Paul Heckingbottom defended Andrea Radrizzani over his public attack on Leeds United’s players and insisted his squad would not react negatively to the comments as he reiterated the need for change at Elland Road this summer.
Heckingbottom said Radrizzani had the “right to say what he feels is right” after United’s owner used a radio interview on Tuesday to accuse the squad of lacking “commitment, passion and spirit” in the second half of this season.
The Italian turned on the players after seeing Leeds’ bid for a Championship play-off position disintegrate with a run of one win from 14 games, a sequence which leaves the club 11 points adrift of sixth place with nine fixtures to play.
Heckingbottom revealed that Radrizzani had not met with him or the players to speak in person since his remarks were made but said the players “understand the support they’ve had” during Radrizzani’s nine-month reign as owner.
Radrizzani, who bought control of United last May, expressed his frustration by saying Leeds had given their squad “everything”, including a clutch of extended contracts before Christmas.
Heckingbottom, whose reign as head coach has so far earned one win in seven matches, said: “The owner’s put his money into the football club and he’s got every right to say what he feels is right.
“How have the players reacted? Fine. They understand that, they know that. It’ll not change their focus and it’ll not change their approach. They want to win for their own reasons, for the football club and for the owner because they do understand the support they’ve had while they’ve been here.
“We’ve not discussed it but Andrea’s spoken to the players on numerous occasions this season so there’s not a disconnect. There’s a real togetherness in terms of accessibility and common goal. You could ask anyone here ‘what do they want for Leeds United’ and I bet you everyone would say the same.”
Radrizzani highlighted Leeds’ tepid 3-0 defeat to Middlesbrough earlier this month as “the bottom of the season”. Asked if he agreed with Radrizzani’s concerns over attitude within the dressing room, Heckingbottom said: “From my point of view, when I look at the players on the pitch, errors have cost us more. But I look at the Middlesbrough game and I thought we were outfought.
“You can look at that and think that as soon as it got tough and difficult, we reverted to type. That’s what can’t happen. If we have to overachieve and compete against people with more financial might than us, one of the things we’ve got to have is a winning mentality. That’s not just the players. Everyone has to step up to the plate and be better.”
Radrizzani’s comments came with a veiled threat of substantial alterations to the squad in the summer transfer window, though all but one of Leeds’ players - midfielder Pablo Hernandez - are contracted beyond the end of this season.
Asked if substantial surgery was needed, Heckingbottom said: “Not a major overhaul, no, but lots of things need changing for us to be at the top.
“A lot of players are (under contract) and it does change things. It makes things difficult. The good thing about long-term contracts is we don’t have to lose anyone we don’t want to. The bad thing about it is you’ve got less wriggle room to make changes.
“We’re playing for, regardless of what happens this season, the squad for next season. Everyone’s working towards being here and the key decision-makers at the club agree with that. We want to improve.”