Leeds United: Mac has own grounds for concern over Thorp Arch

Brian McDermott.
Brian McDermott.
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Neil Warnock took Thorp Arch to task last week, picking holes in a facility which has long been seen as the jewel in Leeds United’s fallen crown.

Warnock’s opinion of the training ground, or more specifically the atmosphere within it, was that it represented a “cancer in the club”. If Brian McDermott has his way, many aspects of Thorp Arch will change before Leeds begin another season.

McDermott had plans for the property long before Warnock, the manager he replaced at United, spoke out so forcefully in a new autobiography. But his blueprint might ensure that the conflict of personalities which seemed to irk Warnock is not a problem for him.

The former Reading boss remarked in the earliest weeks of his tenure that concentrating solely on managing the first team was akin to “building on sand”. “We’re trying to build something with foundations,” he said, “not just putting 15 or 20 players together and forgetting about everything else.”

By his own admission, the alterations he wants in place for pre-season are not quite there, though his players do not report back for another fortnight. Among McDermott’s demands is a main training field measured to the exact length and width of the pitch at Elland Road and an extension of the sprinkler system used at Thorp Arch. He also wants the complex to have a “better flow” – in simple terms, to be an environment without division or estrangement.

“One of the things I noticed straight away was that the main training pitch is miles short of the pitch at Elland Road,” he said. “I don’t understand why.

“Elland Road’s where we’ll play most often and it’s the pitch we should be most comfortable on. Train on a pitch with the same dimensions and Elland Road will feel so familiar. That kind of makes sense to me.

“I want to get barriers around it, frame it off and give it a better feel. And we’re going to extend the watering system to a couple of pitches which it doesn’t reach. Again, it just seems like a good idea to have everything up to the required standard.

“But the other thing I want is the flow of the training ground to be different. I want the feel of the place to be really inclusive. I don’t want anyone sectioned off from anyone else – the first team, the academy, the physios. I want us to mix and work together, to work like we’re all part of the same team.

“It’s not all there at the moment and we’ve stuff to do before we start training – both with the work on the training ground and with bringing new players in. We’ve got plenty to do.”

New signings are an increasingly pressing priority with United’s first pre-season friendly less than a month away. McDermott is in prime position to tie up striker Noel Hunt on a free transfer on July 1 and a total of four offers for players have been made by Leeds. He is vying with Celtic for the signature of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Kevin Doyle.

There are strong suggestions, meanwhile, that McDermott favours the appointment of a full-time head of recruitment and has a preferred candidate in mind, another example of the long-term view afforded to him by a three-year contract.

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McDermott is spending part of this month in Ireland attending the weddings of Hunt, Shane Long and John O’Flynn, the Exeter City striker, but he will return to Thorp Arch a week before his players report in on June 27.

The 52-year-old appears open minded about the possibilities in the transfer market, saying: “Picking the right players doesn’t mean picking the obvious ones.

“Sometimes you want experience but sometimes youth serves you better. Sometimes there are lads in lower leagues or foreign leagues who think they can have a crack and are worth a go. Dave Kitson and Shane Long are two that spring to mind from my time at Reading.”