Former Leeds United striker Noel Whelan believes Neil Redfearn has “earned the right” to a full season as head coach – and says the club should offer him the job for the next two years.
Whelan, a matchday pundit with the BBC, told the YEP that Redfearn’s claim to a new contract should no longer be open to debate after his squad recovered from a crisis at Christmas to ensure their Championship survival with 10 games to go.
“We’re past the point where there’s anything to think about,” Whelan said. “He’s earned the right to keep his job next season and I’d go further than that by saying he’s earned the right to another couple of years.
“Contracts don’t always mean too much but if Leeds are serious about getting stability in the head coach’s position then giving him a two-year deal would be a good way of telling him that he’s their man. Going from short contract to short contract is almost like saying the club aren’t too sure about you.
“Neil needed to prove himself in the job but he’s done that and he’s done it in some pretty difficult circumstances. I’m surprised the club haven’t sorted him out yet.”
Redfearn took up a contract until the end of this season when Leeds and Massimo Cellino, their currently-disqualified owner, named him as replacement for Darko Milanic. At the time, the club also negotiated an option to retain his as head coach for a further 12 months.
Steve Thompson – the 50-year-old who quit his role as first-team coach at Huddersfield Town to join Redfearn at Leeds a week before Christmas – is also employed on the same basis. With Cellino banned from running United until May 3 and 10 games of the Championship season to go, the club are still to approach the pair for discussions about extended terms.
Four regular members of United’s first team – Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor – were produced by the club’s youth development scheme, playing a huge part in Leeds’ new year revival, and Whelan, himself a former Leeds trainee, warned that a change of coach in the summer could “break the momentum” of the young core in their line-up.
“The best players in Neil’s team are the players the club have developed themselves,” Whelan said. “It’s true to say that the youth are the future at Leeds because the youth are the pick of the first team.
“Neil coached them in the academy and he’s the one who’s backed them this season. Now that they’re in the side and playing so well, you can’t break that momentum. It would be criminal. They need to be in the thick of it next season, otherwise there’s a chance that the development and the progress we’ve seen this season will get wasted.
“Would a different coach have the same confidence in them or use them in the same way? I’m really not sure. And would these kids be as keen to stay if there weren’t playing under a coach who had total faith in them? That would be a concern for me. They’re big talents so they’ll be sought after. And at the end of the day they won’t stay at Leeds because they’re Leeds boys. They’ll stay here if it’s the right thing for their careers.”
Whelan said that the young spine in United’s team had provided the basis for a better campaign next season. “Nobody knows what Cellino’s planning, if he’s selling the club or not,” Whelan said. “But if he is sticking around then he can invest heavily around these kids.
“Pay a bit of money to strengthen other positions and you’ll get a much better blend. You’ll get the quality money buys combined with the quality the club have created in the academy.
“I’m not pretending it’s a simple process because the problems this season have been almost endless but the club have got an open invitation to start planning now. Sorting out Redfearn should be the first job.
“For me, experience is a bit of myth in management,” Whelan said. “You get managers who’ve been in the game for 20 years but struggle to get it right. It doesn’t always count for much.
“But I think Neil’s learning in certain respects. Against Ipswich, he analysed the opposition and worked out where they were strong – dangerous from the wings and dangerous with crosses and set-pieces. They’re a big side. He picked a team to counter that, with Liam Cooper at left-back, and it worked perfectly. That sort of thing says as much as the results.
“It’s a bit of an open goal for Leeds at the moment. Keep Neil as head coach and any momentum you’ve got goes into pre-season and hopefully next season. Make a change and and the club are starting cold again. They’ve got a good formula. They should protect it.”