Leeds United: Redfearn can’t be blamed, but Whites need new boss urgently

NOT HAPPY: Leeds United Supporters Trust organised a protest march of supporters from Leeds City Square to Elland Road ahead of last week's home defeat by Brighton as part of a 'campaign for change' at the club.
NOT HAPPY: Leeds United Supporters Trust organised a protest march of supporters from Leeds City Square to Elland Road ahead of last week's home defeat by Brighton as part of a 'campaign for change' at the club.
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Wolverhampton Wanderers parted company with former manager Mick McCarthy around 11am on Monday. On Tuesday afternoon they let it be known that a shortlist was in place and interviews would begin within 48 hours.

There is nothing impressive about the timeline involved. Wolves are doing what needs to be done with the urgency expected of a club whose season is perilously balanced.

But note the contrast with Leeds United and the fortnight of procrastination that has followed Simon Grayson’s sacking. These past two weeks are a riddle like no other among many at Elland Road.

It is not difficult to spot the glaring contradiction between United’s inactivity and the explanation given for Grayson’s dismissal on February 1. The decision, said chief executive Shaun Harvey, was to salvage what chance remained of qualifying for the Championship’s play-offs.

Three games later that chance is a fantasy. Most of us have experienced enough competitive football to know the improbable when we see it.

It was the risk United took and the consequence they must have considered when control of their squad passed to Neil Redfearn, for one game at Bristol City initially and then three more subsequently.

It was Redfearn’s chance to rise from the position of academy coach to that of first-team manager but the priority was United’s season, not the progression of a respected and likeable coach. Neither have been helped by his exposure to a job which killed the experienced Grayson with multiple cuts.

Leeds will say this was a matter of patience; a matter of making the right appointment rather than repenting at leisure. But they stand accused of dealing recklessly with what remains of this season by allowing it to drift at the very moment when clear direction was needed.

That their prospects in the Championship were already meagre is neither here nor there, less still a reason to write the remainder of the term off. Try justifying a benign finish to those supporters who paid up front and upwards of £500 a head for season tickets.

As ever with Leeds, you join the dots and find yourself staring at a tangled web. Why was no definite plan of action in place when Grayson had been under pressure and waiting for his P45 since the last day of 2011?

His future became the elephant in the room as long ago as November and was freely discussed from the start of January onwards, a classic case of when, not if. The logic in “dispensing” with his services as the January transfer window closed, rather than cutting him loose at the turn of the year, seems as nonsensical as it did two weeks ago.

It is not typical of Leeds to sit on their hands in these circumstances. Gary McAllister was named as Dennis Wise’s replacement within 24 hours of Wise uprooting, and Grayson wriggled his way out of a contract at Blackpool three days after McAllister’s last game as boss.

On both occasions the motivation for quick appointments was the need to keep each season alive; to reach for the play-offs in the games that remained. This time around, nothing. No forthright action and no clarity over whether a definite shortlist is even in place.

No certainty either that those names on it are not now hedging their bets with a position at Molineux suddenly available.

All of the above makes you wonder if Redfearn’s opportunity was long in the making, a chance which Leeds always intended to give him if and when Grayson was sacked.

It is not an exaggeration to say that he was highly regarded at Elland Road, and long before Grayson’s dismissal. That much was shown by Redfearn surviving the cull among United’s academy staff towards the end of 2010.

But this job, in these circumstances, was too much to ask of him, an unfair responsibility for someone who can consider himself blameless for the situation Leeds are in.

His substitution of Ross McCormack in Tuesday’s defeat at Coventry City was a poor decision, but this year has been a catalogue of poor decisions, and few of them his.

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The last man who attempted to learn on the job, John Carver, was similarly required to clutch at straws left behind – and to no avail.

There is nothing more essential at Elland Road than strong and dominant leadership.

This is, in some respects, the perfect storm for a caretaker, as it would be now for an incoming manager: a squad bereft of confidence and form, a disillusioned fanbase whose dejection and militancy is understandably growing, and a Championship position which offers nothing in the way of breathing space.

All things considered, play-off qualification demanded a miracle of Redfearn and the man is no Messiah, just an honest, hard-working coach. At the speed with which the Championship is moving, Leeds might require another 28 points to make sixth place their own. The implications of this situation are grave.

For one, Leeds will find profitable attendances hard to come by if March and April are loaded with dead rubbers. They will also have a hard task tempting back the 30 per cent of season tickets who, as of last week, have not renewed.

But the biggest toll of a poor year is most likely to be taken on the squad at Elland Road.

The worst-case scenario is this: Robert Snodgrass asks to leave the club, as a player with his ability and record of service is entitled to do. McCormack and Adam Clayton reach the same contractual position which brought about the sales of Max Gradel and Jonathan Howson. Aidan White is out of contract, with no new deal in sight, and so are four other players.

And the four loanees in United’s squad – Darren O’Dea, Fabian Delph, Andros Townsend and Adam Smith – make their excuses and head for the hills.

Some of those names divide opinion but it has the makings of an exodus or a clearout by default. Gaps to plug will be plentiful and the size of next season’s transfer budget remains to be seen. If the threat of lower crowds and reduced season-ticket renewals is as real as it seems, the wage bill could find itself directly in the firing line.

The hundreds of supporters who marched from Leeds City Square through Holbeck and onto Elland Road last weekend fear the future. They are deeply worried. This is not about Ken Bates, say the Leeds United Supporters Trust, but only Bates can say what happens next.

Sat in Monaco, only he can explain why Leeds are on the drift in a season when, in his words, the club “need to get promoted. Not financially but for the fans’ sake”. Brick by brick, step by step, defeat by defeat, on, on, on. Or something like that.

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