It’s not for me to say whether the six players who cried off injured last week were definitely unfit. I’m too far away from the action at Leeds United to answer that with any certainty.
What I will say is that in all my time as a manager I never saw a situation like it. Not once. And I’ll be surprised if we ever hear of a situation like it again. Everyone I’ve spoken to this week – including people who’ve worked in football – raised eyebrows at the story. It creates major doubt in your mind.
Injury crises aren’t uncommon and I witnessed a few. But in reality they always developed over a much longer period of time. One weekend you’re without one striker and the next weekend you’ve lost two.
More luck goes against you and a month down the line, you’re down to the bare bones and desperately throwing a defender up front.
In those circumstances you can’t do much more than kick the cat and fight through it. But if I’d been in charge of Leeds last Friday and six players had been ruled out there and then, I’d have been thinking to myself ‘what the hell’s going on here?’ I’m sorry if that’s unfair on any of the lads involved but it’s the truth.
On a Friday morning you generally do a very light training session. Part of the reason for that is so that you don’t have players lining up outside your office complaining of knocks and niggles.
A bit of a five-a-side was usually in order. Even those matches could be pretty competitive but the lads were sensible enough to go carefully. Saturday is when you really want to play and win. Friday’s are all about final preparation and getting your head right.
Week after week you wonder what can possibly happen at Elland Road next. The controversy never seems to end. I was at the charity match for Brendon Ormsby at Farsley last weekend and the six injured players were all anyone was talking about in the dressing room beforehand.
Most of the guys who were involved in Brendon’s game have ties and affinity to Leeds so we’re desperate to see the club do well. It would have been nice on Sunday to have talked about whether the club would be able to make the play-offs or win automatic promotion in the last two games of the season. But no. The season’s over and once again we’re getting bogged down in a situation which stinks.
Looking in from the outside, this is going to end with Neil leaving the club in the summer. Or if not leaving the club, losing his job as head coach. That’s a purely personal view but if you add up everything that’s gone on in the past month and all that he’s had to put up with, I simply can’t see any other outcome.
It’ll be a real shame if that happens because I’ve always maintained that in the main he’s done a very good job at a difficult club.
You might say that him going doesn’t matter if Leeds appoint someone better and – speaking purely in terms of how ruthless football is – there might be an element of truth in that but couldn’t it be argued that they have the right man already?
It’s not like the club or Massimo Cellino inherited Neil as head coach. He was academy boss to begin with and I don’t think anyone will try to deny that he ran a very successful scheme up at Thorp Arch.
It was Cellino’s decision to back him last November and Cellino’s decision to promote from within. Neil and the players have got the club safe from relegation and I’m pretty sure that most people would give him pretty high pass marks.
I’m well aware that football clubs have their own ideas and sometimes do things you don’t expect. We’re seeing that at Brentford who look like they’re about to get rid of Mark Warburton. An owner can do as he pleases – it’s his money after all – but he shouldn’t be surprised if the supporters struggle to accept or understand certain decisions.
The injury situation is similar. Fair enough, Leeds say every one of those injuries was genuine and above-board.
But considering the problems the club have had this season they can hardly expect everyone to take that at face value. The reaction is something for the powers that be should think long and hard about.