Leaderless Leeds Lacking at the Heart of Matters

Forget the goals, the crescendo of boos, the finger pointing, even the dejected figure of Brian McDermott, the defining moment for me from yesterday’s shambolic display at Hillsborough was something that the TV highlights, the newspaper reports and post-match discussions will most likely not even touch upon. Midway through the second half it came, with Leeds already a well beaten side and with nothing more to play for than their pride; Zaliukas received the ball just outside his own 18 yard box, he had time, he had options, he could’ve played a simple pass or taken a touch, instead he casually back-heeled ball back into his own penalty area, nearly gifting his opponents another goal.

Although nothing did come of it, that moment was symptomatic of a slack, reckless display from a player who prior our recent slump in form had been pivotal to our resurgence. On a day when every player left the pitch with their heads bowed, Zaliukas still stood out, his slack distribution had set Wednesday on their way to scoring their crucial second goal and if the back-heel had given the impression that he’d ceased to care, his pathetic mistakes that handed Caolan Lavery the final two goals of the afternoon resoundingly sealed the case for the prosecution.

As awful as he was, it may seem unfair to single out Zaliukas on a day when Leeds provided six assists without actually scoring a goal, but the point is that the 30 year-old is the closest thing Leeds have to a leader on the pitch; he’s the one who upon his arrival two months ago brought a semblance of organisation and a cool authority to the back line, but like all those around him, when the going’s got tough, he’s buckled.

It’s a sad fact that any debate about leadership should focus primarily on a relatively recent arrival, as opposed to the skipper, but that is where we are at the moment. In Rodolph Austin, Leeds United have a team captain in name but nothing else; Austin isn’t a great talker and rarely leads by example, he’s resembled a shadow rather than a leader over these last six games, when stern or supportive words have been called for in the midst of crisis, he’s typically been on the receiving end, rather than the one delivering them.

In recent times, only Ross McCormack and Paddy Kenny have continued to inspire on the pitch, the former through his continued work rate, the latter through his cajoling, but Leeds need a leader in the middle, in the thick of matters, where the opposition can be stifled and the control of games is there to be wrestled for. Leeds do possess some good players, a number of them, in fact (seriously), but are terminally afflicted by a paucity of leadership that undermines everything.

Leadership by definition is something that comes from top: the mandate, plans and expectations first have to be set and facilitated in boardroom, it is down then to the manager to ensure the dressing room is geared to meet those ambitions. Thus far, the board and McDermott have made for the perfect bedfellows, both parties winning the approval and patience of supporters on the back of canny PR and phlegmatic expectations about the rebuilding job necessary in the aftermath of Bates and Warnock.

This month however could mark the first profound shift in expectations at Elland Road during McDermott’s tenure. Having successfully negotiated a testing first year in charge at Elland Road, David Haigh and company now appear ready to finally flex their financial muscles and assert themselves in Championship circles, McDermott must now follow that lead in the dressing room.

Having finally got his wish for wide men, McDermott has a duty to use them, to be bold and stamp his authority and identity on squad that is increasingly composed of his own players. Yesterday demanded a 4-4-2 formation, instead McDermott delivered a compromised 5-4-1, delivering a team sheet that read more like a suicide note, it baffled everyone before the game and convinced nobody during it, it was a system that not only nullified the point of playing wingers but confused the entire team. The manager resolved that Rochdale would act as a “driver’ for the rest of the season, then duly oversaw a performance even more shameful.

McDermott must use the coming days and the remainder of the window to grasp the nettle, and only by providing a strong lead can he hope to succeed; no more compromises, he needs players on the pitch he can trust, playing in systems he believes in. Most of all he needs somebody who can share, instill and reinforce those beliefs for him on the pitch. A striker remains a necessary addition to the squad, but by far the most important acquisition this month is a leader in the middle in the park, somebody to provide a backbone to an often spineless team, who doesn’t simply bow his head when things are going against the team, who readily grasps at the honour of the captaincy, rather than asks for time think over the offer.

If history teaches us anything, then it’s how crucial to every successful Leeds team an inspirational captain and his relationship with the manager is: Don Revie and Billy Bremner were practically joined at the hip, Gordon Strachan was Sgt. Wilko’s most trusted foot soldier, while Lucas Radebe brilliantly nurtured David O’Leary’s babies through their early footballing years, before the club naively tried to run before it could walk.

McDermott needs a similar figure, not necessarily as gifted as those aforementioned but with the same aura, confidence and authority – a leader of men who rallies in the face or poor performances rather than be complicit in them, who can be relied upon to play consistently well, pick a pass and keep his composure, somebody who can ease the burden on the likes of Mowatt, Murphy and Byram and allow them to go out and express themselves.

