New manager Paul Heckingbottom feels like a good fit at Elland Road but poor player recruitment means he’ll be working with thin squad
9 February ~ When news broke on Sunday evening that Leeds United manager Thomas Christiansen had been sacked, it came as little surprise to the club’s supporters. Discontent had been growing around Elland Road for a while thanks to back-to-back home defeats to Millwall and Cardiff and a seven-match winless run that saw the club drift outside the play-off places.
The recent run of poor results was a far cry from last September when Leeds topped the Championship after a flying start to the season. Free-flowing, attacking football coupled with a seemingly impregnable defence led many fans to believe this was going to be our year.
Then slowly the wheels started to come off. Injuries to key players didn’t help Christiansen’s cause, nor did the club’s disciplinary problems – “Dirty Leeds” had three players sent off in four games in January, with another receiving a ban for racking up ten yellow cards for the season.
Christiansen had his admirers at Elland Road, but many fans felt that he was tactically naive and too negative. On occasion he seemed happy to settle for a point rather than push for all three.
But while he deserves to shoulder some of the blame for the mid-season slump, a significant contributory factor is the club’s summer transfer dealings. Director of football Victor Orta joined last May from Middlesbrough and brought in the likes of Samuel Sáiz and Ezgjan Alioski. Both settled in well and were instant fan favourites.
However, for every Sáiz and Alioski there has been a Jay-Roy Grot, a Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and a Mateusz Klich. As a result, the squad lacks strength in depth. Players such as Souleymane Doukara, an effective impact substitute, were allowed to leave in the summer and former England goalkeeper Rob Green – who after a shaky start to last season proved to be one of the most consistent performers – was released from his contract early and replaced by Felix Wiedwald, who has dropped a number of costly clangers.
On paper Barnsley’s Paul Heckingbottom seems like a good replacement for Christiansen – although the 18-month contract he’s been signed doesn’t suggest the club sees him as the long-term answer. Heckingbottom may be relatively inexperienced, but he knows the Championship inside out and he arguably over achieved at Barnsley, where he had to work with limited resources.
Despite the board’s contention that the club have a squad capable of challenging for promotion, many observers would argue that getting Leeds back into play-off contention might also be considered over achievement as the club have a difficult run of fixtures to the end of the season, starting with the Yorkshire derby against Sheffield United this weekend.
In the wake of Christiansen’s sacking Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani admitted he had made a “big mistake” appointing the Danish manager. The next 16 games will provide a good indication as to whether or not he’s messed up again. Simon Creasey