We’ve been asked to embrace the continental structure at Leeds, where we don’t have a conventional “manager” but instead the responsibilities are split between the head-coach (who selects the squad, decides tactics and trains the players) and the Director of Football (who conducts the transfer activity and sets out a footballing vision/identity for the club). Under this model, Massimo Cellino felt that the coach could be anyone with the ability to run training sessions (hence Hockaday) and we’ve largely had to accept that big names will never willingly subject themselves to this structure. Because coaches are judged on football performances and much of that is dictated by the quality of player at the club, something they have very limited remit over. Whereas the Director of Football can categorically fail to sign adequately able players and be untouchable.
But the identity of the head coach is important to players – he is their day-to-day line manager and their careers hang between his fingers. The problem with Leeds is that we not only sack coaches with worrying frequency, but we also tend to hire coaches that will not help draw talent to the club. The notion of Leeds attracting talent based on their size or legacy is no longer valid given the money other clubs are able to spend. Sure, we get good crowds and there’s an expectation that the club deserves to be playing at a higher level, but the harsh realities of modern football mean we’re as unlikely to get promoted as any other mid-table inadequately-funded club.
Having a head coach that makes players take notice is a great way of demonstrating ambition, intent and therefore creating an environment that good players want to exist in. This doesn’t happen when you’re appointing coaches that most talent will need to Google first.
Fundamentally, Monk aside, Leeds have existed on a string of no-name coaches. Hockaday and Heckingbottom are not as far apart in footballing CV’s as you might think, and there’s little to attract players to a squad coached by Darko Milanic or Thomas Christiansen – whom they have no idea about. These are not aspirational appointments and while they might be capable of doing the job, it makes recruitment harder.
Garry Monk changed this somewhat; a reputable name and a credible appointment. His recognition in the game would have been an important factor in certain players joining the club, in that I doubt Kyle Bartley or Pablo Hernandez would have been tempted to come to Leeds were Steve Evans the coach. Having a figure at the club that players recognise, understand and can believe in is important.
There’s an argument that players nowadays only care about money – they’ll go to wherever pays them most, which is partially true in many cases I’m sure, but I’d argue that there are a number of quality players who would accept a lower salary at a prosperous Leeds United than a higher wage at Brentford. A club of Leeds’ heritage and size attached to a head coach that would help attract players is far more powerful than the club operating with an unknown entity in the driving seat.
I’m concerned that a Heckingbottom-coached Leeds won’t have the allure to the kind of quality we need. He’s a nice chap and he communicates well in press conferences, but a head coach with a CV that shouts little more than “made a rubbish Barnsley side slightly less rubbish” isn’t going to make prospective transfers scramble over each other for a place at the club. With rumours in the press about his job security, our well publicised poor form and squad problems, Leeds United looks like a mess. An unstable, unsuccessful mess owned by a PR guru who defers footballing matters to a Director of Football with a sketchy history in the English game, coached by someone with no success on his CV.
Then consider that we can’t compete in financial terms with half of the division (for whatever reason) and it does make my justifiably anxious for the Summer transfer window. I’ll be delighted to be proven wrong, but (as ever) I think I’m onto something.
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