New Leeds United head coach Uwe Rosler is urging caution and optimism in the same breath. Phil Hay reports.
Top 10. Uwe Rosler’s target this season and a ballpark which would leave the door ajar. If Leeds United are thereabouts when the Championship term reaches the run-in, the potential to cross a higher line might ultimately present itself.
Tom Adeyemi, the midfielder signed from Cardiff City, said last month that Rosler was instructing his squad to work with a “top-six mentality” and “think like a top-six club would.” It’s that old trick of ruling nothing in while ruling nothing out, as managers often do. Rosler is new to Leeds United but not new to the job.
“I’m always realistic,” the club’s head coach says, “but I’m always ambitious. I’m never hiding from ambitions or targets. We all need to buy into bringing the club back (to the Premier League) in as short a timescale as possible
“But the facts are clear. This club finished two times 15th in the league. The club flirted last season with relegation. And you know how tough the Championship can be, facing teams on massive parachute payments. Not just one but a few. And other teams like Derby County who have money. It’ll be a tough road but I have to try and unify everyone towards promotion.”
Rosler has been head coach at Elland Road for a little over two months; long enough to get a proper overview of the squad he inherited, to add to it and learn a little about the machinations of his new club. He talked a few weeks ago of the “desperation” among United’s support, caused by season after season of underwhelming football and mediocre performance.
Against that backdrop, Rosler wants to promise progress without promising too much too soon. “With what the club has been through in the last couple of years, we are stabilising it now,” he says. “In this season we wanted to improve in the way we play and improve the way we recruit. Those are realistic aims.”
Elland Road has seen something of a sea-change this summer. United’s owner Massimo Cellino – for so long a one-man enterprise – has passed duties and authority to Adam Pearson, his executive director and one-time owner of Hull. After his appointment as head coach, Rosler was allowed to bring in an assistant, a first-team coach, a goalkeeping coach and specialist head of recruitment. It is all far removed from the scenario where former head coach Neil Redfearn waited seven weeks to secure Steve Thompson as his number two.
United’s signing of Chris Wood from Leicester City was striking too, in part because Leeds paid more than £2m for him and also because they were able to derail a move which Wolverhampton Wanderers expected to complete. United have coped with heavy debt for many years but Rosler says the current situation is healthy. “The club before had massive debts which were not cleared. Now they are cleared by Mr Cellino. This club has no debt.”
It is plain to see from Rosler’s intense approach to pre-season how pleased he is to be back in the thick of it.
The German was out of work for six months after his sacking by Wigan Athletic last November, although partly through choice. There were offers of jobs before Easter but most of them were from clubs who were in a degree of trouble or looking for miracles. And in any case, Rosler felt that a rest would do him good after eventful years in charge of Brentford and Wigan.
“I needed that break,” he says. “It was a hard time at Brentford. We completely built a club who went from a bang average League One club to a club who nearly made it to the Premiership. That was hard work. My family lived in Manchester, I lived in London and travelled a lot. It took a lot out of me.
“Then going into Wigan, we had an enormous match programme. We nearly made it to the Premiership and nearly made it to the FA Cup final. After that there was the pressure to build a whole new team and a new environment. So after all that, I needed four, five, six months to reflect and recharge. And also to invent new things for myself. I believe I used the break well.”
For the past two months Rosler says the position of head coach at Elland Road has been exactly as it was advertised to him when he and Cellino first spoke about the position. Last season was disrupted in parts by claims and instances of interference from the top but Rosler and Cellino have been a stable couple so far. “He’s a very good coach,” Cellino says. “He can get even better.”
“Everything I’ve met so far has fulfilled the expectations I had about the club, myself and the players,” Rosler says. “It’s been a joy to work with the players.
“They seem clear about how we want to play and clear about what is needed to play a successful football style.
“I also talked to them about experience and what is needed to be successful in the Championship. They understood that we needed a hard pre-season to sustain 10 months with 50-plus games. It was necessary.”
That could be taken as another hint of Rosler’s ambition. The new season will definitely run to 50-plus games for any side who reach the play-offs.
When Rosler speaks, he urges caution and optimism in the same breath. The young core of players at the centre of United’s squad will have pressure on them to perform as they did last season, he says. But Rosler argues too that if Leeds are well placed at Christmas, they’ll grow stronger as the season goes on.
“If we can set a foundation this season to push up in the next season then we won’t be too far off where we need to be,” he says. “But don’t forget we have a young team with players who have played only one season. For them it’s harder to play the second season. The second season is the harder one because now people have expectation.
“As individuals and as a team we have to learn to cope with that.
“Consistency is a massive word in the Championship. You have a lot of teams going on good runs, bad runs, good runs, bad runs. We need to find consistency where we aren’t panicking positively when we win three or four games and not losing our night’s sleep when we lose a couple of games.
“We need some sort of realistic expectation but also a level of consistency which means that in the end – and this is always important – when we get to May we are there. My teams historically come strong in the second half of the season because they are very fit. You can go back to Brentford and Wigan in 2013-14 – always coming strong in the end.”