The artist, Henry Moore, used to say that resolutions for a single day were easier to cope with than resolutions for a whole year. It’s a policy for Leeds United to live by.
But January is the time for vows and commitments so here are some thoughts on what the Elland Road club need in 2015:
1) Neil Redfearn in charge until at least the end of the season
Full-time control of United’s squad has not been the picnic his time as caretaker was but some genuine commitment to a head coach at Leeds is long overdue. The club employed four different bosses in 2014 and it’s hard to imagine that any other team in the world, let alone the country, went through coaching staff at such breakneck speed. Aside from anything else, the financial cost of so many changes is ludicrous and it’s ironic that a club who know a quick fix is beyond them keep trying to find one. This is developing into a hard paper-round for Redfearn and both his man-management and his tactical nous – not least in respect to finding alternatives to the midfield diamond – will be keenly tested in the second half of the season. But can United or their squad really take another new broom? And is it healthy that since Massimo Cellino’s takeover, managers and head coaches are making hard work of taking their competitive matches in charge into double figures? Redfearn is yet to set Leeds on fire but he’s the sort of coach Cellino will always go for and he’s shown touches of potential. The problem is not him.
2) An end to the pursuit of Massimo Cellino, one way or the other
If Cellino wins his appeal against Football League disqualification – his hearing is scheduled for January 15 – then the Football League should concede defeat in its bid to oust him from Elland Road. The crux of his appeal is likely to call into question the validity of the League’s rules on ownership anyway. If he loses, Cellino must accept that he is in a seriously compromised position; at risk of being banned by the governing body over and over again if other tax charges against him in Italy stick. In short, Leeds cannot have an owner who is repeatedly found to be non-compliant, and far too much time is being devoted to the process of fighting the League and disputing its regulations. Unless we are heading for an almighty fudge, someone is going to have to roll over for the good of the club and its health. It’s 11 months now since Cellino first agreed his takeover, nine since he was convicted of tax evasion in Cagliari and eight since he formally bought United. Leeds could lose years to this unprecedented squabble.
3) The addition of a Championship backbone to their squad
There is one actual consequence of United’s January transfer embargo: the upper limit of £600,000 a year in salary costs that Leeds can pay to new signings this month. That figure is the equivalent of more than £11,000 a week, an amount which opens certain doors but closes many others, particularly among surplus Premier League players who are open to the idea of moving to the Championship. In the circumstances it’s easier (and considerably cheaper) for Leeds to look abroad for signings of the ilk of Leonardo Pavoletti and Rene Krhin – and those deals might have some merit – but the club are in danger of pursuing a path which has not served them well this season. Would Charlie Adam or someone like him not exceed the impact of an import like Krhin? It was notable on Tuesday that a Derby midfield containing John Eustace (now 35) had the wit to drag County through a cold and fairly uninspired night at Pride Park. Even Watford, for all their reliance on the Italian leagues, continue to litter their squad with Deeneys, Gomeses, McGugans and Bassongs. Signing English isn’t necessarily the answer. Signing players who know the country’s upper divisions might be.
4) A strong run in January and February
The next two months are where the season is likely to be won and lost. After Sunderland tomorrow, Leeds meet Bolton, Birmingham, Huddersfield, Millwall and Brighton in the space of nine league fixtures. It goes without saying that at least one of those clubs is probably going down. That passage of games will be highly pressurised but it gives United the chance to move themselves a good distance from harm’s way and keep out of trouble in the closing weeks of the season. United go to Sheffield Wednesday on the penultimate weekend and host Rotherham United on the very last day. There is no appetite whatsoever for anything to be riding on either of those derbies.
5) Nerve and fight in adverse circumstances
Redfearn is right when he says that Leeds don’t need any in-fighting or back-biting. As a caveat, he might also concede that his side need to play better than they did at Derby to prevent the mood turning seriously sour. In fairness to the club’s support, their commitment is holding up. Attendances at Elland Road are only marginally down on last season and the away crowds have been solid. Teams who win relegation battles tend to make a good job of fighting their league rather than fighting amongst themselves, and Leeds have found in the past that they invariably wither badly when factions start turning on each other. That said, results keep a club up and results come down to the nerve and attitude of the dressing room. With the die cast the existing squad will earn themselves kudos by showing that, as fraught and demoralising as their predicament is, they’re game for it.