Dunlavy column: Give Paul Heckingbottom the correct tools to do the job
By Chris Dunlavy
THOMAS Christiansen must have known he was doomed the second he opened last weekend’s matchday programme.
Inside, chief exec Angus Kinnear announced that he and owner Andrea Radrizzani believed the Leeds squad was strong enough to finish in the top six. That the time had come to re-state the club’s play-off ambitions.
As a threat, it wasn’t even veiled. The tools, it said, were adequate. Therefore, the workman had to be defective. Hours later, hot on the heels of a 4-1 hammering by Cardiff, Christiansen’s 35-game reign was over.
That the Dane made mistakes is not in doubt. Poor substitutions. Tactical inflexibility. After a swashbuckling start had caught rivals on the hop, Leeds were swiftly worked out. Christiansen, though, kept flogging the same dead horse.
Nevertheless, the 44-year-old was sold short by a transfer policy over which he had no control – and signings that make a mockery of Kinnear’s play-off claims.
Victor Orta, the director of football who controls all recruitment at Elland Road, snared some gems last summer.
Samu Saiz, a shoo-in for player of the year, has been an unqualified success. Yet the Spaniard also left some gaps.
Chris Wood’s deadline day departure to Burnley was as predictable as it was inevitable, but the Kiwi striker, scorer of 30 goals last season, was never properly replaced.
Pierre Michel-Lasogga has bags of enthusiasm but the mobility of a fridge-freezer. Jay-Roy Grot has seen less action than a Tibetan monk.
So slim were his pickings that Christiansen frequently deployed Kemar Roofe as a lone front man. How many other sides with promotion ambitions start an out-of-position winger up top?
Leeds blatantly lacked teeth, yet January came and went with nary a hint of striking reinforcements. Contrast that with Derby County, who added Cameron Jerome to a side already featuring Matej Vydra, David Nugent and Sam Winnall.
To put Leeds’ current position into perspective, consider where Garry Monk’s men would have finished last year without Wood’s heroics.
A lot lower than seventh, that’s for sure.
Lacking Wood: Pierre-Michel Lasogga has scored 8 goals since joining on loan until the end of the season (photo: Action Images/Craig Brough)
If Leeds’ striking deficiencies were glaring, so too was a dearth of leadership. A week before the season kicked off, nobody – including Christiansen – knew who would captain the side.
Such uncertainty can be positive. During Euro 96, England often had seven club captains on the pitch, any one of whom could have led the side.
Sadly, the opposite was true of Leeds.
That has become increasingly clear on a number of fronts, not least a shocking run of four red cards in five games. Gaetano Berardi’s expulsion against Cardiff was the latest in a long line of unnecessary dismissals.
From Saiz spitting at Newport’s Robbie Willmott to Eunan O’Kane’s bout of handbags at Ipswich, each was born of childish frustration.
Yes, discipline starts with the manager.
But, as Christiansen lamented, he couldn’t be in their heads.
When his charges crossed the white line, he needed wily, experienced pros to spot raging tempers before they detonated.
Such players can also manage a game – something Leeds have utterly failed to do during recent first-half collapses to Millwall and Cardiff.
If that England side shipped an early goal, the likes of Adams, Ince and Pearce bellowed at team-mates to keep the ball, sit tight and see out the storm.
For all the experience of Liam Cooper and tub-thumping bombast of Pontus Jansson, nobody in Leeds’ side is possessed of such authority.
Once again, January was not used to fill the void.
That is not to say Orta should be sacked, as some fans demand. Rather that Radrizzani and Kinnear must be more realistic about the merits of their squad if new manager Paul Heckingbottom is to get a realistic crack.
Right now, Leeds resemble Derby under Steve McClaren: scintillating on their day but lacking the backbone that Gary Rowett has so emphatically instilled.
Like several sides, they have a puncher’s chance of making the top six – but no more.
If that is to change, the men in the boardroom must stop looking at the workman and focus on the tools.
Tagged Barnsley, Leeds United, Paul Heckingbottom