DomINIC Matteo says Simon Grayson needs to improve his record in the transfer market if United are to go up.
Friday sees the publication of next season’s npower Championship fixture list.
It doesn’t seem like five minutes since Simon Grayson’s Leeds United were winding down their last campaign at Queens Park Rangers but I know the players will be looking forward to the announcement.
From the outside, the summer holiday never seems to last long for professional footballers.
In reality, seven or eight weeks away from the world of training, playing, training and playing is as much as you want.
Everyone needs a break but by the time the fixtures arrive, you’re already starting to click into gear again.
For me, I couldn’t wait to find out where and when we’d be playing certain teams.
At Leeds, the games against Manchester United were the first port of call.
Likewise at Liverpool, along with the Merseyside derbies. You’ll hear it said that no game is more important than any other but it doesn’t feel that way when you flick through the new schedule. As Leeds United captain, my eyes strayed immediately to the date of our visit to Old Trafford.
This time around, the players at Leeds will look straight away for the games against West Ham United.
They’ll also want to know when they’re up against Birmingham City. But as they take it all in, I’m sure they’ll be struck by the realisation of what a strong division the Championship should be next season.
There’s no doubt at all that getting out of the league will take a mammoth effort.
It was widely assumed that the strength of competition would improve this summer and now that the 24 teams are known I can say with some certainty that it has. What threw the Championship open last term was the financial strain at Hull City and Portsmouth and Burnley’s mediocre start. On this occasion, you’ve got two decent clubs coming up in Nigel Adkins’ Southampton and Brighton, managed by ex-Leeds assistant boss, Gus Poyet, and three extremely strong candidates coming down in West Ham, Birmingham and Blackpool.
All three of the relegated clubs should be prominent and dangerous.
Dropping from the Premier League feels devastating at the time but it needn’t be the end of the world. Newcastle United proved that in 2009-10.
What happened at St James’ Park is a perfect example for the likes of West Ham and Birmingham – an example of what can happen and how quickly a club can recover if they keep the faith, hang on to some of their better players and throw everything at an immediate promotion.
West Ham have money issues but they’ll have a go next season, big time.
The appointment of Sam Allardyce as manager tells you that. Any concerns they have about their future would be multiplied by a second season in the Championship, and returning to the Premier League is a first step towards proper stability.
Cutting back drastically and limiting their chances is a bit of a false economy for a club as big as West Ham or a club as big as Birmingham.
It is, after all, amazing to see what promotion can do. Newcastle, suddenly, are not the crisis-hit side they were a short while ago.
Where Leeds are concerned, I still think back to the play-off final in 2006 and think what a massive, massive moment that was in their recent history.
How different the last five years would have been were it not for that lame defeat to Watford. They’ve paid a huge price for one single, dire result.
Where Blackpool are concerned, promotion is probably less of a necessity. They can exist comfortably in the Championship. But they appear to have looked after their money and they’re bound to be a threat to the play-off positions at least. In short, you cannot write them off.
All of which leaves me wondering how Leeds United will fare. It’s a little too early to judge their prospects and say for certain if they can do better than seventh place but my own opinion is that plenty of work will need to be done in July and August to put them in firm contention.
Everything depends on the standard of their signings and, as I’ve said before in this column, Simon Grayson’s record in the transfer market is not as good as it needs to be.
He’ll certainly want this batch of summer signings to be more effective en masse than the last. But at this stage, I wouldn’t feel at all confident of listing Leeds among the contenders for automatic promotion.
The one bonus as I see it is that the players finished last season with a sense of disappointment. They should have done better than seventh place and they knew it. I honestly think that will help them. Rolling into the summer on the back of a mid-table position doesn’t always leave fire in your belly. Sitting at home while the play-offs are on, realising that you should have been involved, tends to stir your ambition.
If I was part of that squad, I’d be itching to get back for the start of pre-season training.
When the summer comes around, most players take three or four weeks of total rest and then start conditioning themselves again. Clubs are so professional these days that they tend to hand out fitness regimes before their squads disappear on holiday.
Of course the break can feel short but anyone complaining should look at Lionel Messi – winning the European Cup one minute, flying out to the Copa America the next. The days off last forever when you retire. Until then, enjoy the football.
lMy initial reaction on hearing that Alex McLeish had left Birmingham City for Aston Villa was ‘how will he walk the streets?’ Then I remembered that he used to be manager of Rangers.
Let’s be honest, if you can handle the rivalry of the Old Firm without too much trouble then you’re probably capable of crossing the Birmingham divide.
He’ll have upset plenty of people and made a few enemies by walking out of St Andrews but he clearly knows how to look after himself.
Some will accuse him of disloyalty and others will say that this sort of switch should always be off-limits. I’ve never really shared that attitude.
As much as I understand where some of the fans are coming from (on both sides of the fence), the fact that he’s willing to suffer so much criticism and anger tells you how ambitious he is. And what does a club want if not an ambitious manager?
The truth is this – Aston Villa are a bigger and more prestigious club than Birmingham, with a better history, larger crowds and arguably more potential.
Locally, it’s a controversial step. For someone like me who’s detached from all that, it looks like a sensible decision.
When all’s said and done I don’t think he’ll regret it.