FORMER Leeds United striker Andy Ritchie believes new boss Thomas Christiansen can finally end the club’s Premier Division exile – if the Whites get off to a perfect start.
In Ritchie’s eyes, raiding Norwich City to sign former Whites captain Jonny Howson would also be a very wise move.
Former APOEL and AEK Larnaca boss Christiansen is 12 days into his new tenure as Whites head coach having been appointed Garry Monk’s successor on June 15.
Like most, Ritchie admits Christiansen was not a name he had considered but the former Whites striker hopes new owner Andrea Radrizzani may have unearthed a hidden gem from ‘eastern Europe’.
But with the club desperate to avoid any hangover from agonisingly missing out on last season’s play-offs, Ritchie believes a strong start is a must for Christiansen and his new team.
Leeds will begin their campaign at newly promoted Bolton Wanderers on Sunday, August 6 and, after the first-round EFL Cup hosting of Port Vale, Preston North End will be the season’s first Championship visitors to Elland Road on Saturday, August 12.
Ritchie believes Leeds are capable of taking six points out of six – and that anything could then be possible there on in.
Leeds will then host Fulham on Tuesday, August 15 before ending the month with trips to recently relegated Sunderland and Nottingham Forest.
“I think it makes a big difference next season in how you start,” Ritchie told the YEP.
“They were obviously very disappointed at the end of last season but you have got to look at it and say that did anybody really think that’s what they could have done?
They took their chance and it virtually took them to the play-offs. And I think a good start would be a good testing point for them. That’s what they would want to get off to.Andy Ritchie
“They took their chance and it virtually took them to the play-offs. And I think a good start would be a good testing point for them. That’s what they would want to get off to.
“Leeds start with Bolton away and Preston at home and you would say that the first two are manageable.
“I know Bolton have just come up and they will want to be putting on a show but you would think that they could manage that.
“Preston at home, again, they should be thinking about getting three points there after last season. But then the next two games – Fulham at home and Sunderland away – they are a bit tasty aren’t they?”
Reflecting on the surprise appointment of Christiansen, Ritchie reasoned: “I think it’s just wait and see because he is an unknown entity really.
“Nobody has really had him on their radar but you would think the club must have had a process of what they wanted.
“I have obviously heard of him as a player – he was a good player – but that doesn’t always make good managers. But he’s had a bit of success in the league in Cyprus so I think it’s suck it and see.
“From what I have heard about him, he seems a good type and it’s a great opportunity for him.”
United have already made their first signing under Christiansen with Polish international midfielder Mateusz Klich joining on a three-year deal from FC Twente for a fee believed to be around £1.5m.
The 27-year-old has been capped ten times by the Polish national side and joins Leeds following a strong season with FC Twente who finished seventh in the Eredivisie.
Ritchie is optimistic that United have landed a decent player.
“You have got to be a half-decent player to be an international,” said Ritchie. “He’s a good age, he’s coming into his prime and reading what he’s said – he is impressed by the football club. Who wouldn’t be?
“He wants to give himself a step up in level in terms of his domestic football because he feels that that’s what he is going to get playing in the Championship which is great for him.”
United continue to be linked with a host of other players and one of them, Norwich City midfielder Howson, is definitely someone that Ritchie would like to see the Whites sign.
The Canaries reportedly want £5m for a player who has made it clear that he wants a move away from Carrow Road with the 29-year-old keen to relocate back ‘up north’ with his young family.
The former Whites Academy graduate who made 225 appearances for Leeds United between July 2006 and January 2012.
“I think Jonny is a fantastic player,” said Ritchie. “He’s a Leeds lad, he’s a Leeds fan and I think that makes a big difference to anybody, especially if they are coming back to the club that they support.
“And I really do like Jonny and I would go for Jonny, definitely.
“He’s a fantastic player and I know him really well anyway because he was in the system as a young kid there when I was in the system. He’s a great player.”
Howson helped Leeds out of the doldrums of League One in 2010 and the midfielder featured in every single league game as United finished seventh in the Championship the following season.
United again finished seventh last season.
Asked if he felt Christiansen and Leeds could finally earn promotion back to the Premier League – at the 14th time of asking – Ritchie reasoned: “They could do.
“They have got to start well, I think that’s a big thing. But we know that it’s a new regime so people have to take that into consideration and the players taking that on board what he wants to do, especially in pre-season – getting that feeling again.
“Thomas will know what has happened here last season – he will have seen that and he will want to try and build on that.
“It depends on what does happen between now and the start of the season with maybe players going out.
“I’ve heard that Garry might be trying to raid Leeds and get a couple of players in and it depends what happens on that front. And the players have got to not have this hangover that you talk about.
“They have got to try and get last season out of their system. It’s not as easy as just walking back out on the pitch and doing what you did last year.
“It’s a damned hard league, as we know, and you’ve got to work maybe even harder this year to get anywhere near what they did last year.
“The Championship is probably the hardest league of all. You look at all the names that are in there – Middlesbrough, Leeds, Norwich, Nottingham Forest, Bolton, Birmingham, Barnsley, Aston Villa, Cardiff, Derby, Fulham, both Sheffield sides now – it is such a hard league. And there’s no easy games there.
“I am looking at them all and you go away to Millwall, that’s one of the hardest games you can have for anybody – not only because of the team but because of the crowd. And no disrespect to Burton but look what happened there at the end of last season. Leeds know how hard it is.”