If you dare to get into football management, the first thing you should realise is that you’ll be judged on results before anything else.
When results disappoint, people then start to focus on your signings. They look at those you’ve paid money for and those you’ve taken on loan. They talk about how well you can pick a player and how well you know the market.
If your signings fail too, attention switches to your style of play. Supporters can generally put up with unspectacular football so long as they’re watching a team who turn in consistent performances and win games regularly but a manager’s style is the third point of attack in bad or disappointing times.
The problem for Brian McDermott is that he doesn’t really tick any of those three boxes at the moment. Leeds United’s results aren’t great, to say the least, and I don’t think even McDermott would pretend that many of his signings have worked out yet. And as the defeat to Nottingham Forest on Easter Monday showed, the style and tactics of the current squad are unlikely to win him many admirers.
This isn’t my way of saying that McDermott should be sacked. It’s more a way of explaining why I wouldn’t be surprised if Massimo Cellino decides to let him go before the start of next season.
The reasons for keeping McDermott aren’t so dissimilar to the reasons for keeping David Moyes at Manchester United – stability, a fair chance to get it right and a decent track record behind him.
But Manchester United clearly reached the conclusion that Moyes’ performance in his 10 months as manager offered little in the way of guarantees about how he would fare in season two, three, four, five or six. In and amongst any promising signs, the owners at Old Trafford obviously saw plenty to be worried about. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling; the instinct telling you to make a change. When clubs sack managers, they step into the unknown. Some of them get it wrong. With the season basically over, I’d assume that discussions are going on behind the scenes at Leeds and I can well imagine how McDermott will pitch himself to Cellino.
He’ll be telling the Italian that a year ago he took on a squad who were going down. That squad was put together by Neil Warnock and it hasn’t changed that much. McDermott’s made a fair few signings, some of which really haven’t done well, but you can’t call it a massive overhaul.
McDermott might be able to convince Cellino that another year was always going to be needed to shake the squad from top to bottom. Cellino might actually agree with him. And if we’re being fair in judging McDermott, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he was allowed to prove himself in a season without the huge, mitigating circumstances he’s had to deal with.
The attempted sacking of him in January was ludicrous and Leeds were a shambles for months. But that doesn’t take the argument away from performances and results. They haven’t been good enough and not by a long shot so the onus is on McDermott to convince Cellino that he can do much better second time around. If he can’t win that argument, you’d expect Cellino to take a different tack.
Some supporters will want McDermott to stay. Others will want him to go. But deep down, what all of them need is the outline of a vision for the future; a proper picture of how the club is going to operate under Cellino. He’s been on a charm offensive since buying the club but on the playing side we’re none the wiser about what he intends to do. What I want to see is a philosophy – this is how we’re going to play season after season, these are the sort of signings we’re going to invest in and trust, this is the manager (or coach) who’s going to run the show and this is our timescale for getting into the Premier League.
I know we’ve been here before many, many times but I actually think the supporters would buy into that. I genuinely think they’d be happy to back a project if they felt that it was properly conceived and actually taking the team forward.
It really comes down to one man: Cellino. Whatever he decides, it’s important everyone supports his decisions. Because whether the manager goes or not, this is much, much bigger than a discussion about McDermott. It’s a discussion about the whole football club.