Leeds must cut out defensive errors if Redfearn is to stay

After Saturday’s 2-1 defeat away to Blackburn Rovers, Neil Redfearn’s record at Leeds United as the full-time first-team manager now stands at one win, one draw and two losses from his first four games.

Miscommunication between centre-half Liam Cooper and goalkeeper Marco Silvestri resulted in what should’ve been a simple shield-the-ball-back-to-‘keeper scenario into a laughable moment (for non-Leeds fans) in which both Leeds players collided into each other and gifted Blackburn striker Jordan Rhodes his team’s equaliser.

This was not the first time this season that specific type—there have been plenty of miskicks, horrendously inaccurate outward passes, needless fouls and idiotic positional play—of grievous error was committed by Leeds, but if Redfearn wishes to remain in charge then it needs to be the last.

It seems that our main hindrance during the last half of the previous year’s campaign has continued on to this season; our defensive fragility saw us flirt with relegation after last Christmas and has seen off three managers.

If it sounds simple it’s because it is: defensive fragility – individual errors being committed by a backline not yet a cohesive unit – and profligacy up front are the two main problems that effect teams in the Championship. The best teams have offered few, if any, examples of either problem, the above-average sides make up for having one by enhancing the other and the below-average teams have a larger degree of both. Simple game, football.

But of course it really isn’t. While both problems have plagued Leeds United throughout recent memory, it’s our defensive frailty that has always been our biggest issue and one that many managers have failed to sort out.

With players such as Jermaine Beckford, Luciano Becchio and Ross McCormack, we used to be able to score enough to secure a top-half finish, until our defence worsened and we lost our strikers in a descending order of proficiency and were left lucky enough to tally a total of goals to avoid relegation.

Former Leeds manager Brian McDermott was accused by some fans of playing unattractive football that, even more unforgivable, failed to yield results. Personally, I’d put this down to the team left to him by the man he replaced, Neil Warnock, whose apathy resulted in a team comprised mainly of talentless, listless driftwood the likes of which make tactics and formations almost irrelevant.

McDermott was sacked (twice, technically.) before he could craft the team he wanted, though it may not be incorrect to assume that, between the funds made available to him and his own recruitment process, he might not have succeeded anyway.

Fans will always be divided between the results-orientated who would secure three points and trophies at all costs and the aesthetic-orientated who don’t believe a fan, player or manager should have to accept either reactive, pragmatic football, or free-flowing football and noble defeat.

Wigan’s rise to and duration in the Premier League proved the aesthetics-orientated correct; Wigan punched above their weight for years before they won the F.A. Cup. Of course, this also led to the squad being over-extended during a lengthy campaign and their relegation the same year.

Of course, this doesn’t prove the results-orientated correct either. Tony Pulis has shown during his tenures at Stoke City and Crystal Palace the inherent value of pragmatism and organisation ahead of playing openly against richer clubs with better players; in all his years as manager Pulis was never relegated, but unlike Roberto Martinez at Wigan, he also never one a trophy while in the Premier League.

It seems then that an even, functional mixture of proactive and reactive football is the key to success. Certainly this season’s Chelsea side shows extremes of both, as do, to some extent, Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola. But then it’s easy for both José Mourinho and Guardiola to claim a Midas touch when they have access to almost as much currency as the Phrygian king of Greek mythological fame.

Championship clubs, however, have to rely much more on the manager and his coaching staff to excel at cheap recruitment, beneficial training and tactics that get the best out of the players on hand.

So, when ex-Forest Green manager Dave Hockaday assumed control over a Leeds squad injected with new blood (which may or may not have been chosen by the owner, Massimo Cellino) he attempted to apply a new, more free-flowing style of football.
The result was more entertaining than what was witnessed under Warnock or even McDermott, but the same defensive problems remained and it didn’t look like there was a difference between “free-flowing” and “loose” as Leeds’s defenders proved time and time again.

It all begins at the back. Once you sort out your team’s defence and prevent shipping goals from preventable mistakes, either individual or collective, then it’s fair to say you’re usually looking at an approximate mid-table finish.

