IT IS not that Uwe Rosler was the right man for Leeds United. It is not that his 12 games as head coach were anything special.
It is not even that he held the confidence of the crowd as Elland Road emptied on Saturday afternoon.
What Rosler’s demise proves is that this job with this owner has the capacity to eat anyone. It might swallow the average coach under any owner but with Massimo Cellino staring down, the position is poison. Rosler’s record in management has good patches, bad patches and much in between - more than 200 games in the Football League - but even he could not survive three months of the season. Which begs the question: who in this industry can?
Steve Evans? Evans is taking the ball and chain from Rosler and Cellino will make complimentary noises about him because in these moments of crises, Cellino always does. The Italian insulted David Hockaday’s appearance but tried to talk up his ability as a coach. Better than the last man, in other words, or at least for a few weeks. As Cellino said of Rosler last month: “This coach is the best person for me and the team. I like him more than any other coach I had here before.”
There was more than a grain of truth in that. In their short time as head coach last season, Cellino in private was disparaging about Hockaday and Darko Milanic. Rosler he liked or liked to a point and even last week there was a definite sense of the Italian trying to force himself to ride out the rut Leeds were in. He called Rosler “professional” and admired his attitude - albeit while wondering at times if the 46-year-old was focused and obsessive to a fault.
Rosler loves analysis and values statistics. It was and is the basis of his approach as a coach. People who saw him work at Thorp Arch had never seen a manager hold so many meetings, video sessions and such like. Press conferences moved from Thursdays to Fridays because Rosler’s schedule on a Thursday was packed. The no-stone-unturned approach was Rosler’s way.
Cellino worried that the intensity might constrain the players; blind them with science and restrict their ability to play freely. It should be said that no player ever said as much, or not to any of us in the press. Whether that swayed Cellino’s decision to sack Rosler is impossible to say, even with the benefit of an explanation from United’s owner. He told the YEP today that he “didn’t like what I saw in the future.”
Eighteen months of Massimo Cellino - so often fraught, so often on the edge - have created an environment where no-one believes that much of what happens at Elland Road is based on logic or sound thinking. The irony of Rosler departing after 12 games, much as United’s form did nothing to protect him, is that he was supposed to be the line in the sand. Rosler’s appointment, the recruitment which followed it and the sensible process of the summer and pre-season was more in line with the workings of normal professional clubs. This latest development, and the worryingly hasty leap to bring Evans on board, is solely in line with Cellino’s traditions.
It is true all the same that Rosler was at the stage of looking to his owner for a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. His reign was not in rude health and grumbling among supporters was very audible over the weekend. Granted, Leeds’ performance against Brighton was better than a few which had gone before but some of what occurred last month was not difficult to improve on. There were pivotal moments on Saturday, all of which ran in Brighton’s favour: the bad misses from Chris Wood and the injury to Liam Cooper which left United a man short.
“That is what you get when you’re in the lower part of the league,” Rosler said. It certainly is. But being in the lower part of the league was the result of a bad second month and that spell fell at his door.
When managers lose their way it is easy to find fault with everything: too inflexible, too negative, too insistent on certain tactics, unable to bring about quick or drastic change. In certain matches Rosler invited those accusations but he goes into the list of coaches we never really got to know. Whether the season as a whole would have painted a more positive picture of him is difficult to say. He was running short of players and entering a crucial periods of fixtures with pressure on him. But there was no opportunity to demonstrate his backbone or to vindicate his appointment over time.
This failure will hurt Rosler. He rarely spoke about Wigan Athletic or why exactly it went sour for him there but it was always clear that the experience aggrieved him. A quietly ambitious man, it seemed to irk him that half of his time at Wigan was being used to smear his record as a whole. This period looks worse again: 12 games, two wins and a depressingly short reign with a squad which should have something about it. The only consolation is that no-one seems to last here. Not even Neil Redfearn, with form on his side in the second half of last season, could escape the clutch of creeping death.
Redfearn went to Rotherham a week ago after Rotherham parted company with Evans. Evans comes to Leeds and will host Redfearn’s Rotherham at Elland Road next month. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy rewritten for the Championship. How long it lasts for Evans before he takes a bullet through the wire fence is easy enough to guess. Rosler’s replacement will be Cellino’s sixth head coach in 18 months - more than enough to justify the ridicule that comes the way of a club who besmirch their history by leaving themselves open to it. Evans has a past conviction for tax evasion. No-one is making this up.
Evans’ appearance at Thorp Arch this morning makes you wonder when Cellino started speaking to him. If conversations commenced after Rosler was sacked last night then this hardly looks like a considered move. Evans has a track record. He got Rotherham promoted from League One, though they were stuck in the Championship’s bottom three when he left. And to listen to his regular mentions of Leeds, this is a job he always fancied. Perhaps Cellino felt the need to act with haste ahead of a run of games which is utterly critical but alternatives were out there. If this appointment fails the club are in deep trouble. Of that we can be certain, if not a lot else.
In his own words: Steve Evans on Leeds United
After Kieran Agard’s rejected a move to Leeds United and joined Bristol City, August 2014.
“Wow. I’m surprised. Wow. In terms of Leeds United, when you drop a division and go to Bristol City instead, and this is no disrespect to Bristol City, I’m surprised. I find it surprising you would turn down a household, worldwide name like Leeds United and go to Bristol City. I’m surprised he would turn down a club like Leeds with their profile and fan base and historical values. You could go to Africa and say ‘Leeds’ and people would know Leeds United.”
On Massimo Cellino, August 2014
“If you are a Dave Hockaday, Darko Milanic or whoever you are - if you take the job under Massimo you know the rules. He picks the players, you coach the players.
“My interest is (Rotherham United) and I pick the players, whether they come, whether they go, and our chairman supports that. The minute he doesn’t support it, I go. That would be the way it works here and I get fantastic support..
“But if you work for Massimo Cellino, you coach the players and get the results from the players he brings in or you pay with your job. That’s the way it is.
“He has had to put millions of investment into that football club and they do it in that way. I have nothing but respect for the guy. If you put the money he has put into a football club, if that’s your model, you’re entitled to do it.”
On Neil Redfearn, May 2015.
“It was a touching moment when I heard the fans singing Neil’s name at the end. If those fans could Sellotape or glue somebody to the managers’ chair, it would be Neil. I sincerely hope the powers above him don’t go down the road of bringing in another self-proclaimed ‘top-class manager’ when they have got Neil Redfearn in the building. I have known him for a lot of years and know what he stands for.”