Leeds United interview process - managers and agents have their say on boss hunt, plan and timeline

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This is the week that should herald the very final stages of Leeds United's manager hunt.

The face-to-face interviews will give 49ers Enterprises president Paraag Marathe and Leeds CEO Angus Kinnear a chance to identify their preferred candidate and then set about the business of agreeing terms, cutting through any necessary red tape and preparing an announcement.

Their job is a complex one, because it involves a decision with huge consequences for a football club that needs to return to the Premier League as a matter of urgency. The incoming ownership group did not dip their toe in the water of this sport on this side of the Atlantic to be the proud owners of a Championship club. Supporters will not simply be content with their three years of top flight football and happily buy up every ticket and piece of merchandise for the next decade as fans of a second tier outfit. Apathy set in once at Leeds and could so easily again, given long enough to fester in conditions considered sub optimal by this club's fanbase.

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A year of the Championship is enough for anyone, two would be just about tolerable if there was an obvious plan and a trustworthy upward trajectory. Any flirtation with a stay so long it shreds the parachute payments is ill-advised, at best, for any club.

So Marathe, Kinnear and anyone else having a substantial say in this matter know they cannot afford to get it wrong.

On the other side of the table sit managers like Daniel Farke and, as it emerged this week via Sky Sports News, Patrick Vieira - men desperate for an opportunity to secure their own Premier League return via a successful season in charge of Leeds.

It's a huge club and a great job if everything goes to plan. All they've got to do is convince the Elland Road chiefs of their ability and come through the recruitment process in first place.

What does the process look like, though?

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INTERVIEW PROCESS - Paraag Marathe has been in England this week to conduct interviews for Leeds United's managerial vacancy. Pic: GettyINTERVIEW PROCESS - Paraag Marathe has been in England this week to conduct interviews for Leeds United's managerial vacancy. Pic: Getty
INTERVIEW PROCESS - Paraag Marathe has been in England this week to conduct interviews for Leeds United's managerial vacancy. Pic: Getty

An agent who has looked after Leeds United players, as well as managers in the English game, told the YEP: "It's very much case by case and varies. If a director of football knows a manager then there might not even be an interview. If it's more of a committee, they might present first on Zoom, then they will narrow it down and have formal meetings, which is what seems to be happening for Leeds.

"I think generally when there's a director of football in place, it's a lot smoother. He's recommending somebody, that person then speaks to the chairman, meets whoever. They maybe have a couple of interviews. It's normally that route. This seems to be a bit more open, though."

Although there is no director of football to guide his preferred candidate through the process and grease the wheels of his transition into the dugout, another agent with managers on the books says clubs are not out to make life difficult for hopeful applicants.

"They'll shortlist to three to five normally, and then within that they'll have to do a presentation," he told the YEP.

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"They'll get an email with some of what to expect. That's normally how clubs work. But they're not trying to catch you out. It's all structured. It's sort of designed to help you and they'll decide on what they're looking for and if it marries up to the interviewee. Some are very different, some identify someone and their CV speaks for itself, he's the one they want. Some will depend on the level of compensation to be paid, some won't want to get a manager if they need to pay it."

Football's history is littered with tales of decisions that were made on the basis of impressions made in face-to-face conversations but this agent believes minds can on their way to being made up even before candidates sit down.

"I haven't had an example of a manager having to turn the owner or technical director's heads and change their minds at interview," he said.

"I've more often had clubs contact me and say this guy seems to be doing a good job, or we think he fits our club, our model, our philosophy, would he come for an interview? Then it's down to the manager to express themselves, how they come across. Once that's done I step away, that's not down to me. I can only take it so far."

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Not every interview can result in a hire and, plainly, only one of Leeds' interviewees this week can get the job. Concerns that lead to a candidate dropping out of the process are not the exclusive right of the club, however.

"I've had a few who were on a shortlist, but maybe there's been a few red flags raised," the second agent told the YEP.

"It's probably worked out for the best. In two cases within six months they had changed their manager again, so it was the right decision to be guided by the red flags. There's no longevity anyway in management but that became obvious with the interviews. It could be the budget, how they perceive the club, the playing style, how involved the chairman or technical director want to be, it could be recruitment and who has a real say in it. They can raise red flags. If a manager is going to fail, or at least put their neck on the line, they want to do it their way, they want to control things. That won't work if others are going to have more of a say in important issues."

