Heavy metal was a throw-away phrase. Two words in more than 3,600 during a press conference lasting half-an-hour. It wasn’t even Uwe Rosler’s concept. “Jurgen Klopp says ‘heavy metal’.” Jurgen bloody Klopp.
With hindsight and with good intentions, Rosler dug himself a hole. Given his time again he would not use heavy metal as a way of introducing himself or his philosophy. The comment was innocent but it is there to be held against him when Leeds United blow cold; a tidy soundbite which risks ringing hollow.
To think that Rosler cannot deliver that form of football – pulsating, aggressive, ambitious, overwhelming – is to think that a head coach with his background can be fully analysed in a 10-game window. United’s defeat to Birmingham City might have cost him his job last season because Massimo Cellino was that sort of owner last season, but it is possible that even Cellino is tired of going around of circles.
Rosler has overseen more than 200 games as a manager in the Football League. Parts of that career were compelling.
That is not to say that he will cut it at Leeds or strike gold as Leeds want him to, but if someone like Rosler cannot make it to Christmas or beyond then you wonder who on earth could, given that Leeds recruit from a bracket far below Klopp’s.
The inadequacies of United’s performance last month should be seen in those terms: Rosler’s responsibility but not a rope to hang him with. It felt, game-by-game, that he was reaching his first moment of reckoning and Saturday’s meeting with Brighton is it.
Rosler sees problems as the rest of us see problems. They are his to address. If asking someone else to sort them out seems anything like the right answer then it could no longer be claimed that Cellino’s reputation is out of kilter with attitudes on the street.
This is Rosler’s gig and to a large extent his squad. The ideas behind the construction of this squad were largely his own. Leeds banked predominantly on unestablished talent and must have understood the consequences of that. Years go by in the Championship and in odd moments of weakness you wish that someone would dispense with the notion of gradual growth, throw £20m at the transfer market and smash a way out of this damned division. But that has rarely been the way at Leeds and it was not the way this summer.
In the circumstances, the sensible option is to let it ride, believing that a detailed plan was right in the beginning. And believing that Rosler has the nous to bring it around.
Bringing it around quickly will require changes; changes to personnel and tactics, particularly at Elland Road. Even to Rosler the defeat to Birmingham must have felt like running into one brick wall too many. It was not that his players were unclear about what it was he wanted them to do. To look at their body language and their application, they seemed lacking in confidence about the likelihood of that approach working.
Birmingham were on the back foot but not on the run. And considering that Birmingham like to play on the back foot, that scenario suited them perfectly. On reflection, equating Leeds’ poor record at home to an excessive weight of expectancy – “a heavy shirt” as Rosler described it – is something of a red herring. The slog of the past decade has taken United to a point where few people expect much of the club anymore. They would love the club to break the ceiling above them but that is hardly the same thing. Expectation is not the product of their long stretch in the Football League.
What Rosler’s players are seeing is total, ingrained dissatisfaction; the fragile tolerance that stems from the experience of being let down so often. It shows itself when Leeds play poorly and that for Rosler is a good place to start.
Heavy metal, to use his words on his first day in the job, is actually the right way of thinking. In the club’s strongest periods at Elland Road – not only the Revie era but for many months under Simon Grayson – they made a habit of running the show. They were not inclined to concede after half an hour and then give into self-doubt. Grayson spoke at the time about “confidence in our ability”, perhaps the one thing that Rosler needs to nurture most.
The mood at Elland Road will not change until Leeds start winning games there.
There is no great science behind that view but it is the truth. There are, nonetheless, ways of pushing his players to that point; simple things which might only ask him to step back and take a very basic look at what is working in his squad; a squad which is far better than a collection of poor players. He cannot have been oblivious to the difference Mirco Antenucci and Jordan Botaka made as substitutes against Birmingham. Antenucci’s impact and his ability to stretch defences has been so pronounced this season that his omission no longer makes any sense at home.
Whether that involves a swing to 4-4-2 or some other set-up, Rosler needs to find a way of allowing Antenucci to start.
There is no loss of face involved in falling back on your most in-form players.
There are other obvious conclusions to be drawn: that Botaka has a level of unpredictably that no-one else at Leeds possesses. That Lewis Cook is the player who United must feed and feed off. That in a defensive midfield role there is no better alternative than Tom Adeyemi. And that if Rosler’s centre-backs cannot eradicate mistakes, he might have to fish another one from the loan market.
It was not a coincidence that in the period when Grayson’s Leeds overran teams at Elland Road his defence gave him little to worry about. Errors in that area of Rosler’s side will only affect conviction in front of it.
Rosler’s attitude upon taking the job was easy to admire.
His promise of committed, attacking football struck a chord, not only because people crave it but because he sounded like a coach who genuinely trusted his tactics. They’d worked for him before and they ought to work for him again.
But if managers got their own way then management would be a doddle and no-one gets anywhere without a certain amount of pragmatism.
It’s not a case of admitting defeat but reacting to it. Einstein had a famous view about persisting with a formula which wasn’t working.
Rosler can aspire to heavy metal without letting the concept consume him and without forcing Leeds to run before they can walk.
It is plain to see that at Elland Road his ideal system is not enlightening his players, which does not mean that it can’t in future.
So take stock, think again and dwell on Klopp’s recent comment about “changing doubters to believers” at Liverpool. That is the crux of the situation Leeds are in.