Leeds United: Head coach candidates to date suggest a low-cost strategy by Cellino

Bristol Rovers manager Darrell Clarke.
Bristol Rovers manager Darrell Clarke.
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It was Massimo Cellino who said himself, and only a short month ago, that he “cannot work with English managers”. For English read British; the type of manager who wants more autonomy and control than continental coaches are used to having.

Cellino has never been reconciled with the concept of a first-team boss with overarching power, but there is ample evidence that Leeds United’s owner is at least indulging the option of a domestic replacement for Steve Evans.

His search so far has been a trawl through the lower leagues, touching on coaches who have grown up with a very British mindset.

Between Darrell Clarke, Karl Robinson and John Sheridan, the list of candidates considered by Leeds shows a very clear trend: relatively low-cost options driven by the idea that potential shown in Leagues One and Two will translate into high performance with United in the Championship.

Robinson has already managed in that division but he failed to keep MK Dons away from relegation this season. The club’s league final league position – 23rd, 10 points from safety – was arguably relative to their playing budget but of the three newly-promoted sides, MK Dons were the only team to go down. Preston North End finished 11th. Bristol City fought their way into 18th.

Leeds’ approach to Robinson was short-lived in any case, ending after a round of discussions between him and Cellino in London last week.

The pair spoke about Robinson replacing Evans as head coach but Robinson was unconvinced by Cellino and doubtful about the wisdom of leaving a post he has held in Milton Keynes since 2010.

Both he and Cellino have moved on and MK Dons, who were fully aware of the conversation, said on Monday that Robinson was “single-mindedly working hard to identify and recruit players” for next season.

Sheridan’s chance of stepping into Evans’ shoes also came and went quickly, snuffed out when Leeds decided against a formal approach to his current club Oldham Athletic. Oldham finished 17th in League One last season but dug themselves out of relegation trouble after Sheridan came back to the club from Newport County in January.

Clarke, meanwhile, finished the 2015-16 term with his stock increased after an injury-time goal on the last day of the season earned Bristol Rovers automatic promotion.

That promotion was Clarke’s second in two years at the Memorial Stadium, following on from the club’s escape from the National League in 2015. His reputation in Bristol has soared since 2014 when he was forced to walk around Rovers’ training ground removing posters carrying the slogan ‘Clarke Out’ – a protest by fans who criticised his retention as manager after the club lost their Football League status.

Leeds have made an official approach for the 38-year-old, though Cellino is abroad in Italy after travelling to attend an event staged by his old club Cagliari to celebrate their promotion from Serie B.

Clarke holds a 12-month rolling contract, but Rovers offered him a new three-year deal on the back of Leeds’ approach.

The enquiries and discussions are virtual confirmation that Cellino has decided to replace Evans after 38 games in charge.

Evans flew home from a short holiday in Dubai last night and intended to be back at work at Thorp Arch this morning, despite the apparent threat to his job.

“I’m refreshed and l’ll be working until someone tells me different,” he said.

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