Garry Monk had the very rare distinction of playing in all of England’s top four divisions. He has spoken in the past about the education he gained from life as a lower-league footballer – of sleeping in his car and grabbing a quick sandwich in between training sessions.
Swansea City was nothing like that or not in his latter years with the club and Monk’s approach to management there, his microscopic attention to detail, had no relation to football as he first knew it. One thing remained the same, though: his commitment to the idea that players should buy into the game before buying into the money it earned them.
The Championship falls some way below the extreme wealth of the Premier League, the only division Monk has managed in, but England’s second tier has never been richer or more willing to spend what it can. Derby County raised eyebrows last summer by splashing £6million on Bradley Johnson.
In the space of a few days last month, Newcastle United burned almost four times as much on Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle.
Financially the Championship grows more dramatic, more explosive and more desperate by the year.
Monk, as a coach, is new to the league but his track record as a player, including three years in the Championship with Swansea, meant the task of managing Leeds United did not feel like a leap in the dark. “Things change in football but they don’t change that much,” Monk said.
“I haven’t managed in the Championship before but I’ve played in it many, many times and I’ve got experience of every league here.
“I know British football and I know what to expect. I know the attitude and the application you need.
“It’s a tough league, there’s no doubting that, but nothing in it is going to shock me or the players. We’ve analysed the other clubs and we’ve looked at everything.
“We’ll be smart and we’ll be well prepared for what we have to do against different teams. But I’d agree that the Championship is on a different level this season.”
Monk could see himself as one of the reasons why: a former Premier League boss who came down a division in search of his next job. Newcastle retained Rafael Benitez and Aston Villa appointed Roberto Di Matteo. A former title winner in Nigel Pearson is back in the field at Derby.
The Championship has as many ex-Champions League winners among its managerial fraternity as England’s top flight.
“In terms of coaching, it’s great to be in amongst that,” Monk said.
At the start of pre-season, Monk’s assistant, Pep Clotet, predicted that the 2016-17 campaign would be “one of the most difficult Championship seasons ever”. Monk agreed but sounded pleased about it.
“Pep’s right,” he said. “It’s going to be the most competitive we’ve seen. There’s obviously a lot of power behind the three teams who’ve come down and every year I genuinely think there are 12 or 13 clubs who have a chance – clubs who can genuinely compete for three places to get promoted.
“We might be talking about even more this time.
“That’s the reality of the Championship – all that competition in it and only three places to get promoted. It’s the hardest league in the world to get a promotion from, that’s how I’d describe it, and you’ve got some really high-calibre managers in it this season. That’s a good thing.
“It means the league’s on a different level again. I spent the last few years competing against top managers (at Swansea) and I’d much rather have that challenge. It’s good for you.”
Leeds set out this season at lengthy odds of 12/1 to win promotion, a lack of favouritism which might suit Monk as he tries to bed-in at Elland Road in a way which few of his predecessors have.
Steve Evans, who Monk replaced in June, is the longest-serving first-team boss under owner Massimo Cellino with 38 games on his record. As a club, Leeds have eaten through managers at a problematic rate either side of Simon Grayson’s creditable reign.
Monk, nonetheless, survived for almost 80 games in a cut-throat Premier League, making a go of a challenging first job in management at Swansea.
There were peaks and troughs before a run of one win from 11 games convinced Swansea to sack him last December.
“My time at Swansea – I see as 70 games which were fantastic and a 10-game period which found the negatives for me,” Monk said.
“I learned lessons from that but I tried to move on very quickly and focus on the next thing ahead of me.
“You’ve got to look back on it to some extent but I didn’t want to dwell on it. I always look ahead and I trust what I have to offer.”
Leeds, as they did with Uwe Rosler a year ago, put faith in Monk by allowing him to put together a sizeable backroom team, with Clotet as his assistant, James Beattie as first-team coach and Darryl Flahavan as goalkeeping coach.
Monk lost Lewis Cook in a £10m sale to Bournemouth early in pre-season, depriving him of a player who he had specifically talked out of England Under-19 duty in the interests of completing a full pre-season with United, but his squad is markedly different from that left behind by Evans in May.
“I’m very happy with the players and the way they’ve been improving,” Monk said.
“But I won’t make any predictions because you can never predict anything in this league. You can never say ‘we’ll be this or that this season’ because the league isn’t a formality and it isn’t predictable.
“Outsiders can get themselves up there. It’s happened before and it happens because they’ve got a plan, they’ve got players, they’ve got the right attitude and they trust what they’re doing.
“Over the years, many teams who have been fancied haven’t delivered. This season probably won’t be any different, no matter what people think.
“Where we’re concerned, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I don’t see this as a short-term thing and words are very easy when it comes to talking about promotion.
“But I want the work I do to be good enough to achieve that.
“It goes without saying. And I want that to happen as soon as possible.”