After a decade of being handicapped by those at the top, there are hopeful signs that Leeds United’s owners in waiting are finally taking the initiative to lead the club in a positive fashion. Brian McDermott’s primary imperative is to now ensure that mantra filters from boardroom to pitch level. For too long, Elland Road has been host to countless individuals who have proven themselves incapable of handling the pressures of representing the club, our manager must now prove himself not to be amongst that number. McDermott needs to be bold, assertive and ruthless, to go with his beliefs, and most crucially, end the month with an individual he can implicitly trust to reinforce them on the pitch every 90 minutes.

No rudderless ship ever reaches its desired destination.

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22 responses to “Leaderless Leeds Lacking at the Heart of Matters

  1. Thanks to the author, I wasn’t sure anything could lift the gloom after yesterdays horror show, but, this article does. Baxter Basics, everyone appreciates that this is what we need; along with those two elusive players. Although highly, highly unlikely I really hope we get something against Leicester; especially if it’s McDermott who gets ‘back to basics’.

  2. There’s a number of the team that can’t hack playing for Leeds to be honest, and the rest of the squad is packed with them. By the same token, BMD’s tactics and choices are also a massive factor – Byram on the bench, Lees on the pitch, three centre backs, no presence in the midfield whatsoever.

    I can’t help feeling that expectation is also far too high, given where we are in terms of digging ourselves out of the Bates mire – it’s not an overnight issue resolved by the capture of two wingers. Consistent, structured investment in the team is needed, we can’t undo the mess under Bates in one season under GFH/Haigh/whoever.

    In terms of dealing with the ‘pressure’ of playing for Leeds, perhaps we should also consider how the ‘gallows’ humour of berating our own players by song might be contributing to that pressure?

  3. This might get a lot of criticism, but I think McDermott is completely to blame. His inexperience as a manager is showing and he has lost the players. I think the poor performances can be put down to the fact that our playere were giving 110% and burnt out after the Barnsley game. Since then Brian has completely lost the players with his utterly inept tactics. I would say the game he completely lost the first team was when he played them in the FA cup after they had all trained xmas day and played 4 games in 10 days, rather than letting the fringe players and youngsters have a go. As well as this, his tactics and formation were diabolical. 

    Not nearly as bad as yesterday though. 2 wingers for the first time in 2 years with Kebe not fit and signing only the day before, thrusts them into the first team without any real training, further complicating a system that the players didn’t understand BEFORE he tampered with it and made it into that ridiculous 3 4 3. What chance did they have? He said after the game it was back to basics, I was saying well before the game time for 4 4 2, how the hell did a professional manager who is surrounded by the players every day not see it?? Smith or Byram didn’t start etc… Wells for 1.3 Murphy for 1 million, dear god.

    I could carry on for some time pointing out basic errors. I was a supporter of Brian McDermott but in the last week he has made as many mistakes as a sacked manager makes over a few months, he fit it into 1 week! The truth is the system was set up for him at Reading and he stuck with it. He has very little managerial experience and this job is far too big for him, he has lost it!

    I was filled with optimism this week and always look at positives, im no boo boy and I can’t stand perpetual moaners but I honestly don’t see anyway back for Brian and I don’t see us getting someone else who can take us to the next level which leaves us in a terrible position.

    • I think you are right the job is to big for him and we need a manger to take us to the next level and the players have no pride in the shirt

  4. David Haigh, forget the building work and the community projects and concentrate on the squad. For years the squad has been neglected and underfunded. We have a team for freebies, loan players and journeymen. We need players with quality, skill, guile and courage. Many of the current team don’t have that. Bates made the mistake of not supporting the playing side. Lets stop the bargain basement nonesence and bring some quality, experience players in to support Mowatt, Smith, Murphy, Ross etc.

  5. Also, BM, stop the penny pinching and spend some bloody money man. We need a couple of strong experienced midfielders at the very least. We were just overrun yesterday and other teams are just taking the piss now!

  6. I believe two factors are really hurting Leeds at the moment. One is Brian McDermott, he has lost the dressing room. His decisions are becoming increasingly bizarre. Two new loan signings flung into the mix from the beginning. One, Kebe, is nowhere near match fit. Brian should consider his own decisions and consider how he can stop the rot. He is not a Don Revie, or even a Howard Wilkinson.
    In short I would give him two games if I was his boss. Results or resign / the sack.

    The would be owners. Put up your money without delay. If Huddersfield can find £1.3m for Wells, why do we have to put up with two loans deals? I have reservations over the Haigh management team, I hope I am proved wrong.

