Leeds’ early-season optimism melts away again – Interview
Thursday, 3rd May 2018 16:58 by Clive Whittingham
Another summer of boundless optimism with a new owner and manager has given way to another disappointing midtable season for Leeds United. Ben Phelps explains why.
Such optimism around the club with the new owner and manager at the start of the season - why has it turned into another midtable drag?
BP: Playing a weak slate of matches at the beginning of the season, coupled with things 'clicking' with a lot of the new signings and deceivably good performances from Eunan O'Kane and captain Liam Cooper saw us go top of the table by default rather than actually being the best team in the league. We were found out to be an average side with a terrible situation at goalkeeper and the inability to keep our starting XI together with silly suspensions and timely injuries.
Why didn't it work out for Thomas Christiansen?
BP: Christiansen was brought in as an unknown who won over the owner with a dazzling PowerPoint presentation and a decent reputation in Cyprus. If you coach at APOEL, the only half-decent team in Cyprus, against the dross they have playing in the domestic league, you'll get results similar to Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. It didn't work out for him due to a combination of Radrizzani's impatience, Christiansen's man-management, and what he lacked in tactical acumen.
The turning point for him was being knocked out of the FA Cup by Newport. He chose to line up in a 4-4-2 at a ground in which even Tottenham couldn't win, playing Jay-Roy Grot and Pierre-Michel Lasogga up top - about four metres of height between the two of them and can't win a header against League Two centre backs - and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson - who should be playing non-league football -- at right back. He subbed on hothead Samu Saiz with the score 0-1 in favour of Leeds and he gets a red card for spitting after the team conceded two sloppy goals.
We went on to secure just one point from the next four matches and Radrizzani pulled the plug. I'd have kept him until the end of the season but there was too much pressure on the owner to send him packing.
Paul Heckingbottom had a good reputation at Barnsley but already looks on his last legs at Leeds - what's gone wrong there? Will he survive the summer?
BP: Heckers had a good reputation for winning promotion from League One, developing young players (Alfie Mawson, Conor Hourihane, Josh Scowen, and Josh Brownhill were all part of the promotion squad), and for finishing in fourteenth in the Championship last term (one place above Wolves, might I add) on a budget that almost certainly included welfare for half the first team. His agent worked a bit of magic and got him a contract extension at Barnsley before he was set to be sacked after a string of terrible performances. They had our pants down, asking for a £500k release clause to lure him to Elland Road and the owner stumped up the cash. His results have been unconvincing and the side lacks any sort of identity or purpose on the field and the players have visibly thrown in the towel on the season. This isn't a case of losing the dressing room - you can't lose something you never had in the first place.
I doubt he'll survive the next couple of weeks, not with Mick McCarthy and Marco Silva available and fans clearly not convinced he's the man for the job.
Mick McCarthy seems to be a favoured replacement among some fans, how do you feel about that?
BP: Mick is a manager who has been around for a long time and knows what he's doing. Ipswich gave him peanuts and he managed to keep the Tractor Boys in mid table mediocrity with a budget that would suggest relegation, so he deserves a lot of credit for what he accomplished there. I think he could be a promotion-winning manager with a proper budget but therein lies the question, would he get the funds to succeed? We're asking for a magician which are few and far between, and I don't know if Mick is the man to work magic. With that being said, most Leeds fans would take him over Paul Heckingbottom at this point.
Is there a fear that you've lumbered yourself with another mental foreign owner? I mean, Myanmar, really?
BP: We had hoped for better after Massimo Cellino. I mean, there was only one way to go in terms of overall business management, but there have been some questionable PR debacles this year including that monstrosity of a badge and now Burma. I see his reasoning in this decision, even though I may not agree with it. I don't like to get too political one way or the other, but it's hard to see how this could improve LUFC's image when so many political and non-political voices are outspoken against the trip. Just come to America, we have running water and don't slaughter our citizens.
Player of the season candidates?
BP: Only one name for me - Pablo Hernandez. He's been the only consistent performer this year and has literally carried the team on his 33-year old Spanish back for the last half of the season. There have been a lot of triers (Alioski, Ekuban, Berardi) but none have performed very well at all.
Weak links in the side?
BP: Where to start? The weak links in the side will be the ones wearing the white shirts. All jokes aside,
-We are weak up front no matter who we toss up there, but for different reasons. Expect Kemar Roofe to play as the lone striker.
-We are weak at attacking midfield because we have a right-footed ten playing on the left wing, a flopper who can't beat a defender one v one on the right wing, and a frustrated drama queen who doesn't like to share playing ten.
-Defensive midfield should be okay as long as it's not Eunan O'Kane. Kalvin Phillips and Ronaldo Vieira have their moments, both good and bad; hopefully the bad moments happen further up the pitch on Sunday.
-We are weak defensively, especially in pressure situations. Pontus Jansson only plays well when things are going right and he has someone more talented next to him. Liam Cooper is a liability waiting to happen, although a vocal leader players look up to for some reason. Matthew Pennington, a centre half on loan from Everton, will probably slot in at right back again due to Luke Ayling's injury, Berardi's suspension, and Coyle being on loan at Fleetwood for a few more days.
-Our bright spots will be the youth players, Tom Pearce at left back, who scored his first senior goal last match at Elland Road, and Bailey Peacock-Farrell, who has been outstanding since being installed as the starting goalkeeper. It sometimes baffles me how he still doesn't have a senior clean sheet, but then I look at the state of our defence and then it makes sense. Paudie O'Connor may be back in the side in place of Cooper and has been excellent when called upon.
Why will next season be better than this one?
BP: That remains to be seen. We've kept ourselves in a very good financial situation with regards to FFP and Radrizzani may be willing to open the cheque book after complaining about Wolves and the Football League finding "no fault" in their business transactions. Stay tuned, there's never a long period without a major news announcement as a Leeds supporter.
The Twitter @BenPhelps17, @loftforwords
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