United’s former manager said too much at Elland Road had “come up short” this season and called for Leeds to move swiftly on deciding the future of existing players with the Championship play-offs effectively out of reach.
The club are eight games away from the end of their campaign and the focus at Elland Road is switching to close-season recruitment following a failed attempt to keep Leeds at the top end of the table during Andrea Radrizzani’s first year as owner.
A seventh-placed finish in the 2016-17 term was followed by a busy summer in which Leeds made 14 first-team signings but lost Chris Wood, Rob Green and loanee Kyle Bartley. United’s form has deserted them since Christmas and the club will resume this season after the international break on Friday placed 14th in the Championship.
Rodrigo makes 'sleeping' Leeds United admission and declares action plan after Whites punishment
Leeds United in ‘talks’ with MLS star as Man Utd eye deal for Whites goalkeeper
Defiant Ralph Hasenhuttl offers Leeds United apology after Southampton score draw
Jesse Marsch reveals extent of Patrick Bamford and Joe Gelhardt's Leeds United injuries
Southampton 2 Leeds United 2: Player ratings as attackers shine but frailties cost Whites
Paul Heckingbottom, United’s new head coach, has already indicated a wish for domestic recruits by targeting Barnsley full-back Andy Yiadom, who is out of contract at the end of June and who played under Heckingbottom at Oakwell. Gray said the club’s results in the second half of the term should encourage a change in strategy.
“There’s talent in this squad but there’s a difference between having the talent to look good at certain points in games and having the talent to actually win games,” Gray said. “Talent’s about end product and that’s where I think this squad have been found wanting. The substance isn’t there.
“The team concede a lot of goals and don’t score enough goals and you have to ask if there are enough seasoned players who you can rely on in the Championship. A lack of pace is a problem but I felt the game at Millwall in September was a big wake-up call. It was 1-0 but it could have been 5-0 and the players don’t cope well in games like that.
“When teams battle, we struggle. It’s okay wanting flair in your team and that’s maybe what gets you over the line but you won’t get anywhere in the Championship if you can’t dig out results.
“Wolves do that when they have to. It’s part of the reason why they’re top of the league.
“The way this season has gone, the club need to think seriously about where they go from here. I don’t think they can afford to think in the same way otherwise next season will be the same. Players need to come in but not just players of a similar calibre. You have to be honest about that.”
Gray echoed recent comments made by Radrizzani suggesting Leeds had overloaded their first-team squad with almost 20 arrivals since the end of last season.
Around £7m was spent in January on Laurens De Bock, Adam Forshaw and Tyler Roberts, taking the size of the senior squad close to 30, including senior professionals who are out on loan. And Gray said: “There are too many here who aren’t going to make an impact here and now.
“The squad needs to be smaller and the average player needs to be better. The club went for quantity and without being disrespectful, there are too many who haven’t shown enough quality. The results and the performances don’t lie. They suggest there’s some major work needed.”
Heckingbottom is eight games into his reign as head coach, brought in by Radrizzani after the sacking of Thomas Christiansen, and Leeds have added just six points to their points total on his watch. A club who had 42 on Boxing Day have limped on to 50 some 14 games later.
Heckingbottom left behind a troubled situation at Barnsley to take charge of Leeds last month but he inherited a difficult job at Elland Road and admitted after a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday last weekend that the club’s results were making him “sound like a broken record”.
“From what he’s seen, I think he’ll have reached the conclusion himself that this side aren’t good enough,” Gray said. “He’ll be thinking about who’s good enough to take into next season and who isn’t but he’ll know that things have to change. The club need to sit down with him, find out what he wants and then act quickly.
“There’s no point in waiting until the end of the season to make decisions because the play-offs aren’t going to happen. It’s not easy to move players on because a lot of them have got long contracts and financially, how many are going to earn the club decent money?
“The ones who would earn you decent money you want to keep. But we saw a big turnover last summer and it feels like we need to see a big turnover again.”