David Prutton – Why Leeds United need to deal with the weight of expectation in 2019-20

THE fixtures for next season are now out and Bristol City away will not be an easy start for Leeds United.

Monday, 24th June 2019, 6:55 am
On his way?: Jack Clark is held off by Rico Henry. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

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Leeds United and Jack Clarke back in training with Gigi Buffon talk wide of the mark

Bristol City did well last season in getting so close to the play-offs but the pressure is on Leeds now after last season.

It will be intriguing to see if they can hit the ground running because it could be one of those where everyone is just presuming that’s what is going to happen. There was an element of surprise Leeds had going into last season.

I am not saying that element has disappeared, because head coach Marcelo Bielsa has a tendency to think on his feet.

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It will be intriguing to see how they go but, more importantly, who the personnel is going to be.

Managing director Angus Kinnear said on Thursday that Leeds were always looking for ways to strengthen the squad but that he had absolute confidence in the current group and that the club deserved to go up last season.

But to say Leeds deserved to go up is wrong really because the proof is in the pudding.

It doesn’t matter whether you feel like you deserved to go up or not as if you are not actually there at the end of the season then something obviously didn’t go right.

The squad that they have got performed fantastically last season. They were consistent but found wanting at the most crucial time, whether that was through indecision or individual error.

That’s obviously the thing that they need to address and they need to make sure that whoever comes in and plays is as reliable as humanly possible and I stress the word ‘humanly’ because that’s exactly what it is.

We have spoken before about the goalkeeper situation, about players playing a certain way at certain times and then handling expectation levels of pressure and that’s exactly what they are going to have to do again for another very, very long and tough hard-working season, which really all starts when the players are back in training this week.

If you go through the Leeds squad man for man you would have to say they are good enough to go up.

But it’s about what the team can bring together and what they can bring out of themselves and it’s imperative that whoever comes gets a good portion of pre-season to bed themselves in.

But after that it’s up to the players and the management to be able to deal with the expectation level and also the presumption that getting so close last time means that they should get just as close again.

I think they will find it extremely tough but you don’t get promoted to the Premier League by clicking your fingers or it being a piece of cake.

The transfer market has been quite slow so far this summer but sometimes it happens like that and then it all kicks off. Maybe that will be the case with this one.

You get the feeling that as much as Leeds talk a good game about being happy with the squad, they need to make sure they have got reinforcements for those most important parts.

There’s obviously constant talk about Jack Clarke and the interest from Tottenham and what Jack would be worth.

If you are saying £15m or £20m then money-wise that is utterly ridiculous as you are defining potential which as we know in football doesn’t always equal output and consistency.

But if somebody does leave the club for big money then as long as the money is ploughed back into the side then I think that would benefit the club.

From Jack’s point of view, he is a young lad and going to somewhere like Tottenham would be a fantastic opportunity and without knowing the ins and outs of current contracts you would be talking about life-changing money there.

It’s something that could affect him in a positive way for the rest of his life and whoever he is related to so you can’t talk that out of it.

I know that if you are a Leeds fan you would look at it and say why would these players want to leave Leeds but there has always been a healthy self-awareness with Leeds fans to know that if something like that comes up and an opportunity like that presents itself then that is to be understood given where the club is.

We know the potential of the club and we know how wonderful it would be if it was back in the Premier League.

But this is all hypothetical talk – ‘if’ they are back in the Premier League, ‘if’ they get back there. That’s a totally different ball game.

We have seen the ability that Jack has got and the commitment to the way he wants to play and his professionalism is to be lauded for one so young.

But from his point of view, if an opportunity like this did come about it would be very, very hard to turn down.

Value-wise, if you are plucking figures out of the air and it’s a different situation because you are looking at a hell of a much more proven player but you can look at Leicester City’s James Maddison and the effect he has had in the Premier League since moving from Norwich. Suddenly someone says £60m and you think ‘blimey’.

But the other side of you makes you think about market value and what people are paying which is all completely inflated because that’s just the way football is. Look at how much Paul Pogba is reportedly worth.

Yes, he has got a World Cup-winners’ medal under his belt which is a phenomenal achievement.

But, fundamentally, he has not done much in his first season since when everyone expected him to be super human.

Values and the reality don’t always tally up. If the question is how much should you pay for a young man like Jack Clarke then it’s a tough one and I hope he has got the right advice and the right backing behind him because this could easily be a decision made from a financial point of view.

For his prolonged well-being in football and getting the most out of himself it would be a really tough choice between staying with Bielsa and seeing what happens maybe in a year’s time when the interest could be different or going now and throwing caution to the wind.