Leeds United: We are United behind the boss says MD Kinnear

Thomas Christiansen.
Thomas Christiansen.
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A poor run of seven defeats in nine games has seen Leeds United plunge down the Championship table, but Whites managing director Angus Kinnear tells Phil Hay that Thomas Christiansen is going nowhere.

Thomas Christiansen is past the point of needing a vote of confidence from Leeds United. It has already been given to him by proxy; by the club’s willingness to stomach results which feel as bad as they look.

Angus Kinnear

Angus Kinnear

A loss of faith would have manifested itself is a different reaction, even with Leeds as close as they are to the Championship play-offs.

Faith in Christiansen at Elland Road comes down to the best of his short time as head coach and the belief that a squad who led their division after seven games have the capacity to click under him again.

Leeds are nine matches on from that high-water mark and have lost seven of those.

There is no question of the rot being tolerated indefinitely but Angus Kinnear, United’s managing director, sees the form as a period which “the majority of well-run clubs should have the ability to suck up”.

Andrea Radrizzani.

Andrea Radrizzani.

In an interview with the YEP, Kinnear fought Christiansen’s corner in the face of questions about the Dane’s performance and his suitability for the job, describing him as having “absolutely the potential to deliver in this league”.

Leeds’ owner, Andrea Radrizzani, felt the same when he interviewed Christiansen in Madrid in June, analysing a coach whose previous managerial experience came during three years in Cyprus. United’s descent to 10th in the Championship table has not yet altered that perception.

“At Thorp Arch the preparation is fantastically diligent, really methodical,” Kinnear said.

“There are no stones left unturned from a nutritional perspective, a conditioning perspective or an analytics perspective.

“All of those foundations you need to be successful in Championship or Premier League football.

“He’s embraced them and driven them and he’s open to internal and external advice. The connection with the players is there, the squad unity is there, so there’s nothing we’ve seen to doubt him.

“Andrea and the rest of the board have got really high standards and the results – and in some of the games the underlying performances – don’t meet with those standards.

“Naturally there’s concern because we need to stay in touch with the play-off places but we’re confident the ingredients are there to regain the form we had.

“The majority of well-run of clubs have the ability to suck up periods like this. It can be difficult because from a personal and emotional perspective, there’s nobody more disappointed after a defeat than Andrea.

“We all take the results like fans but our job is to step above the emotional reaction and run the club for the future.

“You have to separate the pain of defeat from who or what you think is right for the medium and long term.”

Leeds’ strategy under Radrizzani has always had a medium-to-long-term feel: the left-field appointment of Christiansen as a replacement for Garry Monk, recruitment which operated within a budget and focused heavily on players with perceived or untapped potential, and contracts stretching to as long as the five-year deal given to Pontus Jansson.

In September, when Leeds led the Championship with an unbeaten record, it looked like striking gold quickly. Two months later the club’s tactics in the transfer market are open to scrutiny.

Kinnear said Radrizzani was still happy with the influx of summer signings and insisted Christiansen was content with the calibre of his squad.

“As a board we meet regularly and we’ve met to discuss the current form,” Kinnear said.

“It’s a testament to Thomas that he’s never once discussed squad quality as being a problem.

“It’s a testament because it would be an easy excuse. He inherited a lot of this squad but he knows and he’s seen what they’re capable of.

“He’s been much more focused on what we’re getting wrong now that we were getting right previously.

“There’ve been some moments which reinforced how fine the margin between success and failure is, like the two penalty decisions against Derby and our penalty miss against Reading.

“Those could have broken up what’s become a run that none of us want to be on but the run still comes off the back of some really strong performances and off the back of Thomas showing he can get good results here.

“If we hadn’t have had such a great start then there might be questions asked (about recruitment) but I still go back to the fact that if we play like we know this team can play, we’re in good shape.

“If there hadn’t been so many good performances we could have been worried about that. But I don’t think we need to be. I absolutely think it’s a top-six squad.”

Kinnear worked for many years at a senior level with Arsenal and West Ham United before joining Radrizzani and Leeds in June.

Arsene Wenger is virtually bombproof at Arsenal but across London, West Ham have seen more of the managerial exchange.

“You definitely get a sense at a football club of ‘losing the dressing room’,” Kinnear said.

“A manager can have the best track record but if they don’t have the dressing room on their side, that’s a big challenge.

“There’s no sign of that at all here. The squad are very united.

“Thomas comes across as a really nice guy, and he is a really nice guy, but he’s very serious when it comes to the football side.

“He’s fairly uncompromising and as a board, he’s very clear in his requirements of what we’ve got to deliver to make a success of this.

“That reassures me because the good managers I’ve worked with before were the same: really nice guys until something looked like it might compromise their preparation.

“Then they’re not so nice. Sam Allardyce has got that and Arsene Wenger’s got that. Thomas has it as well.”

Christiansen, who is only 20 competitive games into his tenure, was Radrizzani’s first pick as head coach in the Italian’s first summer as owner of a professional club, and that in itself might encourage Leeds to let the appointment play out fully.

But there is an urge at Elland Road to break the cycle where nothing lasts for long. Monk had the rare distinction of seeing out a full season as head coach.

Since the club’s relegation from the Premiership 13 years ago, only two managers – Kevin Blackwell and Simon Grayson – have seen two.

In the past month, the attempt to shield Christiansen from blame and criticism has been concerted.

“The reason why pressure’s not applied (by the board) is because Thomas applies it himself,” Kinnear said.

“There’s no more demanding character here than him.

“Having been at the club for five months now, I can honestly say that the lack of stability has been a problem at every single level, from employees not knowing what the future holds for them to managerial changes all the time and budgetary cuts.

“Everyone at the club feels more of a sense of vision now and they’ve got a better chance to perform in that environment.

“Thomas is very positive. The job becomes harder at times like this, when you have to maintain confidence, but his strength is that he’s already delivered results with this team.

“He’s shown it can work so it’s not like he’s asking the players to do something they haven’t done before.

“He’s played at the highest level so he knows what it’s like to go through runs like this. He knows how to get out of them.

“There’ve been some unfortunate results and some individual errors, which is a bit of a cliché but the errors have definitely impacted on results. You get questions about every squad but we all know there’s enough quality in there to have got better results over the last eight or nine games. If we play like we did at Bristol City recently then I think we’d be certain of a play-off place. Obviously confidence (amongst the players) is low because they’re not coming off the back of the form they once had but at the same time, there’s a deep-seated belief that they can compete in this league.”