While the romanticist in me cringes at the thought, the pragmatist openly yearns for some Pulis-like stability. And that’s Pulis-like, not full-Pulis, because after all the reason he and Stoke parted ways was due to their stagnation under his philosophy.
All we need at Leeds is to become defensively solid enough to get a consistent run together and buy our manager, whether it’s Redfearn or his eventual successor, enough time to sort the team out for the rest of the season.

Maybe it’s true we don’t have the players to push on and challenge any higher than mid-table, but right now we definitely don’t have the system, and with managerial consistency not a viable expectation under Cellino the longest-serving manager under his reign will be the one who cuts out the mistakes from his defence and gets them to work as a coherent unit, finally sorting out our most longstanding problem – on the pitch, that is.


Football Weekly Live in Dublin

So this Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending a live version of the Guardian’s Football Weekly hosted at Griffith College here in Dublin, and to be honest, it was extremely enjoyable.

For those unaware, Football Weekly is the Guardian’s football-focused podcast known for its “puns and punditry” and is, in my opinion, much more insightful than the vast majority of television-based punditry panels. And, obviously, a lot funnier too; especially when live and the panel has no need to worry about receiving an ‘explicit’ tag on iTunes or, worse, dealing with a particularly litigious butt of one of their jokes.

Presented by James Richardson of Football Italia fame, the panel that made the leap across the Irish Sea also included Offaly’s own Barry Glendenning, Paul MacInnes (who’s even wittier in person) and Liverpool fan Gregg Bakowski, who was dreading the result of the Champions League game he’d be analysing.

Real Madrid hosted Liverpool for their second meeting in Group B and it seemed everyone, aside from Glendenning whose 2-1 prediction came closest to the actual score, presumed Liverpool were in for another hiding, especially after manager Brendan Rodgers made seven changes to his starting line-up, which was seen by some, such as Gary Lineker, as being the “equivalent to raising a white flag. It’s accepting the game is over, before it actually is.”

The panel didn’t disagree, but Bakowski noted that the result of the upcoming game against Chelsea will ultimately determine the fans’ reactions to Rodger’s “White flag” XI. A result against the team (prematurely) being heralded as the next invincibles will not only absolve Rodger’s of criticism enduring for Tuesday’s selection, but also probably see him lauded for some Mourinho-esque pragmatism.

When asked who he thought would be Liverpool manager come Christmas, the panel seemed unified, with Bakowski making it clear he believes Rodger’s “has enough credit” leftover from last season to endure a bad year and still be in charge next summer.
This gave way to one of the funnier audience-tweeted jokes: Is Rodgers the worst ‘pool manager since Michael Barrymore? (I had to look that one up. I was six years old when that happened.)

The short half-time analysis mainly included some muted impressment with Liverpool’s resilience (yes, they were a goal down, but before this match Real Madrid had won their last eleven games). There was of course the obligatory swipe at Richardson’s love of Italian football, with the other three suggesting he had tried and failed to get the Juventus vs Olympiakos game on his laptop while they were watching Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema score what turned out to be the sole goal of the game against Liverpool.

After full-time the panel returned to analyse the match. Bakowski found solace in losing to a single goal and the panel had little more to say after a bland, unsurprising second half. And so for their last half an hour they filled their time with questions from the audience.

The highlight of the tweeted questions asked each of the panel members what their best off-the-record story was. Of course, none of that can be repeated here, but even the smallest of details are enticing: an apparent encounter with Ryan Giggs’s agent in a nightclub, Gary Lineker’s “honest” opinion of Walker’s crisp and his obligations, something unprintable learned during an interview with actor James Franco, and some “bantz” between Liverpool players in the back of a taxi around the mid-90s.

It was at the tail end of the night when a microphone was passed around the few members of the audience with the confidence – or Dutch courage – to speak rather than tweet. The result was some banal questions slurred towards the panel in the hope of eliciting further “funny” reactions from other inebriates in the crowd. It worked to some extent, and the increase in belligerent, barely-coherent shouting delayed each of the panel’s answers by minutes and proved the failure of the authorities’ attempt to keep the audience sober by charging €4 a can of Heineken.
Thankfully Richardson and the panel managed to keep it all together long enough to finish gracefully.

