Leeds United: Whites will be genuine promotion contenders next season says Evans

Steve Evans.
Steve Evans.
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Steve Evans backed Leeds United to mount a concerted bid for promotion next season – with or without him as head coach.

Evans said discussions with owner Massimo Cellino had convinced him that Leeds would be a “genuine competitor” in the Championship after the club brought their home campaign to an end with a 2-1 defeat to Charlton Athletic yesterday.

Evans and Cellino met ahead of that match for talks in which the United boss said he had stressed the need for serious investment in players during the forthcoming transfer window.

Leeds are unlikely to finish higher than 12th in the table after an eighth home loss and Evans, whose side will wrap up their term away at Preston this weekend, is awaiting confirmation from Cellino about whether he will have his contract as head coach renewed for the 2016-17 season.

United made concerted alterations to their squad last summer, with Chris Wood and Stuart Dallas the most high-profile signings in a period of recruitment overseen by former boss Uwe Rosler, but Evans expects more money to be forthcoming from Cellino once this season ends.

“I don’t think Mr Cellino is misguided about whether we need to be stronger,” Evans said. “He wants to build a stronger team and in fairness to him, some players who looked good last summer haven’t produced over the season.

“As president you support the head coach and if your head coach gets the players or the recruitment wrong, the president has to take what comes with that. I’ve always maintained that if you don’t get your recruitment right you don’t challenge for honours.

“Anywhere between four and six players would need to arrive in the summer. There’s no point in us signing any more ‘if, buts or maybe’ players. We’re not a club who should be keeping mid-table Championship players around. They have to be somewhere else.

“If you’re head coach, when you look to the bench you have to see some top-six Championship players sitting there. When you change things, you have to know you’re bringing some real quality on. The Championship is unrelenting. You need 21, 22 established top-six players.”

Evans’ prediction of stronger resources came despite the fact that Cellino remains at risk of a 223-day Football League ownership ban.

An appeal against that proposed penalty has been pending for more than six months, with Cellino currently in the middle of an arbitration process involving the Football Association. His disqualification was originally announced on October 19, the day when Leeds confirmed Evans as Rosler’s replacement, but the Football League has as yet been unable to enforce it.

Evans was given the task of keeping Leeds clear of relegation this season, an aim he achieved comfortably, but the United boss was honest in describing his squad as a “mid-table Championship team” after yesterday’s defeat.

The former Rotherham United boss, who left centre-back Giuseppe Bellusci out of last weekend’s visit to Hull City for disciplinary reasons and omitted him again from his 18-man squad against Charlton, said: “You need more quality if you’re going to be a genuine competitor next season – which this club will be.

“This club will sign good players and the team and the squad will be significantly stronger. The real quality players in our dressing room need more quality to help them. They’ll get better with better players around them. It’s an old football saying but it’s true.”

Leeds announced a fortnight ago that they would refund up to 50 per cent of the cost of 2016-17 season tickets bought before the end of this month if the club failed to make the play-offs next term.

“I know that (a top-six finish) is the president’s objective for any coach who sits in this position,” Evans said.

“He’ll be doing his damnedest to put that in place and everything I heard at our meeting suggests he’s very focused on that.”