Phil Hay: Leeds United will gain more if Redfearn can focus solely on Academy

Neil Redfearn
Neil Redfearn
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Neil Redfearn to York City was finished before it began.

York thought about him but never interviewed him and Redfearn didn’t want the job. At no stage was Massimo Cellino in his ear, reminding Redfearn that the proverbial grass is greener and plusher round here, my friend.

It may come to that in due course and if Leeds United’s academy boss ever decides that the world is bigger than Thorp Arch, the club cannot say they were caught on the hop. He likes his job – adores it, really – but Redfearn wants to manage. In the end most coaches catch that bug.

His next move depends on time, place and luck. Well-regarded or not, Redfearn is in a busy, changeable market. York weren’t his bag and he, seemingly, wasn’t theirs. He was touted as Barnsley’s next manager last month with his stock rising and Danny Wilson trudging through mud but Wilson has taken Barnsley in hand again. Prospects are not the same as promises.

Jobs on offer one day vanish the next and no-one can say where Redfearn will be this time next year, least of all him. In terms of kudos, his chance of a managerial post elsewhere is at its peak while thoughts of his four games as caretaker of Leeds are fresh. It is also the period when Leeds are most at risk of losing him.

Cellino is resistant to the idea of Redfearn moving on but it would be prudent on his part to prepare for that end-game. The only upside of speculation about United’s academy manager is that the club won’t be ambushed by approaches for him. York have seen to that and so to a lesser degree have Barnsley. The interest is there, plain and unambiguous.

Reading fought their corner and fought it successfully when Cellino had a nibble Eamonn Dolan, their own head of youth development, in June but they were not anticipating a phone call from Leeds. They dealt with it by setting a high price for Dolan, warding Cellino off and keeping their coaching structure intact but only Reading and the board there know what contingency plan was in place, if any.

On Dolan’s watch, Reading’s academy has become a genuine centre of excellence and an example to many. In the lower leagues the same can be said of the output at Thorp Arch. Academy work is skilled and complex – more complex now that the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) sets specific targets for grading and funding – and handling the flow between multiple age groups is specialist’s job. Redfearn is one and Dolan is another. Reading were so set on keeping Dolan that they told Cellino to either pay more than £500,000 or leave them in peace. Skilled youth-team coaches are worth that much.

Cellino has seen the supply from United’s academy and he will realise that it is too good and too consistent for the club to neglect it. Redfearn thinks the age categories below the development squad and the Under-18s are more intriguing and promising than even those two groups, and on the basis of players pushed into the senior squad by him, you can take him at his word. So if Redfearn goes – and people do – then Leeds need another version of him. In the circumstances it would do no harm to have a shortlist in place already.

In the meantime he has a job to do and a job that ought not to be complicated by vague or token involvement with the first team. Darko Milanic’s request to Redfearn to join him in the dug-out at Rotherham last night – made on Tuesday, a day after York’s interest in Redfearn became public – could be seen as a concession to a man who United are worried about losing or undervaluing but Cellino asked the two men to work closely from the start. It wasn’t his intention to isolate Redfearn; merely to appoint someone else as head coach.

Redfearn wanted that post last month and Milanic got it. He might regret or resent Cellino’s decision but he has to accept it. Milanic is a qualified coach with enough weight behind him to merit his appointment. What Redfearn had over him was results on the job at Elland Road but that was true of almost everyone, with the exception of Simon Grayson. The club is Cellino’s and Cellino pays for the right to have his way.

Redfearn declined to attend United’s game at Rotherham last night, just as he distanced himself from the touchline for Milanic’s first three fixtures in charge. He was wary of being a hinderance to Milanic; of creating a presence which bothered the Slovenian and denied him the space to do as he pleased.

Milanic has an assistant, Novica Nikcevic, and three in the technical area can be a crowd. It comes down to the attitude of the man in charge. At Leeds, Neil Warnock was a manager who left much of the coaching to Mick Jones and Ronnie Jepson. Redfearn, like Jepson, worked as first-team coach under Brian McDermott but McDermott was a coach at heart and liked to live on the training field. Between him and his assistant, Nigel Gibbs, the sessions and the drills were covered. Redfearn contributed without exerting real influence game-to-game. Milanic and Nikcevic are similarly hands-on.

What Leeds want between Milanic and Redfearn is dialogue, trust, co-operation and support. They rub along well but Redfearn has no input in first-team training during the week so his presence on matchdays is moot. Milanic doesn’t need him in the dug-out. He knows it and Redfearn knows it. Agreeing on that should help them both. Academy manager, Redfearn’s job title says, and Leeds will gain more from leaving him to it than flattering him with contrived offers of promotion.

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