“The worst result at the worst possible time”, said Garry Monk after Leeds totally and utterly failed to capitalise on a league position they had not only held for 20-something games, but one they had lusted after for 5 long years. Wolves had nothing to play for, yet damaged our playoff hopes in what could be an irreparable way. Though with 3 games left to play, 3 wins would guarantee a spot in the playoffs irrespective of other results. A miserable loss to Burton made promotion mathematically achievable if statistically unlikely, and the key psychological shift was that our fortune is no longer in our own hands. For us to get promoted we need to win our remaining two games and need other results to go our way.
But this isn’t about the probability of promotion nor forensic analysis of why our form has dipped so badly, but a diatribe of sorts, pleading with the club to act quickly, positively and with sufficient ambition to carry this season’s momentum into the next.
The biggest problem with being “almost good” is that you’re incredibly close to being rubbish again. Excellent players want to play at the highest level they can. Ambitious players want to play for their country, earn big salaries and fulfil their dreams. Agents salivate at the ridiculous figures banded around in the Premiership. It is therefore very difficult for “almost good” Championship sides to retain their shape after a failed promotion bid – because key performers will have attracted suitors with deeper pockets or at least other sides that nail their ambition to the mast more than Leeds.
Ambition is a difficult word at Leeds United, as Robert Snodgrass once said of the Bates’ regime:
How can you say you’re aiming for promotion and then sell your captain?
He’s right, too. Long have Leeds said one thing and then done another. Perhaps it’s embedded in the harsh economic realities of operating in English football’s second tier that desirable assets are auctioned in order to keep the lights on, but the club have spoken of “promotion”, “playoffs” and “ambition” for many years, yet sold standout players in the same breath. This isn’t just a hark back to the days of Snodgrass, Becchio and Howson, but McCormack, Cook and Byram too.
Leeds would have been a better team this season were Lewis Cook still involved. The Ross McCormack we sold would have been a huge asset (as he was to Fulham for 2 seasons). Being good requires you to keep the things that make you good; Leeds are not good at this part.
Andrea Radrizzani must act quickly if he’s to prevent the inevitable rot from setting in. Garry Monk, Pontus Jansson and Kyle Bartley are all enormous question-marks hanging over our future, yet so much of this season could be attributed to those 3. Fail to retain Bartley and Jansson, and you’ll struggle to convince Monk that it’s worth hanging around. Fail to convince key figures to stay and Chris Wood will undoubtedly wonder why Leeds is a better option than Burnley, West Brom, Stoke or wherever. I’m certain Premiership teams will enquire for him in the Summer (and rightly so), we need to have both the resolve to reject those bids and sufficient reason for the player to want to stay.
January’s transfer window failure is a lingering bitter taste in our mouths, with Monk clearly not backed to the extent he needed to be and many fans attributing our final-hurdle-stumble to this. Whether you believe this or not, it does show that Monk will need assurances and commitment in order to stay at Leeds – he’ll no doubt have no shortage of options. Interestingly, it did seem that Cellino was the one vetoing any transfer activity and perhaps Andrea would have backed Monk more, but this is just unsubstantiated rumour at present. The facts remain though – the good bits of our squad will be desirable for other teams, Leeds need to show that they’re committed to this ‘promotion’ ambition by not only offering assurances to Monk, but by acting in-line with those words.
We can’t talk about being serious about promotion in June, then need to replace Wood, Jansson, Bartley and the entire coaching setup in July. We can’t fake this anymore, we can’t offer false promises and then sell Ronaldo Vieira for £1m on deadline day. The fans are numb to this kind of behaviour, we’ve been experiencing it for much of the past decade. I tweeted after the Burton game that Leeds cannot sit back and lick these wounds, we need to be positive, proactive and ambitious.
Promise Monk what he needs, tie him down contractually, start securing the good elements of this club long-term and treat this season as something to build from. If we don’t, we’ll lose the good bits and be rubbish again. 15th place is waiting for us, the question is whether we’ve learned our lessons from the past 5 years yet.