David Prutton, the former Leeds United midfielder, was back at Elland Road on Monday providing moral support for Francis Benali, his old friend and team-mate.
Benali, a prolific charity fund-raiser, is attempting to run between all 44 Premier League and Championship grounds in the space of a fortnight, with the aim of raising £1m for Cancer Research UK.
“I played with Franny first of all at Forest,” Prutton said. “He came on loan from Southampton and he showed us all how the senior pros did it. It was quite an eye-opener for young lads like me.
“At half-time of his first game he tore Marlon Harewood a new one for not running around enough. That came as a shock to us, Marlon most of all, and we all thought ‘right, we’d better not mess with this guy.’ But he’s a lovely fella and what he’s doing is wonderful; tremendously difficult and tremendously inspiring. I don’t think he’s got any hamstrings left.”
Prutton’s career with Leeds ended in 2010 – a lifetime ago, in his words – but returning to Elland Road always reminds him of how much he appreciated playing for a club he “loved to bits and totally embraced”. He would play for Leeds given his time again. And, as an observer from the sidelines, he would happily play for Garry Monk.
Prutton, 35, works as a television pundit these days and keeps a close eye on the Championship. The division is too wealthy and too competitive, he thinks, for any grand predictions about Leeds’ prospects this season but Monk he sees as a “good fit” as head coach – and not just because the 37-year-old, like Benali, was a colleague of his at Southampton.
“When I first joined Southampton he was kind of on his way out of there,” Prutton said, “but he was a smashing lad and a good team-mate. I’ve watched his career from a distance since then but I’ve spoken to him a few times post-match and as a manager he’s always been steely-jawed and serious with his answers, which is as it should be.
“However much you value this comment, he comes across as someone who I’d have loved to have played for, someone with a lot of energy and good ideas. We’re all looking for the modern manager these days and he’s very much in that mould.
“Leeds are a good fit for him and he’s a good fit for them. He’s young, energetic, knowledgeable. The club have got the sort of facilities he’ll be used to. But, at the same time, it won’t come easy for him here. It’s a proper challenge. And as a young manager, a bit like a young player, it’s probably a good thing not to have too much too soon.”
To date, Monk has proved the theory that a squad under new management blossoms over time. Leeds were brittle, tense and tentative in August. The weeks since then have shown a completely different level of conviction. United’s results have been as good as their performances and their form contains seven wins from the past 10 games.
Prutton’s expectation of Monk is that under him, and over a period of many months, Leeds will reach a high level of performance and reliability. In the meantime, Monk needs enough victories to keep criticism at bay and allow him to improve his players and his tactics.
“With time and patience I’d expect him to do very well but it’s almost pointless saying that,” Prutton said. “Football just doesn’t seem to work that way any more.
“The thing is though, he’s already had a chance to do what he wanted with the team. He’s had enough games for the first signs of progress to come through and because he’s been given those games, the improvement is happening.
“What he’ll know is that results buy you time and patience. As much as we all like to think the job’s about performance and beautiful football, even the most die-hard fan knows it starts and stops with results.
“In this league, you get a handful of games a season where you come out thinking ‘wow, that was genuinely entertaining.’ But speaking as a former player, the rest of it is head down, fight on and wait for the finish line to come. It’s impossible to be brilliant for 46 games in the Championship.
“The only currency Garry can trade in is wins but what comes with wins is the time needed to bring a philosophy through and allow it to become deep-rooted. You were never going to see his philosophy in one month but we’re a bit further on now and the signs are there. It’s quite simple, and I suppose quite obvious, when you look at it like that. The longer you go on, the more you’ll see a culture change.”
Leeds restart their Championship season away at Derby County on Saturday sitting four points from sixth place, eight above 22nd and in the top half of the division. A few of Monk’s players have talked openly about where the campaign might go but Monk himself has shown no willingness to discuss targets or his personal expectation.
“They can be competitive,” Prutton said, “but dominating the division or finishing high up it is another question entirely because they’re up against clubs with a lot of money.
“I think they have to aim for the top six but that’s not to say that anything less is a disaster. The fact that they’ve been in the Championship for such a long time just means that aiming for less than the top six makes no sense.
“The trouble is, they’re one of 90 per cent of clubs who think they should be able to get out of the league and it’s getting infinitely tougher every year. I do feel that if Leeds are going to make that jump, they need to do it pretty quickly.”