Despite it all beginning to unravel towards the end, the live showing of Football Weekly was well worth the €20 to attend; it was as insightful as the podcast always is, but had the added benefits of being unrecorded, and therefore looser regarding rules and much funnier, and, for a time at least, enjoying it as part of a crowd brought its own excitement.

Cellino sacks his third Leeds manager, hires fourth

We’re only a few months into the season and at Leeds United the Cellino tombola has begun in earnest. The newest Leeds owner and ‘president’ Massimo Cellino sacked his third coach of his short tenure, Slovenian Darko Milanič,.

That’s small beans for a guy who sacked 36 managers in 20 years at his previously-owned club, Italian side Cagliari. So far this season no Leeds manager has last more than six games before Cellino finds them lacking and fires them. What could you expect from a man who compares managers to watermelons because “You find out about them when you open them.”

It’s unsurprising that Cellino’s nickname in Italy was “The manager-eater”. This latest sacking reminds me of a joke I heard on Football Weekly once about his coach-sacking rival, the biggest Mangiaallenatori in Serie A, Palermo owner Maurizio Zamparini, that could be applied to both: “He’s knocked off more coach than Dick Turpin.”

Darko Milanič, who resigned from his role as manager at Austrian side Sturm Graz – where he is loved by fans – to take charge at Elland Road, lasted 32 days and six games as manager of Leeds United before Cellino claimed his third scalp.

No one’s really surprised –when Cellino appointed Milanič his reasons included “He’s good-looking” and “He is a very cool guy” – and if Milanič is he was even more unprepared for life at Leeds than his poor no-wins-in-six-games record suggests.

Funnily enough, Milanič now represents Leeds’s least successful manager, replacing Brian Clough and his infamous, and at 44 days, longer spell at the Yorkshire club. Even discounting the 12 days difference, Milanič only managed to take 2pts from a possible 18, while Clough took 4pts from a possible 12 and, unlike the Slovenian, won a match during his six games in charge.

It’s probably the only time when being negatively compared to Brian Clough is an insult to a manager.

The duty to manage Leeds full-time now falls to our reserve team coach, and our most successful manager so far this season, Neil Redfearn.

‘Redders’ took over in-between the short-lived tenures of former Forest Green manager Dave Hockaday and Milanič. While the results under Hockaday (“Who?” we all asked when he was appointed. His claim to fame is he got Green relegated from the Conference Premier in his first season, only for them to be saved due to Salisbury City’s financial irregularities) were marked by defeats and red cars, Redfearn fared much better, taking ten points from twelve during his four games at the helm.

The fear now for Leeds fans is that, due to Redfearn being handed the job full-time, that he too will meet the axe and we lose in effect two managers (First team and reserves), and also our ready-made caretaker, in that same swing.

Redfearn said Cellino “does not see this as a short-term thing,” but, again, he should’ve take anything the “King of Corn” says at face value and be aware that his position will always be tenuous and results-orientated.
Only 32 or so days after Cellino described Milanič as “pragmatic,” he about-faced and told the Yorkshire Evening Post he wanted to apologise to supporters because they deserve better results and he “made a mistake with this guy [Milanič]. He’s negative, he has a losing mentality.”

The football may improve under Redfearn as it did ten games ago, but even an undefeated streak from here to the new year will probably just afford him a stay of execution. And that’s almost exactly how Cellino described his previous sacking, having “given the order to fire” Milanič with the ruthless ease of a commander of a firing squad.

And speaking of squads, there is a general acceptance that Leeds are not blessed with an exceptionally gifted one. A manager can only do so much and all that can be expected is for one to make best use with what he has, but try telling that to Cellino, especially if he fails to see the correlation between a “pragmatic” manager and one who sets out his team in a “negative” manner.

But what could you expect from a man who buys a football club without doing his due diligence?