Monk succeeding where so many others failed – Interview Thursday, 9th Mar 2017 21:30 by Clive Whittingham
Despite ongoing issues with owner Massimo Cellino, the arrival of Garry Monk has transformed Leeds United from basket case into promotion contender. Author of several Leeds books David Watkins explains how.
Assess Leeds United’s season so far for us – great success story…
DW: Yes, very much so. After the worst start to a league campaign for 40 years who’d have thought we’d be sitting in the top 6 come March. All Leeds fans are very nervous…mainly because we just ain’t used to things going so well for us! There is still time for it to all go wrong and with a wafer thin squad we are all crossing our fingers about injuries and suspensions not blighting the final few weeks but this is our most enjoyable and successful campaign since we came back up from League One.
Why has Garry Monk succeeded where so many others have failed?
DW: It’s simple really. No side can be successful without a strong, committed defence. We now have one. That early slow start to the season came about largely because we were still, at that stage, utilising elements of the old defence and the new jigsaw pieces either hadn’t arrived or were still settling in. Once they did in mid-September then the results began to come. I firmly believe that the Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi/Taylor back 5 is one of the best in the Championship and for sheer commitment to the cause they are without equal. They give the impression they would die for each other.
Once the defence was sorted then it was a matter of finding a formula to put the ball in the net. We are still even now a side that creates few chances but Chris Wood has transformed himself from a one in five chances sort of a bloke into a real goal poacher and of course he currently tops the goal scoring charts.
The reason we create so few chances is less clear, we have plenty of mid-field options and now with the arrival recently of Pedraza and Barrow we have more than enough wide players but I’m not sure what names comprise the best team for us. Pablo Hernandez being on form is key as he is the one player we have with the vision to unlock defences with a single pass but he is getting on a bit now and with the recent run of games has looked jaded. He had a rest this week though so maybe he’ll come back against your boys with a bang.
What’s the latest with Cellino? Banned or not banned? Running the club or not? Protests from fans ongoing or not?
DW: Cellino currently has his ban suspended pending the outcome of his appeal under the so-called rule K procedures. The original 18 month £250,000 punishment has already been reduced to 12 months and £100k and I guess it was that back down by the FA that led him to push for a further appeal. He is notionally running the club with his new 50% partner Andrea Radrizzani but to be honest both have been very quiet lately, pretty much letting Garry Monk get on with the job, or at least that is what it looks like to us, the fans. Long may that continue. The protests against Cellino are on hold at the moment pending the outcome of the latest appeal.
How’s our old butter fingered friend Robert Green doing for you? Seems to have hit some form after a nervous start…
DW: Spot on! He drew a lot of criticism in the early weeks of the season as he showed us all how he didn’t seem to like being under a high ball and didn’t seem to relish being on live TV – which for a Leeds keeper of course is a bit of a handicap! Lately though, as part of that rock solid defence he has more than played his part and in most games he is worth a goal to us with at least one brilliant stop and (whisper it quietly) no major clangers. He has won over the fans who now frequently chant his name “Greeneh” with a bit of a Neil Warnock accent!
Didn’t Leeds fans used to hate Chris Wood? Scores every week now…
DW: As mentioned above, Wood last season and in the opening few games this term was poor and rightly drew criticism from the fans – he was even booed on occasion. Then, he famously grabbed us an injury time equaliser against Fulham in mid-August and instead of celebrating with us he cupped his right ear to us as if to say “Can’t her you moaning now”. That took some forgiving of course but it seems to have proved to be the turning point as since then his work rate has been excellent and his finishing different class. We will never know of course how many goals another player would have got playing in that number nine shirt but his goals have proved the difference in many games for us. Suffice to say we all love him now.
Stand out players and weak links in the side?
DW: The Famous Five – “Luke Ayling and Berardi, Pontus Jansson Kyle Bartley” and Green have been superb for months now and with Charlie Taylor back fit I am sure he will slot in seamlessly if needed as he did at Fulham this week. They are the foundation of all our success. Chris Wood obviously is likely to score every game and has this fantastic record he’s going for whereby he only needs to score against another six sides to achieve at least one goal against every Championship side this season; QPR is next in his sights of course. As mentioned also, a fully functioning Pablo Hernandez is key to us.
The weak link is not so much a player as a trait we’ve developed. We do have great difficulty in retaining possession largely due to our passing often being woeful. It’s something we’ve started to see in recent games and means the opposition is recording huge possession percentages against us. It often doesn’t matter as that Famous Five at the back has been so heroic in defending the cause but as we saw at Fulham, give a team enough chances and sooner or later they’ll nick one.
Confident of promotion this season?
DW: Confident of promotion – no, not confident. Confident of getting into the Play-Offs, yes. While Leeds and QPR are locking horns at Elland Road Fulham will be at the Toon and if both results go our way I feel that will be the play-offs secured as Fulham will be 11 points adrift of us with only 9 to play. We could still blow it at that stage but it would take a strange combination of results from both Leeds and Fulham to engineer that. I don’t see any other side other than the current top 7 being in contention. The play-offs are a lottery so we’d take our chance and see what happens.
It feels quite strange that Leeds have turned things around after so many years in the wilderness. Monk is known as a perfectionist and that doesn't always work (many great players have not made good managers), but he has done well to succeed at a club where so many others have failed.