Phil Hay: Leeds would be foolish to ignore Neil’s knowledge and opinions

Neil Redfearn
Neil Redfearn
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The average club owner would agree that Leeds United’s season deserves no more investment. Aside from football it comes down to basic economics: the question of what Leeds stand to gain by throwing money at their last 11 games.

There’s a degree of risk in presuming the club are safe from relegation on 44 points but that’s the Championship for you. Millwall are stuck on a roundabout and neither Wigan nor Blackpool have made it off the slip road. Forty-four points was enough last year and it should be again.

In those circumstances the emergency loan market is an extravagance for clubs who use the window for actual emergencies. It would be preferable if Leeds weren’t required to wade through the run-in with tired legs and a top-heavy bench but there is no merit in hiking the wage bill for the privilege of finishing somewhere around 12th. The club would only be chasing losses accrued from their failure to get it right in the first place.

Their chairman, Andrew Umbers, would take more credit if he laid out United’s transfer policy in those terms. In plain English, the club don’t fancy the loan window because financially they don’t see the point. That would figure. Incoming players can upset the “equilibrium” of a team, to use Umbers’ own argument, but that opinion is usually left to a club’s manager or head coach. Squad strength is their turf. It doesn’t take much wit to spot the contradiction between Umbers talking about “good and large” resources and Neil Redfearn bemoaning a side at “full stretch”.

Unintentionally, Redfearn might be more prone to needless transfers than he thinks. He’s as clear as Leeds that their season is over in a competitive sense but he has a vested interest in the games that remain. When it ends, Leeds will judge the season on their survival. They were not certain of that at Christmas. But Redfearn will be judged on his record; a record he should be pleased with but which could easily worsen in the next two months, taking his job with it. There are personal stakes for him to think about and a light squad does nothing to help them. Even so, it does Redfearn a disservice to accuse him of selfish motives or short-termism. When he talks in detail about new signings, he strays further and further into discussions about next season. He has, he says, been looking at players who are near the end of their contracts, available on loan immediately and available to recruit permanently before another coach has the same idea. Redfearn is trying to get the summer recruitment process moving before the summer has started which, all things considered, would not be a bad strategy. “I’m pretty sure that clubs will want to do deals,” he said this week. He is altogether less sure about his own.

Umbers insisted on Tuesday that he was not categorically ruling out loan signings but United’s indifference on the subject is tangible. There is no evidence of any movement in the market and no hint from Redfearn that he has been so much as close to a deal. After a pleasant period of footballing calm, Leeds are back in that state where their head coach appears to be talking to himself. Redfearn asks for more resources, Umbers says the resources are just so. Redfearn wants his own contractual situation addressed, Umbers says all discussions about contracts will wait until the season has finished.

In paying him so little heed, the club are raising suspicions about the wider context of all that is happening. United’s head coach is out of contract in the summer and the status quo does not show any particular urgency on the club’s part to keep him happy or keep him at all. It is also the sort of scenario which begs questions of Massimo Cellino. Are the club sitting tight in anticipation of Cellino’s return, whenever that may be? Or are they sitting tight because his interest and his grip on the club is now receding? It should be pointed out that Brian McDermott experienced a similar situation last season but Cellino had not got his foot through the door 12 months ago. If Eleonora Sport are in for the long haul, forward planning should be considerably easier.

As for Redfearn, the extension of his deal beyond this season is sensible unless Leeds or Cellino plan on turning up a Grade-A coach with indisputable credentials. There is plenty to admire in Redfearn – his commitment to and integration of United’s younger players, his nerveless handling of the post-Christmas crisis, his ability to make the most of the hardest fixtures – and other aspects which expose his inexperience. The club could improve on him but they could do a whole lot worse. It all goes back to the debate that was often had around the time when players like Bradley Johnson were at the end of their contracts. The argument went that better players were out there, and so they were; in spades. The problem for Leeds was that they never recruited them. The club have been most stable this season in the periods when Redfearn has had free rein. They disregard him and his opinion at their peril.