09 Feb Football League: New Boss Heckingbottom Needs Time for New Leeds Vision to Prove SuccessfulFoot
After Leeds crashed to a humbling 4-1 defeat at home to Cardiff on Saturday, Thomas Christiansen felt the full force of owner Andrea Radrizzani’s ambition. The Italian outlined his long-term commitment to the club when he finalised his takeover last year, but clearly that privilege didn’t extend to Christiansen. Following six matches without a win, which has seen Leeds drift helplessly towards mid-table obscurity, the Dane’s eight-month spell in the dugout was brought to a premature end.
Radrizzani has previously spoken of a five-year plan to return to the Premier League, but it seems he is a man in a hurry. Paul Heckingbottom was appointed to replace Christiansen on Tuesday and took charge of his first training session in the morning as his predecessor stopped off to say his farewells. The revolving door at Thorp Arch is nothing new. No one has reached 100 games in the hot seat since Simon Grayson left in 2012, with the past nine managers lasting an average of just 33 matches.
Trigger-happy former owner Massimo Cellino was responsible for most of that hiring and firing, but Christiansen was at least given the opportunity to turn things around. He navigated his way through a first crisis – eight defeats in 11 games from September to November – but when the rot kicked in again, combined with a maddening disciplinary record of four red cards in the last five games, his departure was inevitable. “Feel sorry for the fans, the lowest moment for me since I joined,” tweeted Radrizzani after an embarrassing FA Cup exit to Newport County in January.
Heckingbottom may turn out to be the ideal appointment for Leeds in the immediate future, but there is a sense that the club will need to afford him more time if they are to truly benefit from his methods. This isn’t the first occasion the 40-year-old has been parachuted into a difficult situation at this stage of the campaign. When he replaced Lee Johnson at Barnsley in February 2016, the Tykes ended up lifting the Football League Trophy at Wembley and won promotion from League One via the play-offs. He will require all of his fire-fighting experience to achieve another promotion at Elland Road this year.
But Heckingbottom also offers a longer-term approach that should align with Radrizzani’s vision to make Leeds self-sustainable at the same time as remaining competitive on the pitch. As a development coach at Oakwell before being handed the top job, the Yorkshireman helped bring through the likes of promising defender James Bree to the first team. As manager he played a vital role in developing the talent of Alfie Mawson, Connor Hourihane, Sam Winnall and Marc Roberts, all of whom left the club for substantial fees.
The reality of working for a selling club must have been frustrating at times, especially when Barnsley were pushing for a play-off spot in January 2017 before Bree, Hourihane and Winnall were sold to Championship rivals. Heckingbottom embraced his role, however, signing a new contract only last week to seemingly reaffirm his commitment to the Tykes’ relegation fight.
If he shows the same pragmatism at Leeds it should impress Radrizzani. One of the owner’s first acts upon completing his takeover last May was to renew the contracts of youth prospects Ronaldo Vieira and Lewie Coyle, maintaining a keen focus on promoting homegrown talent as well as backing Christiansen in the transfer market. The acquisition of 19-year-old West Brom forward Tyler Roberts in January underlines the Italian’s intention to find a balance between the present and the future.In that respect Heckingbottom should prove to be a shrewd appointment, but first he must overcome an incredibly tough start to his reign. Results will always be the primary concern at a club of Leeds’ size, and the new manager faces a huge test over the next month that could make or break his tenure. With fixtures against Sheffield United, Bristol City, Derby, Brentford, Middlesbrough and Wolves, the Whites face six of the top 11 in a season-defining run of matches.
Having grown up in Barnsley, Heckingbottom has previously admitted hating Leeds as a child. Those revelations caused a stir on social media following his appointment, but if he can lead the club back to the promised land of the Premier League, he can be sure of a hero’s legacy at Elland Road.