Ady Williams’ impression of Brian McDermott at Reading was of a man who liked building foundations.
When McDermott says that he wants Leeds United present and correct from bottom to top, Williams believes him. “Foundations are a big thing for Brian,” he says. “If it all goes well you’ll see a different club in a year’s time.”
Williams is less sure about the prospect of Leeds finding a way into the Premier League in the coming 12 months. A former Reading defender who knows McDermott well, he wonders if the 52-year-old’s first season as United manager might be a season of transition. McDermott himself has said nothing of promotion and nothing of timescales. His general message is primarily about progress.
The concern for Williams when McDermott took charge was that Elland Road was not quite the stable environment it needed to be. McDermott took charge in April with Leeds in the grip of a Championship relegation fight. At the time there were clear indications that the club’s new owner, GFH Capital, was pursuing the sale of a majority stake in United. It was not inconceivable that McDermott would be working for different bosses next season.
But talk of reshuffles in the boardroom has quietened to a whisper in the past month, leaving Leeds’ manager to implement his plans for the year ahead. Matt Smith became his first signing five days ago when he accepted a free transfer from Oldham Athletic. He was one name on a lenghty list of targets.
Williams told the YEP: “I don’t have any worries about Brian managing Leeds. He’s ideal for a club like that – a club with an academy, a good training ground, the lot. He’ll want to build from the bottom up because that’s his way.
“The concerns I had were about what’s going on at the top of the club. It didn’t seem like everything was perfect when Brian took the job and you automatically ask questions about stability and the budget he’ll have. I asked myself whether he’d get the support he needed.
“His first season will be very interesting. When you’re a winner like Brian is – and his record at Reading tells you he is – then you go for promotion every time. I can’t see him thinking any differently. But if I’m using my head over my heart, maybe he’ll need next season for the purpose of transition and bit of steady building, with the aim of have a really big push the following season.
“I don’t know whether the supporters up there would accept that but steady building really worked for Reading. It was the right way. I kind of feel that the bottom line for Brian will be to make sure that whatever happens, his team are a work in progress who look like they’re developing.”
The signing of Smith could be the first of up to seven completed by McDermott this summer. The 24-year-old striker comes slightly unheralded, his FA Cup exploits with Oldham aside, but he is not unlike several of the players bought or lined up for transfers during McDermott’s long period of employment with Reading.
McDermott was the chief scout who recommended Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and Gylfi Sigurdsson to Reading and Williams – a Royals player in two different spells between 1989 and 2004 – has seen first-team representation of the club’s academy increase markedly in the past few years.
“I wouldn’t say someone like Matt Smith is a typical McDermott signing,” Williams says, “but it’s the sort of signing he’s not afraid to make.
“Two of his last three buys at Reading were from Crawley Town and Sheffield United so I think it’s safe to say that he’s more interested in the player than the club.
“I’d use Charlie Austin as an example of someone who came into the Football League relatively cheap and keeps on scoring a bucket-load of goals. The point about Austin is that the manager who took him to Swindon in the first place did his homework and scouted him properly. Brian will have done the same with Matt Smith.
“But more impressive for me is the progress of the academy players at Reading. You’ had Hal Robson-Kanu, Alex McCarthy, Alex Pearce all playing in the Premier League last season. If you’ve got a good academy then it’s a nonsense not to use it and it’s common knowledge that Leeds have a very good academy.”
McDermott’s controversial sacking by Reading in March was instigated by their Russian owner, Anton Zingarevich, who subsequently criticised his departing manager’s transfer policies, despite the common belief that McDermott had little in the way of funds in January.
Williams said: “The fact that he was out of the game for about a month tells its own story. He’s a top manager and a manager who players relate to. In his three years in charge of Reading I’d struggle to name half a dozen players who didn’t like him or didn’t get on with him.
“I think he sees his relationship players as a personal thing as well as professional. He treated Shane Long like a son. The one thing you won’t get at Leeds is trouble in the dressing room. Rest assured of that.