Who wins from the international break? We ask this every year. Is a two-week rest most useful for a club who’ve started the season well?
Or is it better for a side who desperately need to get their house in order?
To my mind, if you’re in form then the international break carries an element of risk. You go into it pleased but wary that too much indulgence or satisfaction might turn you soft. To a certain extent, a team who are struggling can use a full fortnight to properly straighten things out. When you play seven times in the space of three weeks in August there’s only so much training you do.
None of this should suggest that a stack of clubs in the Championship won’t be envious of the start made by Leeds United. Eleven points from five games is just about as good as it gets in August because, let’s be honest, everyone beats everyone in this league. Cardiff City’s perfect record is a real feather in their cap. We’re only one month in but it never hurts to make the early pace. The speed at which managers come and go these days means it’s naive to have a bad run and think that it doesn’t matter.
Five games gone is a good time to reflect on Thomas Christiansen’s performance. It would be wrong to say that he’s answering his critics because back when Leeds appointed him in June he didn’t have any critics. He simply had people, and plenty of them, asking who exactly he was. The way of the world in football is that relatively unknown coaches start with a bit of scepticism around them – not necessarily close to home but nationally and amongst the masses who follow the Championship. If Christiansen had blown up immediately, the response would have been ‘well, obviously’. Regardless of whether he felt the need to make a point, suffice to say that he has.
The more I see and hear of him, the more I like him. I like his manner and I like his character. He’s got a good mix of resolve and humility; not someone who would let you walk all over him but not someone who wastes time massaging his own ego. In his position (and most of us would feel like this) you come to England desperate to prove that you’re as good as the job you’re in. The danger is that your determination translates into arrogance or, at worst, an obnoxious personality. You won’t find many better examples than Christiansen of a manager who’s letting his football talk for him.
First up, the players have taken to him. You can see that clearly and don’t let anyone pretend that as a somewhat out-there choice as head coach it’s a simple job to get a squad on your side. On one hand he comes across as being in charge but on the other, he seems comfortable as part of a wider organisation at Leeds. There’s no sign of power struggles or any dispute over authority. He looks in control. When he was asked by Sky before the Sunderland game to speak about Chris Wood, he told us that he’d answer questions afterwards. At full-time he dealt with everything that was put to him and spoke about Wood in depth. I respect that.
As an individual, he’s multi-lingual and without suggesting that speaking foreign languages makes you a good manager, that does appeal to me. It shows a capacity to be open to new cultures and experiences and, by extension, open to new ideas. These days that’s critical for any up-and-coming coach. I don’t expect Neil Warnock or Harry Redknapp to start reinventing the wheel but the technicalities of analysis, tactics and performance are changing all the time. You either try to move with them or you get left behind and it has to be said that by turning to a coach who’d been working in Cyprus, Leeds avoided going down an old beaten path. At a club who recruited heavily from abroad, Christiansen’s background should make him an empathetic presence.
These are early days still and a proper assessment of Christiansen needs a bit more time. The same it true of his team. Having watched Leeds beat Nottingham Forest – and not only beat them but wipe the floor with them – I’m starting to wonder if selling Wood might have the positive effect of creating more fluidity and movement up front. A conclusion on that can’t really be drawn after a couple of games but it’s something to watch. Leeds had one arrow to fire with Wood last season. In terms of numbers, there’s more in that department now.
In all, it’s been a fantastic start but the thought that players try to keep in their heads during the international break is that September can quickly undo the good work of August. This is the period where Leeds will slowly start to prove if their flying form is more than a flash in the pan. I strongly suspect that it is.