Leeds United: United should respect relegation threat but not live in fear of it – Ritchie

Massimo Cellino.
Massimo Cellino.
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Leeds United’s league position should not come as a major surprise to anyone. They’re slightly further down the table than I thought they would be but it was obvious that this season was going to be hit and miss.

When you change a squad as drastically as Leeds changed theirs in the summer you’re bound to experience some teething problems. Certain players will settle quickly and gel nicely. Others will find form difficult to come by and a few won’t show any form at all.

Even Massimo Cellino would surely admit that a few of the signings who came in before the season began were unknown quantities in an English sense. They’d never played here before and they knew very little, if anything, about the Championship.

I don’t doubt that the Christmas schedule, as one example, will have come as a bit of a shock to the foreign lads. England is quite unique in having games back-to-back throughout this time of year. The rest of the world has taken a shine to the idea of a winter break but football here is relentless. It’s a rare treat for Championship clubs to have New Year’s Day off this year.

To sum it all up, Leeds, at present, are primed for inconsistency. And inconsistency always pulls you into the bottom half of the table. It’s not that the club don’t have good players or an effective side on their day. It’s just that the good performances aren’t coming often enough.

In a year’s time you’d probably find that this squad, with more games and experience behind them, would be much improved again. But a year is a very long time in football and Leeds don’t have the luxury of looking that far ahead.

I stand by what I said in my column last week – that I don’t see the club going down from the Championship – but that doesn’t mean they can afford to be flippant about the situation they’re in. The league has closed up in the past few weeks and for the time being their season is all about results.

This is turning into a big test of Neil Redfearn’s management, although I’m confident that he’s got the shoes to cope with it. He’s spent a lot of time focusing on philosophy and a pattern of play but I think he’ll realise now that the time’s come to put some results together, regardless of how they materialise.

I handled the odd relegation battle in my time and as a manager it’s a really delicate situation. On one hand you want to make sure the players are aware of the situation and properly in tune with the pressure they’re under. It’s no good having a squad who go around with the mentality of ‘we’re too good to go down.’

But at the same time you don’t want to cause any extra or unnecessary strain. You don’t want to show any fear yourself or make the players think that you might be starting to doubt them. It’s a pretty hard balance because we’re all human and a manager would have to have nerves of steel to be near the bottom of the Championship and stay completely free of worry. But you have to convey the right message. In fairness, December was always going to be a tough month for Leeds but January and February have some vital games against sides who are also down at the wrong end of the table.

It’s actually a big opportunity for Leeds – a chance to put all talk of the drop to bed early on and leave other clubs to muddle around as the season reaches the sharp end. At the moment I think we’d all settle for that, Massimo Cellino included. This has been some introduction to the Championship for him.

I was sad to hear about the passing of Leslie Silver this week. He was chairman of Leeds United when I played for the club in the 1980s and I remember him as a gentleman – a softly-spoken person who had the club’s best interests at heart. Leslie kept himself in the background and out of the limelight as best he could and thinking of him makes me think about how much football has changed. These days, owners are at the forefront of everything – not just at Elland Road but at so many clubs. Deep down I feel like it was better back in the day and easier for everyone to concentrate on the football.

What we can all agree on is that with Leslie as chairman, Leeds United did great things. I’m sure he’ll be badly missed.

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