Leeds United: Time was right to go for a foreign coach – Lorimer

Darko Milanic. PIC: Varleys.
Darko Milanic. PIC: Varleys.
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There’s no point in guessing or predicting how successful a head coach Darko Milanic will be. All I know is that in terms of what Leeds United require, he fulfils a lot of the criteria.

He’s the club’s first foreign boss – a bit of a surprise when you think about how continental English football has become – but I made the point a few weeks ago that the appointment of another English coach at Elland Road might be a mistake.

United’s squad is awash with foreign players and so is the starting line-up. It’s pretty clear already that quite a few of the lads who came in from Italy during the summer are going to be key figures for us this season.

Some of them are trying to learn English and that will help them to settle in Leeds but in reality, the man who runs the dressing room needs to be able to communicate effectively with everyone in it.

By all accounts Milanic can speak about five different languages, including English and Italian, so very few of the players will struggle to understand his demands or his instructions. And there’s another side to this too – the fact that anything a player says will be picked up and registered by the person in charge.

I get the feeling that we’ve got a lot of good eggs at Leeds but discipline can’t be helped by having a coach who doesn’t know what the lads around him are talking about. Milanic will command respect because disrespect won’t go unnoticed. I do feel that’s vital in terms of him establishing his authority.

As for his coaching record, I think that deserves respect too. He hasn’t coached at the very highest level but he did extremely well at Maribor and I can’t imagine it’s plain sailing managing a team in the Austrian Bundesliga.

They say that winning trophies with Maribor is a basic requirement for any head coach there – they’re the biggest Slovenian club with by far the biggest budget – but that brings a certain amount of pressure and Milanic didn’t just win the odd one or two. He won nine in five years and the least you can say about his time there is that he couldn’t possibly have done any more.

His spell in Austria sounds like it was much tougher but reading between the lines, I don’t think he had the strongest of squads or the easiest of circumstances at Sturm Graz. Don’t get me wrong, no-one has it easy at Leeds. But there’s some talent in our squad, that’s plain to see, and I’m not surprised that he wanted to get involved here.

This is a step into the unknown for Leeds because we’ve never gone foreign before. David O’Leary was a non-British coach but he grew up in the English game, as a player and a manager. I suppose part of the reason why we’ve always looked for British bosses is because the huge influx of foreigners has only really come in the past 10 years – and in that period we’ve been out of the Premier League, a bit below the radar. It makes good candidates from abroad more difficult to land.

But foreign coaches can be successful in the Championship. Oscar Garcia went close to getting Brighton up last season and Gianfranco Zola went even closer with Watford the year before. I don’t doubt that Milanic will need a bit of time to get to know the league but with his background and a decent squad there’s nothing standing in his way. The encouraging thing for him is that he’s taking Leeds on at a time when the form is good.

That’s thanks in no small part to Neil Redfearn and I’d commend Redfearn for doing a very good job as caretaker. Perhaps he’s been a bit unlucky to be overlooked for the head coach’s role but to be fair, he’s lost out to someone who has a long background in coaching at a good level so I guess he has to accept that Massimo Cellino had a different plan.

The thing about Redfearn is that he’s done some cracking work with the academy and I understand if the club don’t want to move him away from that. And from Redfearn’s point of view, he’s done the first team a great turn too. I was worried about our games away at Birmingham and Bournemouth, I have to admit that, and to come out of them in such good shape was a massive shot in the arm.

To then beat Huddersfield as we did on Saturday was outstanding and the mood in my pub afterwards was superb. People are really enthused about the team and the way we’re playing and Neil has helped to produce some momentum. At the end of the day, his CV now shows some excellent achievements in the academy and a very good shift as Leeds United caretaker – 10 points out of a possible 12. It wasn’t his time but in spite of that, he hasn’t done himself or his reputation any harm.

WARNINGS: From Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom.

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