An old photograph is doing the rounds on Twitter, sent by Brighton the morning after their Championship season fell apart last May.
It shows Chris Hughton and the club’s senior staff sitting around a table, dying inside but outwardly beaming about the 12 months ahead.
Twitter did not help Brighton so much as the retention of Hughton or the money spent on Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy but as the club try to wrap up the title on Saturday, they can revisit that tweet with pleasure. It projected the right message at the right time: that finishing third on goal difference and losing in the play-offs was something they could deal with. And, more to the point, something they were ready for.
At Leeds United the threat of a dispiriting conclusion is coming as more of a shock.
It was never taken as read at Elland Road that promotion would be theirs this season, even when the table promised as much, but the club have been sitting tight on several fronts as the run-in plays out. Discussions about Garry Monk’s contract will wait until after the last ball is kicked.
The future of a player like Kyle Bartley is a conversation still to be had. Leeds are only resigned to losing Charlie Taylor if they remain in the Championship but the club will certainly lose him if they do. Even the refund of season-ticket cash – the compensation bravely offered by Leeds if they finished below the play-offs this season –is yet to be addressed. The original deadline for claims, a deadline which Leeds now plan to extend, passes this weekend. The lure of promotion encourages indecision because promotion to the Premier League promises to solve a thousand issues overnight. A manager’s salary and budget take on an unrecognisable complexion in the Premier League. Transfers move into a different bracket of cost.
Minus specific shareholder investment, promotion is the only means by which Leeds can finance the repurchase of Elland Road and negate the crippling rent they have been paying for 12 years. The fact that rent of less than £2m no longer cripples anyone in the Premier League does not alter the long-term value of owning your own infrastructure. Monk is part of the infrastructure now, the architect of what will be a creditable season however it ends, and Leeds’ reluctance to wade in and throw a long contract at him is ever more curious.
It is risky too in the light of the other Championship clubs who need managers and have enough money to pay for the cream at this level. One of those clubs, Norwich City, will be at Elland Road on Saturday. Norwich’s lively form at the end of a dead and wasted year gives the impression that many of their players think the club intend to go big in the summer.
Monk was quoted earlier this month, a few days before a 1-1 draw at Newcastle, as saying that his first year with Leeds in the Championship had “put foundations in place which will hopefully allow (promotion) to happen in the future”. Many of us thought the same of Simon Grayson’s work in 2010-11. It is only true if the head coach responsible remains in place, avoiding another seachange to the culture of management at Thorp Arch. It is only true if the best of his players are here to fight another day. It is only true if the budget available covers the ground where the club fell short. Leeds will rightly think that with a cushion of eight points and eight games to play, Monk’s players should not have backed themselves into seventh place. But they must also accept that, on balance, this squad were going some to be there in the first place.
This season, as Chris Wood says in the YEP today, is by no means over. A swing of four points over two matches is not a ludicrous permutation and the week of the 25th anniversary of Leeds’ last Division One title is perhaps as good a time as any to remember that football works in its own way but it is no longer prudent for Leeds to hedge their bets on a place in the Premier League. Seventh place from a position of strength would be horribly hard to take.
It would be easier to take if the club can paint a convincing picture of what comes next.