IT transpired on Sunday that 75 points was what Leeds United set out to accrue at the very start of this season.
Garry Monk asked his players to be ambitious in their outlook but even he wondered if a bid for the play-offs was asking too much of his first year in charge.
The play-offs got away from Leeds in the closing weeks of the campaign but only because of an unprecedented year in which all of the Championship’s top-six clubs finished with 80 points or more. While Monk reflects on the costly collapse which caught up with Leeds in April, he can console himself with the thought that his squad hit their intended total.
Monk recalled after Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Wigan Athletic how he put them through a “workshop” last summer and told them to decide en masse what the club should aim for. “I asked what they wanted to do,” Monk said. “Players need to understand what their drive is.”
What he told them then sounds as pertinent now, in light of Charlie Taylor’s refusal to play at Wigan. The left-back declined to travel to the DW Stadium, a means of protecting his fitness and his interests ahead of a likely move to the Premier League when his contract expires at the end of next month. An angry Monk called Taylor “naive” and “terribly advised”, saying: “The club cannot have or accept a player refusing to play. It’s not what it should be.”
In his years as a footballer, Monk was not a one-club player. He merely felt like one after finishing his career with a 10-year stretch at Swansea City. Swansea were a League Two club when he joined and a Premier League side with a League Cup win on their record when he retired and took charge as their manager in 2014.
“Achievement should be about making history for a club or achieving something properly for a club,” Monk said. “It shouldn’t be about what your bank balance is.
“Football now is a lot more that way; what car you have, what house you have, what money you get. Players tend to focus on that as an achievement and it’s not an achievement at all. To achieve something proper is to be remembered at a club and or do something successful at a club. That’s what the drive should be.
“In pre-season I sat with the players and discussed that with them. I asked them what they wanted to do because players need to understand what their drive is.
“They wrote a few things down after a group discussion and we filtered it down to what was most important. The final target was 75 points and, at the time, it was a very ambitious target. I wanted them to be ambitious but I didn’t think it was realistic. The fact is they’ve achieved what they set out to do.
Achievement should be about making history for a club or achieving something properly for a club. It shouldn’t be about what your bank balance is.Leeds United boss, Garry Monk
“Of course we feel like we should have had more points in recent weeks. We should have delivered better in recent weeks. But going from where we were to achieving ambitious targets, it’s been fantastic overall.”
On Sunday morning, before kick-off at Wigan, Monk revisited those pre-season discussions and reminded his squad of the targets they had set. The aim of improving results at Elland Road was met by the club’s best home record in the Championship for 27 years, a statistic which underpinned their four-month spell in the play-off places.
Monk wanted more clean sheets – Leeds posted six in a row at Elland Road in December and January – and asked his players to react quickly to defeats. United were never beaten twice in a row, although one win from their last eight games spelled the end of the club’s challenge for promotion.
An eight-point cushion over Fulham was lost in the space of less than three weeks last month.
“We talked about clean sheets, we talked about Elland Road becoming a fortress and we talked in terms of bouncing back from defeats and having a mentality,” Monk said. “We wanted to get used to winning and we’ve won 22 games.
“I listed all of those targets in the morning (on Sunday) and showed them what they’d talked about in the summer. There are improvements to be made but they’ve more or less achieved what they set out to do and that’s what makes (finishing below the top six) a bit harder. We knew 75 was an ambitious target and in any given season we would have made it.”
Qualification for the play-offs would have given Monk all the clout he needed in forthcoming talks about an extension of his tenure as head coach.
He will still be left with plenty to say for himself when he and Andrea Radrizzani, United’s owner-in-waiting, sit down to discuss the summer ahead and a contract which ends shortly.
A travelling crowd of almost 5,000 made their feelings plain throughout Sunday’s game at Wigan, chanting ‘sign Garry Monk’ and giving him a standing ovation at full-time.
“The bit that makes me most happy is that the fans can see what this club is again and the potential it has again,” Monk said. “Days where the crowd come out like that, we’ve had it throughout the season. They’ve been turning up for meaningful games and they’re turning up being proud of their team.
“There’s a long way to go but this has been about giving them their club back. It’s something they’ve talked about for the last few years rather than seeing it.
“Actually seeing it is something special and it’s been special for us to be involved in.
“It shows what the club can be in the future if all this is built upon properly.”