Presentations can help eliminate doubt on the club's side of the table. Marcelo Bielsa famously wowed the Leeds decision makers with his meticulous in-depth knowledge of the playing squad and their Championship rivals.

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According to a current League One manager, who has experienced the full application process in management and been headhunted, the presentation is a chance to show just how serious you are about the job on offer.

"Managers have agencies who do build their presentation and packs, then it's down to the manager to present," he said.

"The manager should have a detailed plan for the current squad, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, what you think you can get out of them, how you want the team to play, how you'll implement that plan and what you need in terms of staff, structure and signings.

"How you're going to build a culture, how you're going to build a relationship with the fanbase, how you've achieved things that back up what you're saying. There are managers who will be unbelievable at presenting, go into incredible detail on what the board want to see but there has to be some evidence of them doing it, proof of them influencing it. Leeds need to hear from a manager who has experience and proof of what they're presenting."

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A third agent, whose client has built up Premier League and Championship experience with a number of different clubs, agrees. He says the presentation is important but it has to show that they 'get' the club.

"You get some [managers] saying they've done a really good presentation on the last two years, what has gone wrong, the stats that back it up, how to fix it and what they'll need to do that, but with a club like Leeds you've also got to show you understand the fans, how important they are, how you need to get them onside, a style of play they want," he said.

"You have to impress on them that you're on the same page with those involved at the top. You have to get across that you will be in sync with the club, because you get it."

Another current EFL boss has had a handful of jobs since retiring as a top-level player and had interviews for roles he did not get. Being on a different page to the club is the red flag he looks for at interview stage.

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"The biggest thing is alignment, that what the club believes it needs to get success and what the head coach can deliver is aligned," he said.

"If so you can be successful, if not that's where trouble comes from. I've had conversations where I've felt like it isn't for me. I've had quite a few interviews and four jobs, and I've had times where the fit wasn't right and that was either my choice or the club's choice.

"I'm trying to get the people I'm going to be working for to understand me. How I see the football and how I see that team developed under my leadership. Am I happy with the players who are there, am I going to make a lot of change, will the playing style change, is the culture right for me? I'm not the type of person that goes into an interview and can mould yourself to the job. You could easily do that but it won't work in the long term. It's about me showing me what I'm going to do and if that fits with the club. If it doesn't, then that's fine as well. I'll move on to the next one."

Almost two weeks have passed since Leeds confirmed that a deal had been agreed between Andrea Radrizzani and 49ers Enterprises and so the managerial recruitment process has taken at least that long. Players return for pre-season on July 2 and time will be of the essence in a division that demands a good start, middle and finish if you want to escape it at the first time of asking.

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Both managers we spoke to believe a wish list of managers should always be tucked away in a drawer somewhere in a club's corridors of power. In this case it is a little more complicated because Leeds have had no director of football since Victor Orta left and 49ers Enterprises could not begin their hunt in earnest until they knew they were definitely getting their hands on the club.

Down the line, perhaps once their full review of the club's football operations has been complete, they need to settle on a plan that can facilitate some form of continuity in order to avoid the problems they have run into since Bielsa.

The first manager said: "It always baffles me how long things take. You'd like to think it's a fairly easy process to identify a list, to get that list interviewed, whittle it down and get a manager. You should always have a list that's constantly evolving and if X, Y or Z leaves then you know who you want to replace him."

The second describes the presence of a completely aligned manager and board working in harmony with trust and loyalty as a 'unicorn. He concurs with his EFL peer that Leeds should already be looking for future unicorns.

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"I believe a club of Leeds' stature should have a brand, philosophy and identity that they want to recruit a manager for," he said.

"Their work should have already taken place in succession planning. The best-run clubs have a succession plan, a list that evolves, so they're ready to bring the next one in. Leeds went from Bielsa to Jesse Marsch to Javi Gracia to Sam Allardyce. What was the plan there?

"There are managers in the EFL Leeds should be looking at now, maybe not for this appointment, but down the line when it comes to succession planning."

It's not a can that Leeds should kick too far down the road but the next appointment is a problem for tomorrow. Today brings the small matter of trying to bring this process to a conclusion that satisfies and unifies supporters before ultimately proving itself to be the correct decision. The hunt is coming to a close.