By Declan Bull
Leeds United under Simon Grayson rose from a League One side to a promotion contender into the hallowed Premier League. Grayson took over and steadied a rocking ship and has to be given credit for this.
Despite starting strongly in Grayson’s first full season in charge, Leeds stumbled near the finishing line but still managed to clinch promotion back to the Championship. Therefore when Grayson guided the team to 7th place the following term in the Championship it was a massive achievement. This was clearly an over achievement and may have spelled the beginning of his downfall as he could not realistically hope to equal or better this placing without money available for reinforcements, without once again performing minor miracles. This season they are once again knocking on the door of the play-offs in spite of a run of dreadful December results.
The attacking prowess of the Leeds front line has papered over the fissure that is the defence. They have conceded 42 goals already this season which is vastly greater than the teams in and around the play-offs. The reasons for this goals conceded tally could be numerable. On a tactics front Grayson may have been a little naive in thinking that he can play the same attacking football in the Championship as he could in League One. Others would say that he has been unlucky in that basic errors from his playing staff have cost him dearly. Any one reason would in truth be far too simplistic.
The fact of the matter is that Bates has seen fit to terminate Grayson’s contract. He is however in no rush to bring in a new face to the helm. Neil Redfearn has taken over as caretaker and eased the pressure on bates with a comprehensive victory over Bristol City. Bates has publically given Redfearn time to impress, and whilst he goes about doing that the applications will be clogging up the mail room, and there will be no shortage of competent candidates for what is still a very big club.
Bates needs a manager that he can trust to bring more out of the current players than Grayson did, to weld together the defensive frailties whilst retaining the attacking flair which has made Leeds a joy to watch. The transfer window has already slammed shut and I was surprised to see Sven Goran Eriksson apply for a role which would not see a huge transfer kitty which he so likes the work with such as he had at Leicester. The Leeds faithful should be happy to see that Bates is not drawn blindly to a big name. This is definitely not saying that a big name would not fit the bill, but it has to be the right one – for example Neil Warnock. It has taken a while to mention him in this article but I find that I cannot fail to.
The Championship Houdini would bring confidence to fans and players alike at Elland Road simply because of his track record. The timing of the sacking of Grayson just after Warnock has become available is dubious and suggests something behind the scenes from Bates, although I would have expected movement earlier if that was the case, but it would most certainly be a coup for Leeds if they manage to convince him to return to Yorkshire. The Leeds fans would have to change their song list slightly but football is a fickle world and such folly would soon be forgotten – a lot worse has been brushed under the footballing carpet.
The lack of confidence shown by Tony Fernandes must have been a real kick in the teeth for Warnock. As it stands I think that Warnock has gone back to the country and is sitting on his tractor an unhappy man, cursing his luck. I am not so sure that he would be willing to take a pay cut so soon to do, once again, what everyone knows and expects him to do in the Championship.
If the money given to Hughes fell into Warnock’s hands then I am sure that QPR would be safe this season, and he would be on his way to bigger and better things – either at QPR or elsewhere. As it stands I am doubtful for the safety of QPR, despite at the start of the season being confident that all three promoted sides would stay up. I stuck my neck out there and I am tempted to do so once again and say that Warnock will wait for another Premier League job to prove he can do it.
There have been some odd decisions lately at Elland Road, one of the most recent being the sale of Jonny Howson for the paltry sum of £2m. Leeds still has to be very careful with their finances but the sale of the club captain without a replacement is very worrying. This highlights the constraints in which a new manager would have to work under and not many would be prepared to face the expectations – which are clearly above mid-table otherwise Grayson would not have been sacked – unless they could see something in the Leeds squad that others have missed. Grayson made some great signings such as the now Ivory Coast International Max Gradel and you would think that the new man would have to be equally astute, especially if Leeds fail to go up this season. This is something that Eriksson for one is not especially known for.
One thing is for sure: Bates is evaluating all options available to him. His backing of Redfearn has told the fans that that they must wait another two games at least for more news which is good for all parties.