Brian McDermott: Restorer of the Faith in 8 Days

Ohhhh!! Brian McDermott!

Ohhhh!! Brian McDermott!

Ohhhh!! Brian McDermott!…

That Leeds fans would at some stage adopt the ‘Seven Nation Army’ riff for the purposes of a chant always seemed inevitable, but its use to honour our new manager was set in stone at St. Andrews yesterday afternoon. Although sung from the Kop in recognition of the two home wins that marked Brian McDermott’s first games in charge, his name was sang with such gusto and regularity yesterday that it seemed like the new man had really arrived.

In fact three chants were offered during the course of the game (and in the half-time madness in the concourse): a second one in recognition of his passing resemblance to Humpty Dumpty and a third in reverence to his shiny cranium. That somebody with a relatively low profile, who’s quietly spoken and so mild mannered should demand such a welcome speaks volumes for the impact that McDermott’s made in his week or so at the helm.

It’s both McDermott’s influence on the pitch and actions off it that have provided such grounds for optimism. First and foremost have been the results achieved and most notably the manner of performances at Elland Road. To produce two key wins at a time when Leeds looked incapable of managing one would be enough for most supporters at this juncture, especially with the very real threat of relegation looming following the defeat at Charlton. To have done so while transforming the philosophy behind our playing style is what has really got supporters buying into the new regime.

Patient play, possession football, passing; all foreign concepts under Warnock have become bywords to describe the early days in the latest incarnation of Leeds United. Austin’s goal against Burnley epitomised this new approach better than anything else over the last week, a long period of possession, followed by one subtle, cutting pass and a measured finish.

Also different has been the approach to substitutions. The match against Sheffield Wednesday turned first on the decision to introduce Diouf at half-time, then having turned the tide of momentum, the bold move to substitute a very poor Steve Morison ensured that within minutes, Leeds capitalised on their dominance. Many have commented that such moves would’ve seldom been made by the previous incumbent of his role. During that second half, players who have often looked hesitant, short on ideas and at times, altogether clueless started to express themselves and the club reaped the benefit.

Against Burnley, Leeds resumed where they’d left off. The anaemic, depressing spectacle of direct football, orchestrated by nervy looking players, banished with any lingering memories of the previous manager. McDermott’s opposite number on the night, Sean Dyche was moved to admit:

“Leeds showed their experience and that’s interesting because the same group of players weren’t playing like that two weeks ago because I saw them.”

Following both victories, McDermott remained low key. Whereas Warnock would’ve undoubtedly been all over the media, feeding his own propaganda campaign, the new man almost seemed embarrassed to acknowledge the adulation, allowing himself the briefest of claps towards the Kop once his players had taken their acclaim.

In front of the press he remained understated, preferring to praise his players than concentrate on his own contribution; the blame culture already appears to be banished to the past. The way he was able to field questions about Steve Morison, speaking with honesty over his decision to substitute him then omit him, he managed to neither patronise the supporters, nor say anything that resembled any sort of criticism for his striker, if anything, he helped engender a little more understanding and patience for the new boy’s plight.

Primarily it appears that McDermott is gaining such universal acceptance so readily because he represents the antithesis of his predecessor; he has a far more progressive, flexible approach to the game and a desire to remain out of the limelight. Victories are no longer all about the manager, nor defeats all about the players.

Warnock at the time seemed to be the best fit for Leeds. We had a man not afraid to speak his mind and fight his corner – with Bates still ruling the roost and Simon Grayson’s efforts to team build undermined as much by his inability to stand up to his bosses as any of his other limitations, the fans needed someone onside and Warnock looked like he could deliver on that score.

With Bates now, at least to a degree out of the picture, the club no longer need a huge personality, just a man who knows his mind, with a sound plan. There of course there has to be the resolve to push that through and yesterday McDermott promised Phil Hay that he would “Say it exactly as I see it” when he talks with the board. While Warnock was happy to make public the entire managerial appointment saga public, you feel a clear, thoughtful, understated but determined approach McDermott brings to the table will find a lot more receptive audience than it might’ve done this time last year.

New coaching role

New coaching role

What most crucially McDermott can offer the club is a degree of long-termism; Neil Warnock’s plan revolved entirely about winning his eighth promotion and often seemed to overwhelm any notions regarding the implications his planning would in terms of his legacy. Players who were experienced but often already long past their peak were brought in to fill almost every position and as a result the team looks to need the “complete overhaul” that he claimed to have overseen during his tenure.

McDermott in contrast, while not for a moment dismissing the prospect of a concerted promotion push next season (anyone managing Leeds at this level would be foolhardy in the extreme to do so), is already talking very much in terms of his full tenure, as opposed to the first 12 months or so. While bringing Nigel Gibbs along as his number two, he’s been quick to praise and embrace the people he already has at his disposal at Elland Road. He’s already watched the youth team in action and the move to offer Neil Redfearn a new dual role that bridges the gap between the first team squad and development group reveals a keen commitment to utlising the academy to the full. With pre-season so often the time when breakthrough players emerge, having Redfearn in place now as a familiar face at first team training looks an inspired manoeuvre.

More than anything, McDermott has shown his desire to manage Leeds by taking the job and the promises of his new bosses (who many of us still doubt) as a show of faith. Nine days in and it’s encouraging to see that supporters are offering the new man that very same courtesy.

Video courtesy of @joentwistleLUFC.

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