Leeds United: Monk will not shy from big decisions

Garry Monk.
Garry Monk.
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BIG, successful managers invariably make big calls from time to time; it comes with the territory somewhat.

And in that respect, Garry Monk can rest assured that he is in good Championship company.

Pontus Jansson.

Pontus Jansson.

Heads may have been turned when the Leeds United head coach made the bold decision to demote influential defender Pontus Jansson to the bench for the high-profile second-tier fixture with Brighton and Hove Albion on March 18 – but events during the course of United’s substantive victory over the second-placed Seagulls fully vindicated what looked a risky move.

In his post-match interview, Monk did not elaborate on the specific reasons why Jansson was named as a substitute, simply stressing that the decision was a team-based one, while pledging to continue to put the interests of the team first above any individual.

Monk said: “Number one – I will always do what is best for the group. When I pick the team, I will always do what is best for the team. That goes on who we might be playing against and the set-up, but also the principles we have and what we follow on a daily basis.

“I will make those selections and I have shown already that I am prepared to do that. This was one of those occasions.

Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Gylfi Sigurdsson.

“When I am selecting teams I try and do what I think is best for the team and what I feel is best for the game that’s coming. Whatever I feel, the principles we work to – who is going to deliver them the best they can – I will always do that. It is the key and I will re-iterate – the group is the most important.”

It was all power to Jansson that he went public in saying he respected the decision “fully”, while insisting that Monk’s reasons would “stay between me and him”.

It smacked of two grown-ups drawing a line under proceedings and getting on with things for the greater good.

Monk, for his part, was being consistent and adhering to the adage of ‘to thine own self be true’, having previously displayed evidence of not shying away from making tough decisions during his first appointment in charge of Swansea City.

Proving himself not to be a respecter of reputation alone, Monk showed he was big enough to drop leading players when he saw fit at the Liberty Stadium on occasions, most notably Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Part of the armoury of any boss is to show that no player is untouchable and certainly the most successful second-tier sides of recent years have been meritocratic ones.

Monk’s shock selection call regarding Jansson may have been a head-turner, but it was not in isolation when it comes to the top end of the Championship.

In the early weeks of the season, his Newcastle United counterpart Rafael Benitez famously dropped Magpies defender Jamaal Lascelles ahead of the 4-1 victory over Reading – only a couple of weeks after making him club captain.

Whether there was any psychology involved in the decision to name Lascelles on the substitutes’ bench remains a moot point, but for Benitez, it is plainly all about the reaction.

Just as it will be for Jansson when he links up with his Whites team-mates following the international break ahead of Saturday’s key televised encounter against the Royals.

Speaking shortly after the decision to drop Lascelles for the August 17 game with Reading – with the former Nottingham Forest man restored to the starting line-up for the 1-0 win at Bristol City three days later – Benitez commented, with just a hint of steeliness: “He reacted really well.

“That is the reason why I gave him the armband because he is somebody who knows his responsibilities to work hard in every game and lead by example.”

You sense that those comments would certainly resonate with Monk.

Putting the team above any individual was also a common theme of the reign of another successful Championship boss in ex-Middlesbrough chief Aitor Karanka during the Teessiders’ run to the play-off final in 2014-15 and promotion last term.

Karanka regularly justified his decisions on ‘tactical grounds’, but another motivation was to clearly remind players that he was firmly the boss and that complacency and taking things for granted will not be tolerated.

A well-publicised example came early last season when Albert Adomah found himself out of the Boro line-up, amid all manner of rumours about his future, which many thought to be away from Teesside.

But the dust settled and Adomah was re-integrated into the ranks and proved himself to be one of the key players in Boro’s promotion to the top flight, with Karanka perhaps getting the reaction that he sought all along.

For a manager, it is the reaction which is all-important.