ROBBIE BLAKE has thrown his support behind Dennis Wise after Leeds United's manager vowed to remain at Elland Road this summer.
Wise's future was the subject of immediate discussion after last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town, and the 40-year-old stifled speculation by insisting he would not resign as United's boss.
Chairman Ken Bates has already ruled out the possibility of a change of manager before next season, when Leeds will compete in League One, and Blake provided a view from the dressing room with an outright endorsement of Wise's credentials.
Blake has expressed his own desire to commit himself to Leeds, though the striker's future is likely to be determined by the flexibility of United's wage bill next season, despite having 12 months left on his contract.
The 31-year-old is valued highly by Wise, who described Blake as his "little gem" earlier in the season, and is likely to be one of the players that United's boss would wish to retain during the close season, if the club's finances allow it.
Speculation that Leeds will be placed in administration has grown this week, and United are believed to have held discussions with insolvency specialists KPMG.
The bill for administrators could run to six figures, a cost which Leeds would be required to finance.
But despite United's relegation from the Championship, Blake insisted Wise had merited the chance of a full season at Elland Road, and claimed worries about the 40-year-old's Chelsea's connections were a diversion from Wise's managerial talent.
"He's got good ideas," said Blake. "It's hard for him being a former Chelsea player.
"The rivalry between Leeds and Chelsea is very big, but if he gets a good crack at it he'll get us promoted next season and then promoted again. I'm sure of it.
"At the end of the day, he's the manager and he can't do anything about (his Chelsea connection). The fans are passionate, but it's a job the gaffer has to do.
"He's not here to wreck the club, he's here to move them forward. I believe he can do that."
The arrival of two former Manchester United trainees – Jamie Mullan and Aaron Barnes – at Thorp Arch on trial this week suggested that the process of rebuilding a fragmented squad was already beginning with one league fixture remaining.
A total of 43 players have been used in first team fixtures this season, and Sunday's visit to Derby County is likely to increase that number if Wise, as expected, names a group of academy players in his squad.
Of those 43 players, 11 have already left Elland Road and a further 16 are approaching the end of loan agreements or permanent deals.
A total of 15 squad members are under contract next season, including Blake, David Healy, Richard Cresswell and Shaun Derry, and Wise held talks with Bates this week over the club's plans and budgets for next season.
Those plans will be heavily affected by the financial decisions taken by Leeds in the coming days.
Several of the club's academy players have already been protected by professional terms. Tom Elliott is ready to begin a scholarship having turned 16 in September.
The process of recruitment and restructuring this summer should be assisted by the removal from the wage bill of numerous high and long-running costs, largely the result of deals agreed with former players who have long since left Elland Road.
Settling and freeing United from those costs has always been seen by Bates as a key stage of the club's development, though United's financial position remains weak. Beyond their wages, the members of Wise's squad under contract next season are also a potential route to transfer fees and badly-needed revenue.
Blake said: "It's okay saying you want to stay, but it's all a case of what the club needs to do.
"I'm sure we've got other players who want to stay, but it's not in our hands.
"The feeling within the club is one of sheer devastation. It's a sick feeling – it's going to sink in now and it's going to hurt. The fans are hurting, but it's also hard for the players to take, especially at a club like this.
"But it's been free-falling really. I don't know how many players the gaffer's had to use through the season, and we've had a lot of loan players as well.
"I'm sure he'll sort it out in the summer.
"He's got a full summer to think about it, and to get us strong for next season. I'm pretty sure we'll be going all out for promotion."
United will complete their Championship calendar at Pride Park, a fixture which is essentially a formality for both clubs, and the reality of the club's relegation will be left to dwell with their players during the close season.
Ipswich will be remember as the club who forced Leeds into League One, but Blake is convinced that United's fate was decided in Colchester.
A 2-1 defeat at Layer Road on Easter Monday, when Wise's player conspired to concede two goals in the final eight minutes, halted a run of five games without defeat and started a fatal haul of four points from four games.
It was that spell, ending in Saturday's draw with Ipswich, which broke United's back.
Blake said: "The crucial game was Colchester away. We were cruising and they hadn't had a sniff.
"They popped up in the last eight minute with two goals and that was it.
"This is the worst I've ever felt in my career. The club's so big and the fans deserve better.
"There's not much the gaffer could say. It was a sombre moment. He thanked us for our efforts and said it wasn't this game (against Ipswich) that did it.
"We've had a lot of games and a lot of chances, and we haven't done it."