The writing was very much on the wall after the Cardiff game as Thomas Christiansen cut a very dejected figure, but I wrote about how the buck does need to start landing on his desk. You can’t routinely perform as badly as Leeds have and resist making changes. You can’t watch your side get dominated due to being too light in midfield every game since November and still argue that playing the same formation makes sense. “Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always got” is how the expression goes, and that’s what became Christiansen’s downfall.
Now we’re in that very familiar spot again – rumours and uncertainty about who Andrea Radrizzani will look to next. The problem that some people elect to overlook is the management structure at Leeds is a problem for a lot of candidates and I 100% understand why.
The manager is accountable for performances on the pitch and all that encompasses. This includes formations, systems, tactics and training. In most clubs, the manager is also responsible for identification of transfer targets and is tasked with building a team that fits their vision. In the continental approach that Leeds adopted (since Cellino took over), there’s a Director of Football sat above the head coach who governs all transfer activity.
This system mostly works for enormous clubs because the head coach doesn’t need to concern himself with most transfers, as the DoF is just recruiting future prospects and working on the pipeline of talent. At Leeds every single transfer is done by the DoF, whether it fits what the head coach wants or not. Hence why you get money wasted on players like Klich who simply aren’t required when other positions are glaringly sparse.
This becomes a problem when you’re looking to recruit a new head coach because this structure is incredibly off-putting for a lot of candidates. It feels unfair to be judged based on performances for a group of players you’ve had no say in acquiring. Were Spurs to sell Kane for £100m and invest the money in 100 u23 players and Rickie Lambert, it wouldn’t be fair to criticise Pochettino for the side scoring fewer goals. That’s very much the system Leeds are working in. Victor Orta signs the players and the head coach is responsible for making them work.
I’m not a fan of the model and I personally don’t think it works. It’s fine in principal because if you consider coaches to be transient but the broader footballing vision to be permanent, then it means you’re not starting from square 1 every single time you change personnel. But in practice, it means the head coach has no authority over one of the biggest areas that dictate his success.
I think there’s healthy scrutiny required of Victor Orta’s transfer policy thus far, with precious few players looking to have improved the squad from the previous season. But perhaps with a better coach the individual components of this squad will start to pull together. But in the meantime we’re left uncertain.
Thomas Christiansen’s departure is another sad inditement of a model that (for me) doesn’t work. Hiring “promising” but largely unproven coaches is a roll of the dice and it (again) hasn’t worked. It didn’t for Cellino and it hasn’t for Radrizzani. And the enemy of getting more established, ambitious or proven entities through the door is that they’ll be eternally hampered by the Director of Football model.
For my money I’d be keen to get a strong manager in, remove “first team transfers” from the DoF’s remit and give the manager autonomy in this area. Otherwise I expect it’ll just be “more of the same”.