Christiansen gets the dreaded vote of confidence
Thursday, 16th Nov 2017 18:09 by Tim Whelan
A growing number of Leeds fans are doubting that Thomas Christiansen is the man to take Leeds forward, but it seems he still has the backing of managing director Angus Kinnear.
As we all know, we made a great start to the season but a run of six defeats in the last seven league games has seen us slip to the depths of seventh place. Expectations went through the roof when we topped the table, but in retrospect it seems that much of that was due to our good fortune in playing several of the relegation candidates at the start of the season. In particular the win at Sunderland in August looked like a great result at the time, but it soon became apparent that it had much to do with the Black Cats being completely rubbish, and with hindsight our one truly great early performance was the win that followed at Forest.
Once the fixtures got tougher our form duly dropped off, with the obvious exception of the 3-0 win at Bristol City. I came away from Ashton Gate thinking that Christiansen was learning to adapt to the more physical English game and had made the changes he needed to, introducing Vieira and Lonegran to the side, and that we would kick on from that point. But that proved to be another false dawn, with three more dispiriting defeats to follow, and it’s no surprise to find more than a few Leeds fans calling for his head. In recent weeks I’ve heard comments on the lines of “he’s been found out”, and has “no plan B” to change things once his chosen formation has failed to work.
In the Cellino era he probably would have been handed a P45 by now, but the new regime came to power promising a fundamentally different approach, to bring the club the stability it so obviously lacked under Il Presidente. And in line with the new philosophy, our managing director Angus Kinnear promised to stand by Christiansen, when he spoke to the Yorkshire Post, though he did say that Andrea Radrizzani has set a target of reaching the play-offs this season. And the master plan is to achieve promotion to the Premier League in a minimum of five years.
“I don’t think it’s fair to question him. Most fair-minded supporters would look at a manager coming into a completely new league, a very challenging league, and working with a new squad with new players and say that to be three points off the play-offs now is not far off what you’d expect a new manager to do. In what we’ve seen at Thorp Arch and in a number of performances there’s plenty to suggest that Thomas has absolutely the potential to deliver in this league. The position we’re in is not way off track from where we want to be, three points off the play-offs. Our target is to get into the play-offs.”
“I think we’ve demonstrated we can beat any team in the division when the team play as they can. However, Andrea and the rest of the board have really high standards and these results - and in some of the games, the underlying performances - don’t meet with those standards. Naturally there’s concern because we need to stay in touch with the play-off places but we’re confident the ingredients are there to regain the form and get back on track. Ultimately we want to be on the right path,” Kinnear said. “If we’d come in and told everyone we’d get promoted this season, firstly we’d have sounded like previous owners and secondly we wouldn’t have had any credibility at all.”
“We’re confident that by putting foundations in place and giving it stability, this club should be getting promoted. We’re all clear that if we haven’t done that after five years then we’ll have failed in what we set out to do. “There are no positional metrics along the way. We just need to feel it (progress) through a whole number of factors but a sensible position to show we’re progressing, and what Andrea wants, is sixth. We finished seventh last season so we need to finish sixth. “The difference is significant and it’s what everyone’s set on. Nobody will be satisfied if we’re not in the top six and on a seasonal basis we’d have missed our objective. But at the same time, there’s a broader picture about whether we’re moving towards the ultimate goal.”
Another man to have come in for some criticism is Victor Orta, who is now responsible for providing the players. Many fans think that apart from Saiz the new recruits aren’t a lot better than those they have replaced. They have been occasionally bright but inconsistent (Alioski, Lasogga), downright unimpressive (Wiedwald and Grot) or not being good enough to make the team at all (Cibicki). And I’ve said before that an obvious oversight was the need to buy another left back to replace Charlie Taylor, unless Borthwick-Jackson was meant to do that job.
But Kinnear has been keen to defend Orta as well, this time in a separate interview with BBC Radio Leeds. "Victor has put in place a recruitment capability which is a competitive advantage for years to come. We are going to reap the rewards from that." Let’s hope that Orta’s strategy can bring us the players we need in the future, starting in January. It’s possible that he underestimated the strength of the Championship and that the experience of the past couple of months has shown him the quality of players he needs to recruit, so he might be aiming a little bit higher from now on.
It’s been reported that during the international break Christiansen has been putting the team through extra training to prepare for the Middlesbrough game, though I’ve also heard that the pressure of our poor run of form is causing him sleepless nights. One problem he has is that in contrast to the start of the season, we are now in a run of games against teams who are coming into form. Both Derby and Brentford had begun to climb the table after and indifferent start before we met them, and the same can be said for Boro. Many of their fans were on Gary Monk’s back earlier in the season, but three consecutive wins has now carried them up to fifth place.
That’s just the sort of luck Christiansen is having at the moment, and it won’t get any easier after the weekend, with a very tough away game at leaders Wolves followed by a Yorkshire derby at Barnsley. He didn’t get the rub of the green in the Derby and Brentford games, due to refereeing decisions and individual errors he could do nothing about, but the calls for his head will only get louder if the results don’t turn round soon. Will these next few matches be critical in deciding whether he has a future at Leeds, or will the powers that be at the club honour their promise to give him a little more time?
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