December brings Garry Monk another manager-of-the-month nomination and at Leeds United it gets no better. Three monthly awards in 12-and-a-half years is some record, immune to even the law of averages. There was a brief time when the Football League peppered Dennis Wise with trophies, offering olive branches which the ever-cheerful Wise wanted to snap, but Leeds last saw the manager-of-the-month award six years ago.
Monk lost out to Rafael Benitez in October and it might be that he loses out to Chris Hughton when the Football League announces December’s winner tomorrow. Brighton are moving like a train and top of the Championship after five straight wins, one of which accounted for Leeds. Their form is goading Newcastle into uncharacteristic defeats. But two mid-season appearances on the shortlist is a measure of where Monk is at: exerting himself bit by bit and month by month. His nominations say this appointment has worked.
It has worked in the context of the timescales Leeds live by. Coaches before Monk were judged on tiny windows of performance; months at best, weeks at worst and without the benefit of a sustained track record in the job. Monk stands to become the club’s longest-serving boss under Massimo Cellino in mid-February, with a win ratio beyond compare. Leeds have craved a manager who could get them promoted but before that they needed a manager who could ride what Monk calls the “tidal wave” of mayhem coming in their direction. The thought of clearing that was why he was willing to entertain Cellino’s interest in the summer. He must think that he is over it now.
Leeds tied Monk to what they called a 12-month rolling deal in June, in theory ensuring that he was permanently committed for the year ahead. Under those terms, Monk should currently be under contract until January 2018 but Leeds announced the agreement of ‘rolling contacts’ with two of his predecessors, Steve Evans and Neil Redfearn. What the club actually offered were deals to the end of the season with the option of a second year in charge. There is a subtle difference and that difference was the reason why Cellino was free to replace both coaches at the end of their initial spells. The option to extend gave the impression that Cellino wasn’t quite sure about either of them.
Perhaps he felt that way about Monk in June. And perhaps, with Andrea Radrizzani’s investment coming to fruition, decisions of that nature will fall to others. Radrizzani’s backing of Monk yesterday was as clear as you wanted it to be. But amid the conversations about Pontus Jansson’s clause, Pablo Hernandez’s loan and prospective signings before the end of this transfer window there has been precious little talk of Monk himself. Leeds cannot help but admire the music coming from their dressing room and it would be remiss to manage the orchestra’s contracts without involving the conductor in that process. That Monk is too modest to see United’s season in terms of his own performance is neither here nor there.
In his case, his performance is not simply about results. It is about the way in which he has pulled together a team who, in the nicest possible sense, had their share of waifs and strays in August. Even among the squad Monk inherited there was barely a player, Charlie Taylor aside, who came out of last season in good form. Leeds hooked Pablo Hernandez back from Qatar and Rob Green was without a club when he signed in July. Kyle Bartley, in Monk’s own words, was due a season like the season he is having. As signings went, Pontus Jansson was the one – the deal which fashioned a bond with the crowd – but even he was surplus at his parent club. Torino were happy to let him go. And in all, the net spend was very marginal. On reflection, this squad with very few exceptions were in Leeds with the hope of finding direction. Monk is making his job look like Championship Manager but it could not be further removed in this league.
Monk is unlikely to press his own case for a new contract. Leeds are paying him well by the standards of his predecessors and he has taken no interest in politics at Elland Road. Moreover, the threat of losing him on account of his record is diminished by the blatant reluctance of Premier League clubs to dip into the Championship for managers. Performance in England’s second division carries an inexplicably low currency. Gary Rowett was touted for the Swansea City job but that gig was always going elsewhere. Since Swansea sacked Monk they have dabbled with Francesco Guidolin (something of a nomad in Italy) and Bob Bradley (something of a nomad across the globe). Paul Clement might have coached Derby County but you suspect that Swansea were seduced by his Bayern Munich connections when they appointed him this week. Does anyone care that Hughton’s Brighton have lost seven league games in 18 months?
The realist in Monk will tell him that there is only one way back to the Premier League and that he is already at a club who are worth getting there with. But from Leeds’ perspective, an improved deal for him is like the permanent signing of Jansson: a case of the image the club want to promote. Jansson’s transfer is necessary because his form is superb but it is also necessary because Leeds have no excuse for letting the option to sign him hang in the air. The fact that United are well protected in that deal, or that the option will still be there in June, is immaterial. The same goes for Monk. He is head coach to the end of the season and presumably beyond but the club can dare to look further down the line. It does not take a manager of the month nomination to prove that Monk has earned their faith.