Yesterday saw Paul Heckingbottom confirmed as the new Head Coach of Leeds United. In doing so he became Leeds’ 18th manager since the summer of 2002 when David O’Leary’s departure marked the beginning of the clubs decline from European powerhouse to Football League also ran.
Last summer marked a new dawn for the club after 15 years of misery when Andrea Radrizaani bought the club and brought to an end the chaotic 3 year reign of Massimo Cellino. Despite the departure of manager Gary Monk who didn’t feel comfortable with the new structure the club wanted to implement, Radrizanni quickly gained the trust of fans by buying back the clubs Elland Road ground.
To his credit Cellino had rectified the clubs awful financial position- a legacy dating back to Peter Ridsdale’s excesses 15 years earlier, but Cellino never made good on his promise to buy back the club’s spiritual home- Radrizanni did it within 2 weeks.
Radrizanni then brought in a boardroom team, brought back the Leeds Ladies team and financed Director of Football Victor Orta in both signing the clubs best players to long term deals and signing new players after a decade dominated by short term loan deals. The appointment of Manager Thomas Christiansen in June was a bolt from the blue- having previously only managed in the Cypriat League.
But the good vibes of the summer had an impact on the pitch as Leeds claimed 17 points from the first 21 available and stormed to the top of the table, but then came a run of 6 defeats in 7 before the team stabilised in December. Then came an embarrassing FA Cup exit to Newport County- a team Leeds had trounced 5-1 in the EFL Cup back in August and Leeds have yet to record a win in 2018 whilst the last 5 games have seen 4 of their players red carded, something had to give.
Ultimately few managers can survive a run like the one Christiansen suffered in the autumn, I suspect Leeds kept with him as long as they did because of the good start he made and a need to prove to the fans the club has changed since the days of Cellino’s ‘hire ’em fire ’em’ policy.
Meanwhile some Leeds fans have turned fire on Orta’s transfer dealings, and whilst there have been undoubted successes most notably Samuel Saiz others have taken time to settle. It’s too early to call players like Ezgjan Alioski and Felix Weidwald transfer busts given they are new to the Championship but the problem has been not who Orta did sign but who he didn’t. Leeds lost influential centre back Kyle Bartley over the summer (a returned loan to Swansea City) who’d formed a rock solid centre back partnership with Pontus Jansson and Leeds have struggled defensively in his absence. At the other end of the pitch Chris Wood left after turning down a long term deal and Leeds have struggled to find a prolific number 9 to replace him.
It was never likely Leeds could attract a forward of Wood’s quality in the January transfer window and influential centre backs are also easier to buy in the summer but Orta will need to address these problems quickly to quiten a critical fanbase.
The big question now is how much does Heckingbottom need to achieve with the remainder of the season? Leeds are currently 10th and 7 points off the playoffs- the new boss will need to find improvement but surely can’t be judged a failure should Leeds miss out on the top 6. The next few months will be an interesting watch at Elland Road to see if things really are different or Leeds are still a club in permanent crisis.