'Fantastic opportunity at a fantastic club' - Clotet backs Christiansen to succeed at Leeds United

Pep Clotet.
Pep Clotet.
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For all the business completed by Leeds United in this transfer window, last season’s blueprint has not been disregarded entirely. Pep Clotet encountered an ample supply of recognisable faces at Elland Road on Saturday and left with the quiet hope that his former club are onto a good thing.

Leeds appeared to be onto a good thing for much of Clotet’s 12 months as assistant but the dramatic resignation of ex-head coach Garry Monk in May was the start of a shift in ideas and personnel.

Liam Bridcutt.

Liam Bridcutt.

Clotet was part of the clear-out, leaving his role at Elland Road shortly after Monk and taking charge of Oxford United in League One.

A number of the players he worked with featured in Saturday’s friendly between United and Oxford but the appearance of no fewer than seven new signings demonstrated the raft of changes since then.

Monk’s decision to quit his post and head for Middlesbrough soured his reputation in Leeds but Clotet, the Spaniard who worked as assistant to Monk at Swansea City and again at Elland Road, departed with his intact.

Leeds did not see him as a potential replacement for Monk, appointing Thomas Christiansen as head coach instead, but Clotet’s exit was made with none of the same bitterness.

Rob Green.

Rob Green.

In the interim, the club’s owner, Andrea Radrizzani, has repurchased Elland Road – a stadium which was previously held under private ownership for 13 years – and renovated parts of it while embarking on a spree of transfers. Leeds have completed nine first-team signings in all and plan to recruit another forward and centre-back before the window closes.

“It looks like it’s good times for the club,” Clotet said. “They’ve managed to buy the stadium back and they’ve managed to refurbish it. They’ve managed to have funds available to invest in the squad in the way they thought they had to do. That means the club is in a good way and being taken care of.

“It’s not easy for me to analyse the transfers because I’m a little bit in the distance from Leeds but in my heart I do have all the hard work the players put in for this club last season and the quality they showed.

“They were a squad who finished seventh in the Championship so there is an opportunity to improve. I hope the club have done it the best way possible.”

Leeds finished off their pre-season programme with a 2-0 win over Oxford on Saturday, sending Christiansen into his first competitive game away at Bolton Wanderers this weekend.

Christiansen has retained the 4-2-3-1 formation used by Monk last season and his line-up on Saturday had several familiar names in it but goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald’s selection for the last game of the summer was a hint that Rob Green – ever present under Monk – will start the new Championship term on the bench. Monk’s club captain Liam Bridcutt, meanwhile, was also among the substitutes against Oxford and completed the final 12 minutes as a replacement for Kalvin Phillips.

Christiansen admitted on the day of his appointment as head coach that improving on last season would mean a top-six finish.

“I just wish him all the best,” Clotet said. “I think he has a fantastic opportunity here and a fantastic club, with all the foundations to achieve higher heights and push for the promotion the club needs.

“He’s been given all the tools for him to be able to put his ideas on the pitch. I wish him well.”

Saturday’s friendly at Elland Road was negotiated as part of the deal which saw Kemar Roofe leave Oxford for Leeds in a £3m deal last summer.

The forward was League Two’s player-of-the-year at the time having scored 26 goals and helped Oxford to automatic promotion. His first 12 months with Leeds were more patchy but Roofe, who found the net in United’s 2-0 win on Saturday, insisted he had benefited from working under Monk and Clotet and said Oxford had made a “really clever appointment” by recruiting Clotet.

“He was always very good with me and I like the ideas and the way we worked,” Roofe said. “Oxford are really good club, a really well-run club, and there are good things in place there.

“Pep’s the sort of person who can take them forward and I think it’s a really clever appointment. I was pleased for him.”

Monk and Clotet were ultimately left to rue an anxious start and a brittle finish to an otherwise impressive campaign last season.

Leeds last made a serious bid for the play-offs in 2011 and had spent the years in between trapped in the wilderness of mid-table.

“Last season, when we took over, the club was coming from some average seasons in the Championship with a little bit of instability,” Clotet said.

“We managed to lock the feelings of everyone and the focus of everyone into what we could do on the pitch and slowly but surely we got the fans on our side with a lot of hard work. That was something I felt was a big achievement, even though we missed the play-offs at the last minute. The support and the togetherness we had was really special. They respected the job we did I think.

“It comes to my mind now how the club was when we started working here and what kind of club it was when we left. It was very emotional for me. I feel myself very lucky and from my humble position I learned a lot from this club.”