Softly Softly: Former United striker Noel Whelan says Darko Milanic is starting his reign from a position of strength. Phil Hay reports.
Milanic talked of imposing “ideas” and “changes” on United’s squad but in his own time and at his own pace. Noel Whelan thinks the club’s new head coach would be wise to let continuity flow at Brentford. “This isn’t the time to rock the boat,” the former Leeds striker said.
Whelan watched his old club take Huddersfield Town apart last Saturday and described the performance at Elland Road as “the best Leeds have played for longer than I can remember.” He liked the interplay in midfield, the variety up front and the attacking abandon shown by United, even with 10 men and a 3-0 lead.
Tomorrow he expects Milanic to pick up the baton and run with it.
The Slovenian has had a handful of training sessions to prepare and will seek his first victory at Griffin Park, a stadium where Leeds have rarely played and rarely won. The crossbar kept out Luciano Becchio and Jermaine Beckford on their last visit, back in 2009. “It’s my first challenge,” said Milanic on Wednesday.
It was pointed out several times this week that Milanic had the advantage of acquiring a side who are blending together nicely after three wins from four games. “That means that I won’t make any big changes,” Milanic told a Slovenian newspaper yesterday.
“It’s usually the other way round,” Whelan said. “Normally a job comes up because players are struggling and the manager’s been sacked. The next coach gets the mess to deal with.
“That was the case when (David) Hockaday left and back then you’d have understood anyone ripping the team up and changing it about. But it would be wrong for (Milanic) to do that at Brentford and he’s experienced enough to realise that this Leeds team isn’t broken.
“The players were so dominant against Huddersfield and that’s the best Leeds have played for longer than I can remember.
“The movement and inter-changing in midfield was fantastic and the lads up top were dangerous. You had to admire the way they took every opportunity to attack, even when they’d had a player sent off and even when time was basically up.
“I felt a buzz around the place on Saturday and I can’t say it’s felt like that very often in the past few years.
“These are good times at the moment. Milanic will feel that. I don’t see him rocking the boat.”
Milanic is compelled to make at least one change to United’s line-up tomorrow with right-back Gaetano Berardi suspended, and he said that his initial training session on Tuesday had focused on United’s defensive shape.
The 46-year-old was an international centre-back in his day, capped by Yugoslavia and Slovenia and influential at both Partizan Belgrade and Sturm Graz, but he promised “dangerous” football at Leeds and “good possession”.
“Of the candidates for the job, I think most people – most supporters – had their minds fixed on other coaches,” Whelan said.
“Milanic wasn’t someone we knew much about and I don’t think he even figured in the betting.
“But it’s the owner’s (Massimo Cellino’s) choice and this guy does have a good track record.
“Sturm Graz are a very decent outfit and Maribor are a good club too. You see them in Europe a lot.
“From my point of view I think it’s fair choice.
“He’s new to England but he’s taking on a side who’ve been playing well and looked full of confidence against Huddersfield.
“That’s got to help. It lets him hit the ground running and if he gets a good result tomorrow, the transition will be underway already.”
Huddersfield was Neil Redfearn’s last game as caretaker of Leeds.
United’s academy boss handed the squad over to Milanic on Tuesday but not before suggesting that the squad at Elland Road – in trouble last month but suddenly more in tune and in shape – had the potential to make the Championship play-offs.
Milanic played down their chances this week and has already been told that Financial Fair Play rules will most likely see a transfer embargo imposed on Leeds in January.
“The key thing for Leeds is going to be injuries,” Whelan said.
“When they’re in form a lot of these players look impressive and in truth, the squad is pretty big. But it doesn’t look like they’ll be signing anyone in January so it’ll be long, hard season.
“I just think it’s encouraging to be talking about that sort of potential.
“Put it this way, I wouldn’t rule Leeds out of the top six.
It’ll be a big stretch to get there but I’m positive. Milanic must be too.
“He wouldn’t be leaving Sturm Graz and coming here for nothing”