High-maintenance owners should be a walk in the park for someone who’s survived cancer and brushes with the former East German secret police. Phil Hay reports on Uwe Rosler’s appointment at Leeds United.
Uwe Rosler survived lung cancer and the close attention of the East German Stasi so getting a grip of Massimo Cellino and Leeds United should be his kind of job.
Rosler had a glass of water in front of him when, on his first appearance as United’s head coach, he was asked how he would cope with a high-maintenance owner who goes through coaches like a Flymo through grass.
“I don’t know how you guys feel but I’m very happy,” he said. “For me that glass is half full and not half empty. That’s my philosophy in life.” Read about his life and you’ll understand why.
None of that changes the reality on the ground at Leeds and in amongst the usual tasks of a new first-team boss, Rosler can see two necessary objectives: to make his relationship with Cellino work on his terms and to win the minds of supporters who are stewing over United’s decision to make way for him by dispensing with Neil Redfearn. Redfearn’s demise was neither Rosler’s fault nor a classy affair.
Head coaches in general breeze quickly in and out of Leeds. Rosler, 46, is their fifth in the space of a year, a list which begins with Brian McDermott. Cellino might not like his reputation as a ‘mangia-allenatori’ but the numbers don’t lie. Even so, the appeal of the job at Elland Road is still apparent. “To be head coach of Leeds United is the chance of a lifetime,” a relaxed Rosler said.
Adam Pearson, the Leeds director, said Rosler was chosen from a list of candidates which ran to “hundreds”. “Ever since it started to come out that Uwe was to be appointed, my phone has been red-hot with other coaches throwing their hats into the ring,” Pearson said. “It was quite a definite decision by (Cellino).” Rosler sold himself with a formal presentation to the Italian. “I think he has got a pretty good idea of what I’m looking for.”
Rosler said the burning issue of “roles and responsibilities” was adequately addressed in his discussions with Cellino. “I’ll be responsible for key members of staff around the first team, the group of players, the tactical approach, the technical approach,” he said. “Picking the team will be completely my responsibility. I’ll have an impact in terms of who’s going in and who’s going out.
“Life is a challenge and I know what I’m getting myself into. But I’m thriving on pressure and I’m thriving on challenges all my life. I’m a hard-working person. It’s the way I grew up, the way I played the game; the way I deal with personal problems and the way I manage. You need those qualities to make it count here. My experience of 10 years as a head coach will allow me to do that.”
Cellino has always held a tight rein on transfers but in the next week or so, Leeds expect to appoint a new head of recruitment, replacing outgoing sporting director Nicola Salerno. “I’ll be heavily involved in recruitment,” Rosler said. “It’s very important that you recruit the right players. You have to create an environment of excellence where you set the expectation to your players and staff and be consistent in following that up - to create that hunger in the group, to drive on and come in every day trying to get better. That is essential.”
Redfearn made similar noises towards the end of his reign but none of them impressed Cellino. If anything Redfearn’s comments about his own uncertain future seemed only to rile the Italian. His inevitable demotion from the head coach’s position was confirmed yesterday when Rosler signed a two-year contract.
Rosler gave Redfearn credit for his six months in charge and said he understood the public support for him. “Neil took over the club last year and it was in a dangerous area but he lifted the players together and stabilised the club very well,” Rosler said. “There’s a good foundation to move on from.
“When I started at Brentford, people in England and at Brentford only knew me as a player. Brentford appointed me because (owner) Matthew Benham was thinking outside the box. There was not only positive feedback at first so I had to win them over but I left the club in a far better state than when I started.”
Brentford and Rosler were a nice fit. One dismal defeat to Stevenage Borough aside – a result which prompted a reading of the riot act in the dressing room afterwards – the progressive London club ticked forward under him for two-and-a-half years. They qualified for the League One play-offs in 2013 and were in the mix for promotion when the German left for Wigan in November of that year. Mark Warburton carried his work on.
Rosler’s impact at Wigan was invigorating and at the end of his first season, the club came remarkably close to defending the FA Cup and lost in the Championship play-off semi-finals. But last summer the project unravelled. Wigan’s recruitment drive failed them and high-profile players who were open to a year in the Championship felt less enthused about a second. Rosler was sacked in December, leaving behind a squad who looked like being relegated and ultimately were.
“I’m proud of what I did the first seven months at Wigan,” he said. “Sam Allardyce spoke last week about very short memories in football but I always tell my players ‘you’re only as good as your last game.’ So obviously I have a point to prove.
“What happened afterwards, there was a rebuilding job to do. At any club when you have to rebuild there are problems along the way. Because of my track record of getting teams into the play-offs I expected that I would get time to sort those problems out.
“I was very disappointed when I got removed but I have no grudges whatsoever. I moved on and the club moved on. I probably had too many things going on in some areas. I like to be very close to my players and to communicate.”
Rosler said he spent his six months out of work “educating myself”; scouting players and “studying the game”. “But I was always keen to come back this summer,” he said. “I had one or two opportunities, then this one came at very short notice. It can’t get bigger than this for me. It was a no brainer.”
In the way that McDermott was seen as a 4-4-2 man, Rosler is a disciple of 4-3-3 and plans to use that formation at Elland Road.
“It can pressure the opposition high up the field,” he said. “You need a high level of fitness and energy.”
Players who have worked with Rosler in the past talk about the intensity of his pre-seasons.
“Pre-season will now go ahead as Uwe wants it,” Pearson said, implying that Redfearn’s plans of a tour to Ireland is likely to be dropped.
“Playing 4-3-3, I like to have pace on the sides,” Rosler said. “My alternative system is a 3-5-2 where we play with two strikers. I did that at Wigan and did it successfully in the FA Cup against Premier League opposition. That would be Plan B.”
From front to back, United’s existing squad is short of pace. “In certain areas, we have the right players to do 4-3-3,” Rosler said. “In certain areas we have to add. But not massively.”
The former Manchester City striker wants to get the “ball rolling” with recruitment this week and plans to meet with staff at Thorp Arch next week.
“This is good timing because I have time before the players return from holiday to speak to the different departments,” he said.
As for the group of players he inherits, Rosler is pleased with it.
“That was one of the key factors,” he said. “I saw Leeds United in the last six months and I was very impressed by some of the performances. There’s a core of players with the best years in front of them. We just need to get the balance right between being ambitious and expectation. This club has to be ambitious. It also has to have realistic expectations.”
Expectation is the enemy of so many at Elland Road, largely because Leeds so often fail to meet it. The club finished 15th this season and Rosler said 10th place next season would represent progress.
“For me we are aiming for top 10 and I think that would be progression, competing with the clubs on parachute payments which are getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “I would call that a successful season.”
In that respect and many others, Rosler has fixed ideas – ideas about how his team will shape up, what they should aim for and how they will play.
“Transition football,” he replied when asked about his preferred style. “Very quick into attack and defence.
“It’s important for me to win the ball and play a high-pressing game, to force the opposition to make mistakes and to play the ball in areas where we can attack quickly. We also have to have a plan for when we play against established defences but I like very powerful, quick football. Jurgen Klopp says it’s ‘heavy metal’.”
It falls now to Rosler to hit the right notes.