Leeds United: Hard work starts now for Monk and his squad

Garry Monk
Garry Monk
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The timing of Garry Monk’s appointment threw him straight into work at Elland Road and the ball is rolling properly now.

Leeds United’s players were back at Thorp Arch yesterday (June 27), ready to start the six weeks of training which Monk told them to prepare for.

United’s head coach put his squad through a session before lunch, following up a weekend in which the club’s staff carried out a range of medical tests, and he kept them back for more work in the afternoon. The 37-year-old ran intensive pre-seasons in his two summers as manager of Swansea City and he is bringing the same mentality to Leeds.

The club have 15 days until their first friendly, away to Irish side Shelbourne in Dublin, and Monk will use the next fortnight to familiarise the squad with his own methods. His players engaged in a small amount of ball work yesterday, tieing it in with their fitness plan, and Leeds have entered that period of the close season which footballers always describe as the hard slog.

The majority of United’s players’ were present at Thorp Arch, including their two recent injury concerns Gaetano Berardi and Ross Turnbull. Right-back Berardi, who damaged ankle ligaments in April, was cleared to start pre-season after medical examinations last month but Turnbull’s return is a comeback from a long-term absence.

The former Chelsea goalkeeper broke an ankle in a training ground game in October and required two operations before the end of last season.

Turnbull made only one appearance in his first year at Elland Road – an outing in a League Cup defeat at Doncaster Rovers – but he is available again at a time when the keeper’s jersey is in the air. Marco Silvestri, Leeds’ first choice for the past two years, trained with Turnbull, Bailey Peacock-Farrell and new goalkeeping coach Darryl Flahavan yesterday but Leeds are seriously considering replacing the Italian before the new Championship season starts. Striker Chris Wood and winger Jordan Botaka reported in after international duty and young midfielder Lewis Cook will take part in pre-season until his expected departure to the European Under-19 Championship with England next month. England coach Aidy Boothroyd plans to announce his squad on July 6. Winger Stuart Dallas is making a late return after his involvement in Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 campaign.

The province were eliminated on Saturday after a last 16 defeat to Wales.

“They’ve all come back in good condition,” Monk said. “Of course, a big element of it (yesterday) was the physical side of it, in terms of the fitness levels of the players. But there’s also the need football-wise to work tactically and get up to speed with our ideas.

“It’s not about overloading them but we want to make it very clear this is how we want to approach the season.

“Pre-season is hard, there’s no getting away from it. It’s meant to be that way to get you in the best shape possible and also to get your football knowledge, your way of working and the plan that I have as clear as possible.”

One notable absentee was Tommaso Bianchi, the midfielder who finished last season on loan at Ascoli. United’s deal with Ascoli included a clause which committed the Serie B club to signing Bianchi on a permanent three-year contract, provided Ascoli avoided relegation. He remains in Italy and is expected to complete that transfer as early as next week.

Bianchi was troubled by injury in 2015 and Leeds have not used him in a competitive match for fully 16 months. The club signed him on a four-year deal when they took him from Sassuolo in 2014 but no longer see him as part of their strategy.

Monk’s own strategy will be made plain to his existing players in the weeks ahead but United’s prospects next season continue to depend on their progress in the transfer market.

Leeds are still to announce the arrival of Kalmar striker Marcus Antonsson, despite agreeing a fee and the terms of a three-year contract.

Manchester United striker Ashley Fletcher has raised Leeds’ hopes of a deal by turning down an initial offer to extend his contract at Old Trafford but the 20-year-old has opted to remain at Manchester United for the start of pre-season, giving him time to consider his options.

Several Championship clubs are competing to sign him and Fletcher could yet look to stay at Manchester United if the club’s new manager, Jose Mourinho, shows signs of including him in his plans. Monk is also keenly interested in Kyle Bartley, the centre-back who played under him at Swansea, and hopeful of finalising an agreement which brings Bartley on a year-long loan. Sources in Wales, meanwhile, believe Monk might go back to his former club again to discuss a deal for Leon Britton, the experienced midfielder.