Leeds United: Whites picked a winner with unflappable Simon - Matteo

When a club like Leeds United appoint a new manager, you automatically expect a recognised face to walk through the door.

In some respects, it's the obvious answer to a vacant job. Big clubs and big names tend to go hand in hand.

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If, two years ago, Leeds had chosen to invest in a manager who was widely viewed as one of the country's elite coaches – and by that I mean a coach who had worked for years in the Premier League – they would have taken the safe option.

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The manager in question fails! Not our fault. His record and reputation promised so much more.

In the aftermath of Simon Grayson's appointment, the club's supporters were probably inclined to ask 'Simon who'?

I don't think that attitude was derogatory – I'd simply say that many people were unfamiliar with his credentials and his background. The public would have taken a Martin O'Neill figure with open arms. I'm sure the mention of Simon Grayson had many people logging on to Wikipedia.

Those of us within the game understood why Leeds had gone for Simon. It was a brave appointment but also an intelligent one; highly astute as it turned out.

If track records were important then his was bang on the money – a manager capable of taking a club out of League One and lodging them in the Championship. That's what Leeds were desperate for and that's what they got.

I don't think any other coach would have done a better job over the past two years.

There's a lesson to be learned here (and Blackburn Rovers might take note) – appointing a great name is not the same as appointing a great manager. More to the point, it's not the same as appointing a manager who is suited to the job in hand.

Leeds rightly think of themselves as a major club, but that title is meaningless when you're two divisions below the Premier League.

When Simon arrived in December 2008, Leeds were a League One team with League One players. No amount of history or supporters was going to change that.

The only answer was to find a coach with the patience and desire to grab a limited squad by the scuff of the neck.

The progress made under Grayson has been exceptional.

Even now, his managerial profile is smaller than it ought to be. That's probably because he wastes no time on self-promotion.

But his reputation, in my eyes, is as credible as they come – promotion and consolidation with Blackpool; promotion and consolidation with Leeds. All of that in little more than five years as a coach.

You only have to look at Leeds' roll of managers in recent times to realise that completing even two years in the job at Elland Road takes real skill and a strong talent for survival.

In general, managers are under more pressure than ever before. People will point to chairmen with itchy trigger fingers for the number of sackings that take place in England but I don't think it's as simple as that. To me, players across the board are becoming harder to manage.

They're less and less willing to accept or listen to criticism and they're difficult to keep happy. Kid gloves seem to be an essential part of a manager's kit.

As far as I'm concerned, receiving criticism is part of being a footballer. It's what makes you better and highlights your faults.

As a young professional at Liverpool, I remember certain games ending with players at each other's throats in the dressing room. If you were at fault, you soon heard about it – it toughened your skin and reminded you never to be too precious.

When David O'Leary had a go at me in his infamous Leeds United book, criticising a couple of bad tackles I made, I could have been offended.

But I always saw that sort of thing as part of the game.

I doubt whether dressing rooms could work like that now. Managers who berate players tend to lose them quickly.

That's one of the things which impresses me most about Simon – people I speak to who see his squad on a daily basis say the atmosphere amongst the players is fantastic. Diplomacy

They've no reason to lie. It takes a lot of authority and a lot of diplomacy to build a happy camp, especially at a club as demanding as Leeds. You've got internal and external pressure at Elland Road – a board and a squad who need good management and a set of supporters who need achievements on the pitch. The pressure must be enormous.

I've had the pleasure of Simon's company on several occasions and I'm constantly struck by how normal he is. Away from work, he's basically an approachable guy who likes a beer, likes his music and likes the company of ordinary people.

You never feel like you're in the company of an ego or speaking to someone who thinks of himself as being above the man in the street.

What he clearly has is that switch – the ability to walk into the training ground or into Elland Road and become a manager in the blink of an eye. It's a crucial trait.

Professional management is intense and stressful and a coach who can't switch off will never survive for long.

Players and managers always talk about having confidence in their ability but I think the proof of that pudding is in the way they act.

Managers who seem to be on edge clearly have something to worry about.

It's true that Simon has had difficult spells at Leeds. What players look for in those periods is calm direction from a coach who believes in himself. From what I can gather, he never broke from his usual routine or his usual training methods, even when times were bad. He trusted his philosophy and backed it to come good.

The last thing a squad needs when the pressure's on is a manager who gives the impression that he's starting to doubt himself.

The success of Simon's management can be seen in the Championship table as it stands today. After 24 games, you have to say that Leeds have every chance of reaching the Championship play-offs, against the expectations of many.

Whether they find a way into the Premier League this season remains to be seen. But I've every confidence that when promotion comes, Simon will be the manager who delivers it.

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