It has to follow that as Leeds United either sign a player, change ownership or hire a new manager that things must go wrong. And so the gutter press and hit hungry websites have already started trotting out reasons why Leeds United Fans ought to be concerned… Cellino has said apparently he doesn’t know why he appointed our new manager (crazy guy!) Someone else has found a quote no doubt completely out of context suggesting he might not play our younger players and prefers experience. Most compellingly of all Phil Neville has ‘never heard of him’.
To be fair to the naysayers however our last three managerial appointments have certainly not hit the heights, Milanic’s predecessor never stood a chance; with not only limited experience as a manager the vast vast majority of supporters (myself included) largely derided the poor man. How did he get the job? Well this is something the rank and file of support will never know – hence the leaping upon Cellinos latest throwaway comment.
The facts are however, that Darko Milanic didn’t bump into Massimo Cellino at Lidl in the frozen goods aisle and strike up a rapport involving pepper pots and jumpers for goalposts. This time round Nicola Salerno seems to have found him, a man with; it increasingly seems, a good eye for a player, and a good working knowledge of European football.
Much has been made of his 14 Month Stint at Austrian Premier League Outfit Sturm (not Sterm…) Graz, apparently they finished 5th last season (so halfway in a 10 team league) dreadful stuff, and let’s not forget David Moyes would’ve crawled naked over broken glass for 10 miles for 5th place last season. And I know it isn’t an apples for apples comparison, I just wanted to say it.
Milanic it seems took on a club with high expectations though at Sturm Graz, having got through three coaches now in two years, the first sacking coming in 2012 after a 4th placed finish, perhaps their title of 2010/11 raised said expectations high, but it seems he inherited a club with some instability despite their being one of Austria’s biggest and most successful clubs. His record prior to that in Slovenia especially at Maribor though is stellar. Nine trophies in four years is a decent return (including National titles) and a 3rd placed finish in 2007 for the far smaller Gorica paints a picture of a man able to utilise limited resources.
Milanic is no David Hockaday, having played at the highest level for Yugoslavia and Slovenia post independence (whom he captained) 285 club appearances for Partizan Belgrade and Sturm Graz combined from 1986-2000 winning League titles and cups at both.
It may well be that these experiences melt away in the heat of the Championship, and like so many other foreign coaches a big reputation really counts for little (step forward Felix Magath… and erm sit back down again) but there certainly seems an awful lot more consideration in Milanic’s appointment. The questions around his commitment to younger players seem wide of the mark too. For starters which coach (given a choice) wouldn’t prefer a first XI of experienced players 28-30 Years old? All at the top of their game. But looking at Milanic’s last game for Graz tells a different story with five of the team that started against SV Ried were under 25.
Leeds squad against the dog botherers contained four under 25 (Silvestri, Cook, Sloth, Doukara with three more on the bench, Byram, Cooper, Adryan).
Cellino remains the great unknown factor here. Lambasted for treating Hockaday like a puppet, it was surely Hockaday who was responsible for seeking out the likes of Ajose, Taylor and Cooper of our summer signings, Cellino certainly wouldn’t have plumped for Tonge, Austin and Murphy in Midfield with Benedicic kicking his heels in the reserves having forked out all that money. But whether he’ll take a backseat with Milanic remains to be seen, perhaps where Cellino is most present to his managers comes in his press profile. His visible anger after Watford was there for anyone to see, seemingly only Hockaday unaware of what everyone else could see, and this is possibly where any coach will struggle.
Any management manual will tell you ‘Praise in Public’ ‘Criticise in Private’… So that one not quite working out yet.
Milanic has another mountain to climb in the shape of the high regard in which Neil Redfearn is held. Seemingly tying up the many loose ends left by the Hock and Junior, hes transformed a side low on confidence and unable to shoot at goal into one that is coherent, entertaining and high on confidence. Leeds have yet to play a team of note, but Redfearn will be a hard act to follow, and if Milanic wants to change things round and it doesnt work the crowd will be on his case, perhaps not as quickly as Hockaday, because Milanic has a better pedigree and there seems genuine expectation from most Leeds fans, but deliver he must..
Milanic has the credentials, he (for now) also has the backing of Cellino, he just needs to keep the momentum going from Redfearns time in charge. He believes in his words he has a talented’ squad but that there are segments that need to improve.
I think that’s fair, our defence is still a work in progress and we need to see our discipline get better too with Gaetano Berardi the recipient of more red cards than is acceptable this season. There are the underperformers too. Chris Dawson needs to push on now, Sam Byram is still not back to half of what he is capable of and Luke Murphy frustrates with each performance. There is clearly more to come from the squad, Leeds supporters everywhere are counting on you Darko.
Reporter – Matthew Brown – Bolton