After a bright start to his Leeds United career, Thomas Christiansen has seen the season unravel with seven defeats in nine. Here Lee Sobot looks at his records with AEK Larnaca and APOEL in Cyprus.
EVEN the more learned students of the beautiful game would have been forgiven for not being au fait with Thomas Christiansen upon his appointment as Leeds United head coach back in June.
Three years in the Cypriot League were not of paramount concern to the majority of English football followers, for all that chairman Andrea Radrizzani evidently took notice of Christiansen’s achievements at first AEK Larnaca and then APOEL.
Radrizzani’s move to recruit the Dane looked to be the shrewdest of steps as the Whites soared to the top of the Championship table following five victories from their first seven games.
But suddenly Christiansen is facing a rather different challenge and statistically United’s barren run of four league losses in succession and seven league defeats in nine is unlike anything the Dane faced in three years in Cyprus; not to mention the demands of a league and a club which compared to his former stomping grounds are a different ball game altogether.
Until arriving at LS11, Christiansen had only lost three games in a row in management, with the former striker having never gone longer than four fixtures without a win.
After a dream start at Leeds following on from three bright seasonal beginnings in Cyprus, the 44-year-old is now finding the Championship a totally different beast.
Former striker Christiansen was appointed as head coach of AEK Larnaca in April 2014 and the Dane enjoyed instant and indeed the club’s best-ever success at a side who had finished just seventh the previous season.
The Dane began with a bang as AEK won 5-2 at Apollon on the opening weekend of the season before suffering a 2-0 loss at home to defending champions APOEL who Christiansen would go on to manage in two years’ time.
APOEL were preparing to take on Barcelona at the time of beating Christiansen’s Larnaca and Christiansen spoke to his former club Barcelona ahead of the Champions League tie.
“I’m happy,” said Christiansen.
“It’s my first managing job and we just beat title hopefuls Apollon 5-2 away in the first match. Then we lost to Apoel, but we played well. There’s an optimistic mood among the squad.”
Asked what his aims were for the season, Christiansen said: “To qualify for the title play-offs. The top six teams go through and that’s our target.”
Despite suffering another defeat in his next game away at Anorthosis, Christiansen and Larnaca achieved their objective with ease as 11 victories, six draws and just five losses took Larnaca to a club-best second-placed finish.
Not quite plain sailing, but a far cry to the situation and pressure that the Dane now finds himself under at Elland Road after Saturday’s latest beating at Brentford.
Christiansen endured back- to-back defeats only once in his first season in charge at AEK and his side never went longer than three games without a win.
The three-game winless streak arrived in February 2015 as AEK followed a loss at AEL with draws against Othellos and Nea Salamis.
Yet a strong end to the season including eight victories from the club’s last 12 games saw AEK finish fourth in the regular season and second in the Championship group, qualifying AEK for the Europa League third qualifying round.
Bordeaux stood in the way and while the French side won both legs of their tie with Larnaca to end the dream of Europa League football, Christiansen’s men began the following league season in style.
Bright starts, it seems, are nothing new.
Larnaca won 14 of their first 18 league games – losing just once – and the only real semblances of a rocky patch came in January and then again at the season’s conclusion.
At the start of the year, a 2-0 loss at home to AEL was followed a goalless draw at Nea Salamia. But hardly crisis time and AEK picked up again with victory in the next game.
Yet despite taking AEK to another second-placed finish, Christiansen’s tenure ended with three defeats in succession – the longest consecutive losing sequence the Dane had to endure as Larnaca head coach, with the Dane having then moved to pastures new thereafter.
The three losses in succession proved crucial as APOEL again won the league by eight points but APOEL had seen enough promise in Christiansen’s two seasons at Larnaca as a whole to make him their own head coach in May 2016.
Another league title had seen APOEL qualify for the Champions League second qualifying round and Christiansen and APOEL navigated their way past The New Saints and then Rosenborg before being ousted by FC Copenhagen over two legs in August as Christiansen’s rein at APEOL began with two wins, two draws and two losses in the Champions League qualifying round.
Christiansen then went on to have his best season yet in management as he guided APOEL to their 26th league title and fifth in a row but ground-breakingly also the last 16 of the Europa League for the first time in the club’s history.
They were achievements and accomplishments that evidently gained the attention of Whites chairman Radrizzani who now needs the Dane to show resilience to come through the most turbulent period in his young managerial career.
Adversity which the Dane has not faced before.
In his record-breaking season at APOEL, Christiansen’s side progressed through a Europa League group also including Young Boys, Astana and Olympiakos and then Athletic Bilbao were beaten over two legs in the last 32.
APOEL also kept 27 clean sheets in the league – a defensive record – and Christiansen lost two games in a row just once, when Anderlecht won both legs of their last 16 Europa League tie in March.
The Dane never went more than two games without a victory until the season ended with a four-game winless run as two draws and a defeat in the league were followed by a 1-0 loss to Apoel Limassol in the Cypriot Cup final, a game which proved Christiansen’s final game in charge.
The Dane and APOEL then parted company with the Cyprus Mail reporting that “among the reasons mooted for the change in management were a difference in the Dane’s remuneration package and crucially the team’s poor performances on the field, especially towards the tail-end of the season.”
That four-game winless streak had proved Christiansen’s worst spell in management and ended an otherwise fantastic season at APOEL with a slightly sour taste.
But the Dane is now facing something different altogether and the last comparable run at Leeds led to Uwe Rosler losing his job after the German was fired following United’s third defeat in a row at home to Brighton in October 2015.
Too many draws did for Rosler with the Brighton loss making it two wins in 11 as United slumped to 18th. Darko Milanic was famously fired after just six games in charge – three of which ended in draws – while David Hockaday was also shown the exit door after just six games despite winning two of them and only losing two in row in the league.
Leeds have not lost five in a row in the league since the spring of 2015 under Neil Redfearn who was replaced by Milanic the following September only for the Serbian to swiftly be sacked by Massimo Cellino.
United also lost eight out of nine in the spring of 2014 under Brian McDermott who was then replaced by Hockaday who went the same way as Milanic under Cellino – “Il mangia-allenatori” – the manager eater – at the Italian was known.
Radrizzani will likely have rather more patience than his predecessor.
Had he not, Christiansen would already be gone.
The Dane though, will know full well that the poorest run of his managerial career can afford to get no worse in 11 days’ time.