites have seen red in four out of their last five games, which has heavily contributed to a run of seven games without a win.
Their last victory came against lowly Burton Albion on Boxing Day when they claimed a 2-1 win at the Pirelli Stadium.
The ill-discipline within the squad has been at the centre of a growing storm this year. It all began when Leeds crashed out of the FA Cup to Newport County, with Samu Saiz, who has been the side’s talisman this campaign, was sent-off for spitting, incurring a six-match ban. Things have gone from bad to worse since.
More red cards followed combined with a string of lacklustre and dispirited performances. It leaves Leeds now seven points adrift of the playoffs and very much in last chance saloon as far as this season is concerned, and once more, in search for another manager.
I do find it a question of ‘what could have been?’ under Christiansen. In September, he oversaw the best ever start as a Leeds manager as he guided them to the top of the Championship.
The city was buzzing, the football was exciting and everything was rosy following the animus departure of Garry Monk in the summer. The saviour had arrived, the good times had returned… or so we all thought.
I’ll come to discussing the potential candidates for what increasingly appears to be a poisoned managerial chalice. First, there is much to be said about the current boardroom set-up at Elland Road.
First signs of trouble with new ownership
In the summer, Andrea Radrizzani took over full control from the mercurial Massimo Cellino putting an end to an unsavoury era in West Yorkshire. The Italian endeared himself to the Leeds faithful as he instantly delivered on promises made.
Most notably, he bought-back Elland Road which was a huge show of what he is about as an owner and that he is here for the long-haul.
Victor Orta was brought in as Radrizzani’s right-hand man in the capacity of Director of Football. The jury is still very much out on whether to view his work as a success thus far. A large proportion of the players brought in under Orta have not been good enough, that said, amongst several questionable acquisitions there have been a few astute signings.
From Orta to Angus Kinnear, which brings us onto the faithful day Leeds United ‘broke the internet’ with the unveiling of a new club crest, which can only be described as truly horrific!
Kinnear in the role of Managing Director joined from West Ham in the summer as Radrizzani built his inner circle. Since Kinnear joined he’s had his name associated with two key decisions.
Firstly, the appointment of the now departed Thomas Christiansen, which sadly has to be viewed as a mistake. Secondly, the new club crest, which categorically was a mistake.
Fortunately, the Leeds board listened and reacted to the fallout of that announcement and are now re-visiting the process with fan designs being submitted, shortlisted and then voted on by season ticket holders and club members.
The unveiling of the new crest last week characterised the current ownership, good intentions, poor execution, but willing to listen to the supporters and holding their hands up when they get it wrong.
Leeds fans are a loyal bunch but equally unforgiving, the current regime is still very much in credit with the fanbase, but the next decision is a big one and one they can’t afford to get wrong again.
Who will be the next man in the Leeds United hot seat?
The club is expected to make a swift appointment to name Christiansen’s successor with Marco Silva, Paul Heckingbottom and former boss Simon Grayson all being linked with the vacant post.
As a Leeds fan, I would love to see the return of Simon Grayson. Grayson who spent his youth career at Leeds, managed the club between 2008 and 2012 and guided the Whites out of League 1, winning promotion on the final day of the season at home to Bristol Rovers.
No manager since Grayson’s departure has bettered his 7th-place finish in the Championship during their first season back in the second-tier, following their promotion from League One. He achieved all this amidst off-field turmoil under the cancerous reign of former chairman Ken Bates.
During that time Grayson watched the club sell their prized assets with no money provided for him to reinvest in the playing squad. Logic suggests under Leeds’ current structure he could well flourish, but then again, logic is a word that is rarely associated with Leeds United.
It has the feeling of Groundhog Day again for Leeds, we’ve been here before, far too many times. But the crucial thing to remember is that for the first time in a long-time Leeds have stability away from the pitch. The club is in good shape, the squad is being invested in and things have most definitely been worse.
As mentioned, the next managerial appointment is a crucial decision. The season isn’t over yet, at least that’s what my optimistic side says as do the actions of the Leeds board, who by sacking Christiansen are rolling the dice and refusing to surrender the season as a write-off.
Defeat on Saturday to Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United, in my opinion, would all but spell the end of our already slim chance of securing a playoff spot.
Whoever is appointed in the coming days is taking on a huge job, the expectation at Leeds is like no other. Many managers have wilted under such pressure in the past, one man to have lived up to it was Simon Grayson, will he be the man Radrizzani turns to?
Only time will tell, but I hope the new manager can restore confidence, discipline and reignite the fire in the players that saw Leeds top the table in September. All the ingredients are there for something special to happen.
The message all season has been for the club to be “Together”. That message must now ring true.