Clayton Donaldson was one of Uwe Rosler’s earliest signings at Brentford. The London club have a certain appeal these days but back then, in the summer of 2011, transfers required a harder sell.
“I didn’t know much about Brentford and I needed a bit of persuading,” Donaldson says.
“When I met (Rosler) he gave me these big ideas. He talked about a new direction where it wouldn’t be ‘little old Brentford’ any more. It would be ‘Brentford who were going places’.” And helped by Rosler’s input, they have.
If Brentford were in need of vision four years ago then Leeds United are no different now.
The appointment of Rosler as head coach at Elland Road is, at face value, a shift towards a plan and structure befitting a Championship club and the start of a bigger process.
A new club secretary – Stuart Hayton, recently employed in the same role at Liverpool – will follow him into Leeds and Rosler’s intended backroom team consists of an assistant, a first-team coach and a specialist head of recruitment. The success of that team depends as ever on Massimo Cellino’s willingness to let them work but there are signs at least of a delegation of authority by United’s unpredictable supremo.
Brentford have their own single-minded owner; professional gambler Matthew Benham whose statistical approach to professional football has ruffled feathers but delivered results, both in England and with FC Midtjylland, the club in Denmark where he is majority shareholder.
At a press conference at Elland Road last Wednesday, Rosler said Benham had chosen him as head coach in 2011 because Brentford had decided to “think outside the box.”
Donaldson thrived inside the box at Griffin Park and became increasingly influential in a style of football which the Germans (or Jurgen Klopp to be precise) call ‘heavy metal’; high intensity, rapid switches from defence to attack and a strategy dependent on pace. Donaldson scored 11 times in Rosler’s first season as manager and 24 times in his second – a campaign in which Brentford fell a missed penalty short of automatic promotion.
“We were always 4-3-3 at Brentford,” Donaldson says. “The style that suited the players who were there and (Rosler) knew that. We never played 3-5-2. I know he played that way quite a lot at Wigan but it wouldn’t have worked for us. We didn’t have the right squad.
“That’s pretty much how he thinks. He’ll look at the personnel and then he’ll work out what’s best for them. I don’t how it’ll go at Leeds but at Brentford there was lots of research and statistics. The owner there was big on stats. That’s how he made his money. In the time I played for them it gave us a really successful formula. We had a philosophy. The era that Brentford are in started with Uwe. I’d definitely say that.”
Donaldson, who left Brentford for Birmingham City last summer, says Rosler was a stickler for fitness and discipline – “that was fine by me, I agreed with him on that” – and other players who have worked with the German tell the same story.
Rosler did not go so far as describing himself as a disciplinarian last week but the 46-year-old said: “I like structure and to work under rules and responsibilities. I like to be clear to my employees and players about how we play and conduct with each other.
“You can call that discipline or good management. I don’t know. I just want people to judge me as a person; how I deal with people and how I deliver results.”
Results under him at Brentford were largely above criticism. When it went wrong for him at Wigan Athletic, leading to his dismissal in December of last year, people around the Lancashire spoke of a tense and unhappy mood in the dressing room.
“If you get on well with him then he’s one of the best people to be around,” Donaldson says. “If you cross a line or disrespect him then he’ll let you know.
“I can only speak about Brentford but when I was there, the players were very happy with his way of doing things. Yeah, he likes good discipline but it was more about him making us think that we wanted to be on that ride with him. It was a whole new change for us and it was good. The club’s still rising now.
“Sometimes new philosophies work and sometimes they go wrong but everyone was in the right frame of mind.”
Rosler’s plan to implement a 4-3-3 formation at Elland Road will require skilful work in the transfer market.
United’s squad is short of the pace at the front end of their team and arguably lacking the prolific striker needed to take advantage of it.
Rosler has two attacking, overlapping full-backs in Charlie Taylor and Sam Byram but both players finished this season as wingers.
Byram admitted this week that “right-back is my best position.”
United’s new boss will be at Thorp Arch this week to meet with staff and begin arranging pre-season friendlies and a training camp. Neil Redfearn, his predecessor as head coach, had planned a tour to Ireland this summer but Rosler has previously taken squads to Norway and Germany.
Leeds will allow him to organise his own programme.
“Pre-season was hard (at Brentford) but pre-season’s always hard,” Donaldson says. “I’ve done 12 or 13 pre-seasons and I’ve never had an easy one.
“It was nothing out of the ordinary – just very good and what you needed.
“Whatever Leeds United do he’ll have it all planned out because that’s how he works.”