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Thomas Christiansen’s reign at Leeds United had its ups and downs, and at times the Danish newcomer to the Championship looked like the real deal. But as the wheels fell off and the results went from bad to worse, few would disagree that his sacking was inevitable and necessary. Even so, Leeds fans had hoped that the Andrea Radrizzani era would bring about more stability, and the manager conveyor belt would come to a halt. Now, with home-grown head coach Paul Heckingbottom at the helm, the owners need to show patience. Even if Leeds fail to reach their playoff target this term.
During the Massimo Cellino era at Elland Road, managers came and went with more frequency than cup ties. Since Brian McDermott in 2013, there have been eight different tacticians in the hot seat at the LS11 club, including two Neil Redfearn stints. This constant stream of changing faces, methods, and tactics has not yielded success, and it has to come to an end. One only needs to look at other recently promoted sides from the second tier to realise that consistency and stability are key.
Burnley are a prime example of this. Sean Dyche has managed the Lancashire outfit since 2012, and it is clear that his continued appointment has benefited the club. When the Clarets were relegated from the Premier League in the 2014-15 campaign, the board could have easily decided to part company with the manager. After all, this is common practice in modern football with teams fighting against the drop. Dyche remained in the job, though, and went on to win the second tier emphatically in 2015-16. Now, Burnley are looking like a solid top-flight team and are building towards a strong future, as evidenced by the favourable odds of finishing in the top 10 offered by a number of bookmakers. For fans and punters alike, the chance to give those betting skills a try has never been better.
Although their form has dropped off slightly in recent weeks, Dyche’s side’s incredibly strong start to the campaign has put them in a good position to remain in the top half of the table for the run in. Other promoted sides Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town have also reaped the rewards of keeping the same manager in place for an extended period of time. Chris Hughton has been in charge at the Falmer Stadium since 2014, while David Wagner has remained at the Kirklees Stadium since 2015. The Terriers could have easily sacked the German at the end of the 2015-16 campaign when they ended the season in 19th-place in the second tier. Instead, they stuck with the former United States international and, in his second season at the helm, he guided them to promotion via the playoffs.
Leeds have tried chopping and changing their managers to no avail; now, they need to emulate other promoted sides and strive for stability. Even if this means missing out on the playoffs this term. Heckingbottom has shown great potential during his time at Barnsley, and if he can emulate his good work there while at Leeds, the Yorkshireman could turn out to be a shrewd appointment. Despite having guided the Tykes to promotion from League One on a limited budget in 2016, Heckingbottom is best known for his nurturing of young players. This is a talent that could be perfect at Elland Road, where there is a constant flow of blossoming young players emerging from the club’s world-renowned academy.
While at Barnsley, Heckingbottom had a strong track record of developing talented individuals and then selling them for a profit. Two of the most notable names to have benefited from the manager’s guidance are Mason Holgate and Alfie Mawson. Holgate, who is now playing as a centre-back at Everton, was named the 2014-15 League One Young Player of the Year. The 21-year-old has made 13 starts for the Toffees this season and has helped to keep four clean sheets for the underperforming outfit. Mawson was another pivotal defender in Barnsley’s promotion campaign, and he managed to score seven goals in 48 matches. This attracted the interest of Swansea City, who brought the 24-year-old in as a replacement for Ashley Williams in August of 2016.
There are certainly some players in United’s first team squad who could benefit from Heckingbottom’s tendency to tap into player potential. These include the 21-year-old Conor Shaughnessy, who has made seven appearances for the Republic of Ireland at youth level, 19-year-old Ronaldo Vieira, who has made six appearances for the England U20 side, and 22-year-old Leeds-born Kalvin Phillips, who has the potential to become a club legend in the future.
With Heckingbottom’s history of bringing through defenders, established players like Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper could also profit. Prior to the new manager’s appointment, the Whites has already conceded 37 goals in the league after 30 games. This leaky defence is an area of concern which needs to be repaired quickly.
At the moment, it looks as though Heckingbottom’s appointment is one that suits a long-term plan. Certainly, after the loss to Sheffield United, and the state of the squad that Christiansen left, it is clear that there might not be a quick fix. Leeds’ hopes of making the playoffs this season now look fairly slim, but this isn’t Heckingbottom’s fault. If given time, the 40-year-old might be able to build something special at Elland Road and turn some of the players with potential into world-class stars.