The current situation at Leeds rather speaks for itself in the wake of a numbing defeat at the hands of Derby. We are one point above the relegation zone. We persist with the midfield diamond and we notoriously lack width as well as, it seems, desire, fight and leadership on the park. However much endeavour and work rate there might occasionally be, we always seem to be one disastrous mistake away from conceding yet another goal – and up front, there is little supply; some decent strikers are starving on an insufficient diet of crumbs. We seem always to be one decisive step away from an end product. Now, even Robbie Savage is saying that we are hopeless. Pot, kettle, black, you might say – but it does rather show that we’re in the clarts here. I firmly believe that the squad is not a bad one at all; but the whole is currently rather less than the sum of its parts.
Recent history makes for grim reading. After defeating Derby only a month or so back, we entered what could fairly be described as a tailspin. We haven’t scored at Elland Road since that day, losing to Fulham and Wigan. In the away game immediately after the Derby win, Antenucci – the man who had seen off County – scored after three minutes. But Leeds collapsed and lost 4-1 at Ipswich. Since then, our only goal has been a penalty at Nottingham Forest, producing the only point we have gained since that last win on the 29th of November.
All of this adds up to one thing: a re-think is needed. As a Cellino supporter, it pains me to say it – but his hands-on model, whereby he deems it necessary simply to have a coach under his managership, has signally failed to work. Cellino has been responsible for recruiting a series of coaches who have in common the fact that they are patently not up to the demands of first team football at Championship level. We are being out-thought, out-fought and out-played in almost every game. Such victories as have come along have been made possible by the poverty of the opposition (Huddersfield and, to some extent, Derby at home) or a lot of luck in the face of opposition who should comfortably have beaten us (Bournemouth).
I remain a Cellino supporter. He’s what Leeds should be all about; maverick, full of charisma and possessed of a laconic wit which is unanswerable even in a language not his own. The guy knows how to spin a phrase and he is clearly passionate about his club and his football. He’s different, just like Leeds United. I do not subscribe to fanciful notions that he’s a crook intent on destroying the club – save all that for the restless and malevolent spectre of Ken Bates, still drifting about nastily on the wrong side of Elland Road. But I do think that Cellino is palpably wrong to take so much upon himself. He needs a football man with whom he can work, but to whom he would defer in football matters. That is the only way a true football man, a football manager, could work with Cellino. We have to be professional about this, because the current plan isn’t working.
The situation is grave and could swiftly become desperate. The Redfearn experiment certainly seems to be failing, and the loud voices of those who wished to see him permanently appointed post-Hockaday have fallen largely silent. In retrospect, it’s quite clear that his lack of managerial experience above a certain level ranks him alongside Hockaday, and maybe even Milanic, whose track record was in a brand of football utterly different to that played on the battlefields of the Championship.
Those who point to our glaring defensive frailties might possibly agree with me then, when I say that the stand-out candidate for Leeds right now is Tony Pulis, who did such a fine job establishing Stoke in the Premier League, and then pulled off an incredible rescue act at Crystal Palace. Pulis is steeped in the top two leagues of English football; he is a football man through and through, someone who believes in building solidly from the back and does things his own, distinctive way. That is the main reason why, sadly, this has very little chance of happening – not as long as Massimo remains determined to be IT. But Pulis is the ideal man for Leeds, especially in this situation, especially at this time. Leeds United in turn would be a feather in the Pulis cap, the biggest club of his career. It could become the jewel in his crown. There are irresistible echoes of the advent of Sergeant Wilko a quarter of a century ago. How much would we all like that history to repeat itself?
Cellino needs to consider this situation very carefully indeed. A continuation of his “rough diamond” policy is likely to see this slide continue. And yet, to be horribly blunt, the only people willing to work under the Italian right now, with the lapdog conditions that currently apply, appear to be those without much prospect of this type of employment elsewhere. We have in Redfearn an honest and capable football man, totally inexperienced in this sphere of management – a man who has left his first, best vocation behind him in order to fly, like Icarus, too close to the sun. He is now starting to talk a bit too much about luck and the rub of the green. It’s not a refrain you associate with winners. Neil should seek an immediate return to nurturing youth, before his wings get burned.
If Cellino were to show the wit and courage to change his modus operandi, and hire Pulis – a man to whom he would have to relinquish all control of football matters – then he might yet usher in another era of success at Elland Road. Otherwise, there may well be much more trouble ahead for a club never short of that unwelcome commodity.
The Championship is about men like Mick McCarthy, Steve McClaren, Eddie Howe – football men, men who paddle their own canoe as much as any man could these days – but also distinctly square pegs in square holes. Leeds United needs a football man and, moreover, we need one who is a perfect fit for the club that we are. We need a modern-day Wilko – and we need him badly.
Tony Pulis is currently available – though that surely can’t last, not with the Premier League managerial merry-go-round starting to spin – and he’s definitively the right man for us. So please – let’s get him, now. Before it really is too late.
Update: Bugger! Looks like Pulis is taking the Baggies job. Great appointment for West Brom, but dear, oh dear. It’s a missed opportunity for Leeds. I maintain we need a Pulis type. Any ideas/candidates??