Back to Basics: New United boss David Hockaday took his first pre-season training session yesterday and spoke to Leon Wobschall about his aims.
COLLECTIVE DESIRE, togetherness and work-rate oozed from every pore of the two stand-out Championship sides in Leicester and Burnley last season – and Leeds United head coach David Hockaday was an unabashed fan.
The 56-year-old may have been unveiled seven days ago, but his story effectively began yesterday morning at his new work-place of Thorp Arch when he met with his players for the start of pre-season.
It’s a grand training base, with considerable trappings, but Hockaday isn’t fooled or dazzled by its allure.
A space-ace facility doesn’t guarantee points on the board and for the north-easterner, it’s all about graft at the real coalface, the training pitch. Never mind creature comforts, just watch your mates’ back.
Plenty of hard yards were done yesterday and will be done today ahead of the first-team squad heading for northern Italy for a two-week training camp away from prying eyes on Monday.
Players can expect more of the same on the continent too.
United may have a cast-iron star in Ross McCormack, who would grace every Championship side worth their salt, but invariably, the successful ones at this level are the teams who are greater than the sum of their parts.
This is where Hockaday hopes he can come in, with his mission being to build a tight, together and fit unit who won’t want for endurance next season.
Hockaday, whose preparatory work before training began on Monday at Thorp Arch said: “I have shuffled things around a little bit to how I want them to be and I feel familiar now.
“It (the main building) is like a warren; I don’t know how many rooms are in there, we even joke we don’t know how many doors are in there – we are into the hundreds!
“It will take me time to get used to the office, but out there on the pitch, I am fully au fait with what is out there.
“It’s a very impressive facility. But what we need at the end of the day is changing rooms, showers and grass.
“All the other stuff is brilliant and the criteria that the academy needs, but for me, it’s changing rooms, showers, grass and goalposts. Everything is here in abundance of what we need.”
“I know I keep saying ‘we are going to work the players’ as if we (Leeds) have never worked them before. They are going to be worked hard. But really when you work hard, you need to channel it all, so we are all pulling in the same direction as well.
“It was pretty obvious to not just me but everybody that it wasn’t pulling in the same direction and working (last season) for whatever reason. So my job is to pull it altogether.
“We have to work hard as a team. That isn’t rocket science or me saying I have found a new answer, it’s just basics.
“You look at Leicester and Burnley, that’s what they did. They got a group of lads together all pulling in the same direction and working their socks off. That’s the minimum I will ask.
“With the talent these players have got here, then we’ll see where we go.
“If you all work separately, that is not good enough. When you are all working together, that’s a force to be reckoned with at any level.
“It’s not me cracking the whip. We are here to work to make Leeds United fans proud – simple as that. If we go out and put in a shift, that’s a good base to start from.”
He added: “It’s a new start for everyone; it has to be. What is gone is gone. I can’t control that; I can control the future, today.
“It’s up to them now. Although I write the names on the sheet, their form in training and in games picked and dictates the team.
They now take control of the situation and ownership of their own performances.
“No excuses, they step over the line and perform on demand.
“The time for talking is over, it’s the time for doing.
“We need to work harder and work and as a team.
“Last season wasn’t good enough for Leeds United Football Club.
“These players are here because they are talented and my job is to help them help themselves and mould them into a strong, hard-working honest team unit. It’s simple as that.”
In Hockaday’s world, players will be self-governing and take responsibility for their own performances and as a collective, with their two-week training camp in Italy forming an essential part of their seasonal journey.
It will also represent a time when bonds are forged or reinforced and lines drawn and relationships between coaches and players built.
Sharing the weight of the goalscoring burden, with United’s reliance on McCormack bordering on the frightening for large parts of last season, is an obvious area Hockaday is seeking to address, with Leeds winning just three league games without the Scot’s predatory input last season.
As a former full-back with the likes of Blackpool, Hull City and Swindon Town, United’s defensive deficiencies – only five clubs conceded more Championship goals last term – is something which has understandably hasn’t escaped the notice of Hockaday either.
He said: “We finished 15th last year. That isn’t good enough for Leeds United. These players need help for want of a better term. My job is to help them help themselves as they are the ones who go out there.
“They are at Leeds United because they are talented and I have got to pull it all together, assess what I have got.
“It’s pretty obvious we concede too many goals. To be fair, you defend and attack as a team. Defensively we need to look at that. It isn’t rocket science.
“I don’t like conceding goals. The best form of defence is attack and if my team has possession the opposition are going to struggle to score if they haven’t got the ball.
“The training camp will give me two weeks where I can get to know the players and have one-to-one sessions with them as well.
“It’s not just about what they do on the field, it’s getting to know them what makes them tick off the field as well an finding the key to each individual.
“I should have a good idea within 15, 16, 17 days as to where we are. I will have a better idea once we come back from our camp in Italy.”