PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM warned that patience would be needed for Leeds United to beat the “uneven playing field” of finance in the Championship as he admitted that the club’s form under him had reflected their mid-table position.
Leeds are joint 11th in the league and could slide further down the division this evening with Wednesday’s meeting with Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers coming 24 hours after the rest of the division’s fixtures.
Wolves are running away with top spot and automatic promotion this season and remain on course for the title with 12 of their games left to play, the result of high-profile and controversial recruitment last summer.
A number of clubs in the Championship, including Leeds, are understood to have voiced concerns about the strategy at Molineux, which Chinese owner Fosun International expects to comply with the EFL’s Financial Fair Play rules despite heavy expenditure including the £15m purchase of Portugal international Ruben Neves from Porto in July.
Wolves have used agent Jorge Mendes, the representative of Cristiano Ronaldo, to help acquire other highly-talented and valuable players, among them Diogo Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro. The EFL is understood to be satisfied with the arrangement but is under pressure from rivals club to look more closely at Mendes’ influence.
While United’s close-season recruitment has failed to inspire a concerted bid for promotion, Wolves sit six points clear of Cardiff City at the top of the table and are on course to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2012.
Heckingbottom, whose managerial career began with two years in charge of Barnsley, described Leeds as “way down the pecking order” financially and said money elsewhere in the league would prevent a “quick fix” at Elland Road.
“It’s an uneven playing field,” Heckingbottom said. “I’ve known that for a long time but it’s getting even moreso with the teams coming down and parachute payments getting even better.
“We’re a club who don’t benefit from those and what is it, half who do are in the Championship? In terms of budgets and finance we’re way down the pecking order but if you let that restrict you then you’ll never get anywhere.
“Teams have done it in the past and Huddersfield managed it last year. Everything else has to be better: recruitment, organisation, the environment, the spirit, the mentality. That’s not a quick fix.
I said these first six games against teams above us would give us a great indication of where we are and where we stand. We’ve competed well in some games but we were found wanting against MIddlesbrough.Leeds United boss, Paul Heckingbottom
“It’s something that over time you have to build up and keep making sound, long-term decisions about to improve things bit by bit. Then you can compete and believe that you can compete. Then it’s irrelevant how much money you spend.”
Leeds’ season suffered another setback with a 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough on Friday, a fixture which had offered the club a glaring opportunity to close in on the top six.
Heckingbottom insisted a play-off position was not entirely out of reach with eight points between United and sixth place, saying: “It’s still there but our approach is the next game. It’s been that way all the time.
“I said these first six games against teams above us would give us a great indication of where we are and where we stand. We’ve competed well in some games but we were found wanting against MIddlesbrough. That’s probably a fair reflection of why we’re 11th in the table.
“You are where you deserve to be and we’re 11th so at the minute we’re not (good enough). That’s what you have to improve. We’re learning a lot from these games.”