David Prutton: Leeds United could strike it lucky with unknown Thomas Christiansen

Thomas Christiansen
Thomas Christiansen
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IT IS safe to say that Thomas Christiansen’s name wasn’t on the lips of Leeds United’s supporters until midday on Thursday. I’ll be perfectly honest: when the news broke about his appointment I had to look him up. I’m not being disrespectful but he’s someone I haven’t followed and I can’t pretend to know a huge amount about him.

Then again, we all said the same when Carlos Carvalhal came to Sheffield Wednesday two years ago. It was very much the same reaction. Wednesday have been in the play-offs twice since then and he’s staying on for a third season but I remember well the general bemusement when Wednesday appointed him. You had the constant question of ‘Carlos who?’ and the quiet suspicion that it might be a mistake.

David Wagner and Carlos Carvalhal

David Wagner and Carlos Carvalhal

That’s the thing about English football. The game here has its own traits and quirks but there so much more to succeeding in this country than the nationality or background of your head coach. I’d go further again and say there’s so much more to succeeding in this country than your head coach full stop. He’s a cog in the machine and a crucial one but he can’t make it tick on his own.

Wednesday have backed Carvalhal to an incredible extent financially. That’s strengthened his hand and given him a proper chance to avoid become another unflattering statistic. He was clever when he came in. Wednesday used to have a transfer committee of sorts but he edged himself into a position of power by winning the trust of the money men and he’s been able to make some very big signings. He’s got a certain level of authority at Hillsborough and the respect for him, I feel, was shown by Wednesday deciding to keep him on again when many thought the club might consider a change.

Christiansen needs to operate in a similar way and so do Leeds. You can draw conclusions from his CV and make a judgement about how good he’s going be but the reality is that he’ll have a hard time at Elland Road unless Leeds give him a quality squad to work with. That’s job number one. Talented coaches make a difference but it’s all about degrees and in the main, they’re usually as good as the players they work with. Even before Garry Monk resigned we were all of the opinion that if Leeds were going to make the top six next season, the squad needed to be better.

As for Christiansen himself, I’m open-minded. This is Andrea Radrizzani’s first appointment as owner and he won’t want to get this wrong, especially after losing Monk in the way that he did. At face value it looks like he’s taken a risk by going out so far on a limb and maybe he has but I feel fairly confident that Leeds will have done due diligence on him.

It’s imperative now that the supporters at Leeds bring their A-game in backing Christiansen, which inevitably they will. That’s something Christiansen can count on. It’s also imperative that Christiansen brings his A-game in terms of showing the crowd that he’s up to the job.

David Prutton

It’s not as if Christiansen was the only coach out there. Even if Leeds had a certain budget which ruled out bigger names, there’s a list as long as your arm of managers who would have jumped at the job. Perhaps some other targets went begging, and Jaap Stam we know about, but it’s not like Christiansen was the single option available. Leeds must like something about him – and like it enough for Radrizzani to stake his first big decision on him.

There’s something to be said for taken a fresh approach in the Championship. I accept that if this goes wrong, people will say that Christiansen was clearly the wrong call but I could list you examples of managers who are proven in this league and have gone into clubs and failed. Nigel Pearson at Derby County last season was one. Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa was another. That’s not to say they’re not good managers but it makes the point that the obvious choice isn’t always a great one.

It’s imperative now that the supporters at Leeds bring their A-game in backing Christiansen, which inevitably they will. That’s something Christiansen can count on. It’s also imperative that Christiansen brings his A-game in terms of showing the crowd that he’s up to the job.

When I was at Leeds I always felt support was a two-way thing. You need the fans with you, absolutely you do, but you can’t ask the fans to be with you if you’re giving back nothing in return.

United fans

United fans

His task at the outset is to make himself look like a suitable fit. After that, he can think about aims and targets.

My problem, if you can call it that, is that I’m an eternal optimist and always have been. There were plenty of in-the-know people who took the proverbial out of Hull when they appointed Marco Silva. He was cast as a bit of a joke appointment.

By the end of the season, Silva’s front door was blocked by the pile of job offers and some humble pie was being offered around. I’d like to think that this will go as it has for Carvalhal and as it has for David Wagner: unknown individuals who gained experience elsewhere in Europe and, despite eyebrows being raised about them, were able to quickly turn the scepticism on its head.

No doubt Christiansen is a risk but sometimes it pays to take them.

Garry Monk

Garry Monk

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