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Leeds United: Grayson's year in the hot seat - Hay

On the afternoon when Simon Grayson left Blackpool to become Leeds United's manager, I made contact with Steve Walsh, his former Leicester City team-mate, for his opinion on the appointment.

Twelve months on, the club's choice can be justified in any number of ways, but at the time of the announcement it was a surprise, made by a club under pressure and who seemed prepared to go out on a limb.

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Grayson was a 20-1 shot until word spread amongst the football community and Victor Chandler were then buried under an avalanche of bets.

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Something of a risk? Walsh didn't think so.

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"I saw a lot of names mentioned when the position became available, some bigger names than Simon's with respect to him, but personally I'd go for track record every time," he said. "That's the mark of a good manager."

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More intriguing was Walsh's throwaway remark as he rang off.

"Remember," he said, "how many cheaper and easier options were out there. Someone's given this a lot of thought."

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It was that fact which made Grayson's appointment compelling. The more United's decision was analysed, the more it became apparent that the club's board had identified in him specific qualities that they were intent on finding, regardless of the cost and the complications involved.

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By no stretch was it a fashionable appointment.

At that point, Gustavo Poyet and Aidy Boothroyd were unemployed and viable candidates, coaches whose employment at Elland Road would have been straightforward to arrange.

Grayson, in contrast, was contracted to Blackpool and unlikely to be freed from that commitment without persistence and a payment of compensation.

In Karl Oyston, Blackpool possessed a chairman as single-minded and combative as Ken Bates and it was soon apparent that the matter of Grayson's departure from Bloomfield Road would result in a Football League tribunal.

As Walsh remarked, there were simpler options available, though not too many with a proven ability to win promotion from League One.

United have not looked back from their decision to prioritise that credential.

History will judge Grayson's record as a whole, as it does his predecessor Gary McAllister and every other manager of Leeds, but his first year in the job does not divide opinion.

These 12 months have restored to Elland Road a sense of purpose and direction that was sorely lacking when United thrust their reins into his hands on December 23.

Grayson saw the vacant position at Leeds as a glaring opportunity – "the next stage of my career," as he put it – but it was not, by any estimation, the ideal job on the day he accepted it.

As easy as it might be to assume that a vast number of pieces were in place and ready for him to work with, in reality, they were not. The club were in worrying shape, brought to their knees by a critical passage of results through December.

It is that starting point, as much as the league position United now hold, which credits Grayson's performance and that of his coaching staff.

It was only necessary to look at the expressions and the body language of the players in the hours after their defeat at MK Dons to appreciate their despondency and to understand the crisis of confidence that a new manager would be asked to deal with.

In leaving Blackpool, Grayson relinquished a position of relative comfort to take on a job that seemed precarious. It was, undoubtedly, a

risk.

What served him well initially and continues to do so, was his sense of pragmatism – an acceptance of the importance of results and a clear idea of how best to achieve them from a standing start.

Leeds, under Grayson, have not been an unattractive team but he has been consistently clear on the value of substance over style, on the need to restrain his opposition before attempting to decimate them.

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It was the return to basics and the fundamentals of football that Leeds needed and the bare statistics of his tenure are astounding – 56 games completed, 37 won and only eight lost. Ninety nine goals scored against 38 conceded. Exceptional in every way.

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Behind the figures are clear traits of Grayson's management: his consistent selection of players – something that seemed to satisfy a dressing room which lacked assurance when he first arrived – and his use of simple, effective formations. Moreover, he has an eye for the right substitutions, a talent displayed many times this season.

His record in the transfer market is also commendable and he could count on one hand the number of players who have come to Elland Road and disappointed.

Lee Trundle and Liam Dickinson might be the extent of that list, though Trundle could argue that his loan coincided with the most mixed period of Grayson's reign.

As for a player like Patrick Kisnorbo, his arrival on a free transfer was nothing short of a coup. League One is no stage for a defender of his calibre.

What strikes you about Grayson is his sense of satisfaction. In 12 months, he has never been heard to complain about his resources or to suggest that the transfer funds available to him are insufficient.

An acceptance of his lot appears to be ingrained and a manager of Leeds United needs that mindset.

It is natural when the club's stature, income and attendances are considered to look for money, but United have never sought to buy their way out of this division and were unlikely to do so with Grayson.

He has been supported financially, not least in the loan market, but his is still in essence a League One squad. As he discovered at Blackpool, that should not prove an insurmountable obstacle for a capable manager.

Looking back, the 40-year-old will see occasional flaws in his tapestry – a pivotal defeat at Hereford United and the loss to Millwall in last season's play-offs, incurred at the point when Leeds appeared to have peaked perfectly.

It will not be lost on him that United are in the same division as they were when he took charge or that promotion is imperative in May, for the good of the club and the security of his job. But as the league table shows, he is more than halfway to making it happen and you wonder if Grayson might benefit in the long term from a full season in this division.

There is always a risk of tempting fate at Elland Road, of presuming too much of managers and players who have much ground to cover and much left to achieve. Grayson would probably prefer to acknowledge his first anniversary with nothing more than a quiet toast.

That, according to former colleagues like Walsh, has always been his style – understated, considered and rational. It is those qualities which suggest that this relationship has some way to run.

 
 
 

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