    It may be time for a foreign manager at Leeds. Leeds fans deserve better, it is time for Brian McDermott to be put under intense pressure. I personally did not want him. He is famous for getting promotion with Reading, what else?

    In summary sack McDermott if things do not pick up with immediate effect. Worse to worse let Neil Redfern have a go at the job.

    • How does BMac get Kebe match fit then? And before you say the reserves, I’m sure he played for Palaces – not the same intensity as first team action. This season is about consolidation and building a solid base. Yes there are problems but let the guy have a go at resolving them.

      • There is such a thing as the substitutes bench. I do not consider. Rochdale 2 Leeds 0, Harrogate Town 3 Leeds 1, Sheffield Wednesday 6 Leeds 0 as anywhere near consolidation. This form and lack of organisation is relegation form. The problems are of Brian McDermott’s making! You are in the minority now Ash.

  7. Will be at E R on Saturday but without a Billy Bremner in our team does not look good for us .Certain players are not good enough to wear the white shirt. Brian needs to get his act together best we can hope for is MIDTABLE .

  8. Leading by example, playing with desire. then there is only one option. Make Ross captain, there isn’t anyone else who deserves to wear that arm band in our team.

  9. agree with gazza total blame on selection& formation toBMCD .Something as bad that diserves the sack.why are people raving over Zaluseless this is Austin all over again neither of them should ever get near the team again.i hope I havn’t got to wait as long for people to see the light as it’s took with Austin

  10. We cant play 442 with current players. None of the midfield are mobile or quick enough. Its going to take time to rid ourselves of the below average players eating the wage bill. However bmac must somehow galvanise what we have to get some pride back in the shirt. This is the minimum the support deserves.

  11. McD has to take the responsibility, his tactics, his training schedules, his decision who plays and where.
    He is very naive, the next 2 – 3 games are critical for him to make his Mark and show he has the ability to handle the job at Leeds. If he can’t demonstrate this and prove the fans wrong come 3 games from now then he has to go.
    Malky Mackay is my choice, he is tried and tested. Warnock should get his LB place back and Sam Byram at RB, owners must see we need a proven quality striker to support Rossco and a couple of no nonsense midfielders who can run box to box, make a decent pass, support defence and attack.

    • Wow you’re right. we need another Manager because that always works doesn’t it? Make this man Chairman immediately.

    • Malky Mackay, yes a good idea. I wonder if he is already in talks with Leeds? You know what happens these days. A new manager is lined up before the current one is forced to jump off the end of the plank, at the point of the cutlass. Mr McDermott is looking very weak, out of ideas and ready to be thrown out.

  12. Is it really about leadership? It’s more about coaching as far as I can see. Quelling the pain of the Rochdale/Wendies games I was looking around for a game to watch today. Inverness CT v Dundee Utd was a perfect antidote. ICT full of ex-league 1, 2 and Conference players with a few kids; the Arabs with a bunch of home grown talent. Both teams passed the ball excellently, the action was end to end, they used the space to attack with wingers, players knew where to pass without looking around and the captains led by example. I go to ER and away games HOPING we can string 3 passes together and pressurise the opponents’ defence with intelligent play and show up bad teams for what they are. BUT. We’ve won games we should have lost (e.g. Yeovil, Brighton) because of luck and McCormack. Now we are getting our comeuppance. Only coaching the players, in a well-thought out formation, week in, week out, will get us out of this malaise, and it’ll take months to make our current lot a decent, respected outfit. We are not going up to the PL, so BMcD needs to concentrate on bringing through Dawson, Walters, Coyle et al to gel with Byram and Mowatt and the more professional older heads we wish to retain going forward into next season. Question is, should this start from now, or after we’ve secured 15 points to secure Championship football? – I am posing this question on the assumption that BMcD is still the manager, but it would be same if he is replaced with Mourinho/Pep/Heynckes/Simeone….

  13. Well said. I text a friend of mine immediately after that backheel asking what the f*ck!
    I was holding my fire on McD…but playing wingbacks AND wingers.. the team has zero desire..drive..will to win (Sheff Weds had loads of all those things yesterday). After 5 awful performance his coaching seems non existant. His signings look like flops…Murphy…Hunt…Wooton…(and after yesterdays woeful performance) Zaliukas. I see no positives. Kebe & Stewart, who knows. I’ll give Smith some time yet.
    Would love to see Andy Reid patrolling the centre of Elland Rd.

  14. Well this weeks ridiculous happenings with McD being sacked then reinstated suggests the whole club is in need of total reorganisation from the top down.

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