Heckingbottom due to leave, but is that the wrong thing to do?


I’ve not bothered to write much in recent weeks due to the unfounded nonsense that is just too easy to perpetuate. Though with Paul Heckingbottom due to return to the club on Monday from his Summer holiday, it now seems appropriate to accept that he’ll be leaving.
Of course, the club haven’t made a peep about his job stability and that is perhaps the most telling thing. With rumours buzzing around the Internet (and indeed Phil Hay openly indicating that people are mentioning names to him), were Leeds intent on retaining Heckingbottom I think we’d have seen them publicly pledge their support to the ex-Barnsley coach. There are times in life where the absence of a “yes” does mean a “no” and I think this may well be one of those moments.
Much like most important questions, the lack of clear direction from the club tends to indicate an answer without needing to overtly say it. With rumours of Marcelo Bielsa, Claudio Ranieri and lord knows whoever else fizzing through social media, the silence surrounding Heckingbottom’s future is deafening. It’d be a weird move to sack him, in most ways, because not only did the club pay £500k to release him from his Barnsley contract, but they hired him on specific parameters that seem to be abandoned (if there’s any truth in the rumours of his successor).
The Heck was appointed because he knew the league and had a credible history of bringing Academy prospects into the first team – which we know is the mission statement at Leeds. Senior talent is expensive, whereas nurturing the brighter sparks in the development squad into valuable assets not only allows Leeds to have quality delivered cheaply, but gives them saleable assets (such is the harsh reality of clubs outside of the Premier League). The club backed Heckingbottom quite heavily in terms of paying for his contract release and having the bravery to appoint someone with a (frankly) appalling record in the league. It was deliberate. So to take a step back from this decision and elect to change things again does seem a bit daft.
After all, the common argument is that Heckingbottom didn’t assemble that squad and was guilty of little more than failing to fix whatever rot had set in during Christiansen’s final months.
I have mixed feelings about changing coach again. On the one hand I totally agree that it’s unhelpful for Leeds to keep starting from scratch every 10 months and hoping that enough rolls of the dice will eventually create something that works. If Heckingbottom was brought in for his long-term project and to create a sustainably effective “U18 -> U21 -> Senior team” conveyor belt, then surely a few months of rubbish football isn’t sufficient to undo that ambition?
Then on the other (more dominant) hand, I can’t see anything in him that would make me want to commit to his management long-term. We joke about the “new manager bounce”, but the abject lack of any tangible change in either the football or the results demonstrated that Heckingbottom had no real ability to change things. Whatever was wrong at Leeds was beyond his ability to resolve and moreover, it didn’t look like much had been attempted. Sure, you could argue that Leeds were unlucky in a few games, but the club weathered relegation form only because of good results in September. Were it not for our strong start to the 2017/18 campaign we’d have been in trouble. I can’t honestly say that I believe Paul Heckingbottom is capable of leading us somewhere positive.
So as much as I hate the notion of Leeds ripping up the play-book and starting again, I think we need to. The players may all have positive things to say about the ex-Barnsley man, but there’s little positive you could evidence in terms of his contribution to the club in his months here. Yes, it is unfair to judge him based on his inability to turn around poor form that started before he joined, without the ability to sign players and re-shape the squad. But I’m old-fashioned in many ways. I think a better coach would have got more out of these players – yes, there are weaknesses, but we are not as poor as the results we had.
So as we roll into the weekend, Andrea Radrizzani is faced with another large decision. Either he backs Heckingbottom and we have a big Summer of change, or he decides to change everything. Either way, the change must be deliberate and ambitious – no more wild punts on unproven talent, no more speculative investment on players from the Albanian Super League. Because if you make another fistful of bad calls, people will be on your back. Rightly so.
The mantra I tend to use with Radrizzani is “would I criticise Cellino for doing the same thing?” and if the answer is “yes”, then I have to criticise Radrizzani. After all, Christiansen, Heckingbottom, Myanmar, it’s all very Cellino-esque and it’s time for Andrea to show that he’s capable of learning in ways his predecessor wasn’t because patience at Leeds is wearing very thin indeed.