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“It’s business as usual”: Leeds’ Paul Heckingbottom’s optimism shows naivety

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Photo: Getty Images.

When Paul Heckingbottom took the reigns at Elland Road, many expected it to be the spark that Leeds United needed to recapture their bright start to the season and push on in 2018. Instead, two months down the line, the club are in even more of a crisis.

The ex-Barnsley boss has overseen just one victory in that time, a far from convincing win over relegation battlers Bolton, and things are showing no sign of improvement.

That has led to speculation that his job may be at risk, but the coach has insisted that he is not fearing for his future.

“Everything has carried on as normal,” Heckingbottom told reporters, as quoted by Sky Sports.

“In terms of meetings, planning, and discussions for next season, nothing has changed.

“The speculation surprised everyone at the club, not just me. As far as we’re concerned, it’s business as usual.”

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

In only his second managerial role and thrown in at the deep end at a club as high profile as Leeds, Heckingbottom always had his work cut out to convince fans he was up to the task but his naivety is beginning to show.

Sloppy defensive play and a lack of threat in attack are giving fans little to cheer about, yet the manager is insistent that his team have the potential to be successful.

“At the minute we’re just putting halves of football together,” he added.

“That’s a problem. We’ve seen big moments in games become catalysts for us losing games, which is another problem.

“We need to put poor decisions by officials or injuries we might sustain to the back of our minds. We can’t let those kinds of situations affect us.”

At a time in the club’s history and under an owner who has shown no hesitation to make changes in the dug-out when things have not gone according to plan, Heckingbottom seemed to be adamant that he will still be in charge in the summer.

“We’re not where we want to be, so things have to change, we have to do a lot of good work to improve the squad. We want it slimmer, less in numbers and higher in quality.”

Whether he will make it to August in his role could be a challenge, given that fans are beginning to turn on Heckingbottom already and results are doing nothing to buy him time.

With the pressure off and nothing left to play for, the coach may be hoping for a late resurgence with only three games left to play, two of which are meaningless against fellow mid-table sides Norwich and QPR, but only after a derby with Barnsley, his former club, who need every point they can get to avoid a return to League One.

That Barnsley tie could prove decisive to Heckingbottom’s future, but assuming an approach of sticking with it appears to be a naive level of optimism if he is to turn things around at Elland Road.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

Birmingham City

Leeds must take advantage of Garry Monk’s misstep and snap up David Stockdale

The experienced shot-stopper would be a useful addition at Elland Road.

Max Cohen

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David Stockdale
Photo: Getty Images

Rarely is a goalkeeper who was previously named in the Championship Team of the Year told he is surplus to requirements, but this fate appears to have befallen Birmingham City’s David Stockdale.

Leeds United must act quickly and sign Stockdale from Birmingham, reuniting the former Premier League goalie with his favourite club.

Stockdale starred for Brighton and Hove Albion in the 2016/17 Championship campaign, steering the Seagulls to automatic promotion while being named in the PFA Team of the Year.

When the Englishman signed for Birmingham the following summer, many lauded the move as one of the coups of the transfer window.

Yet, Stockdale endured a turbulent year at St Andrew’s as the club went through three managers and narrowly avoided relegation.

Nonetheless, it came as a surprise when the Birmingham Mail reported that manager Garry Monk would allow the 32-year-old keeper to leave this summer.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Stockdale enjoyed a strong end to the season as the Blues won five out of their last nine to stay up, keeping three clean sheets in the process.

Given his strong Championship pedigree and impressive recent form, it seems odd that Monk would allow Stockdale to depart this summer.

However, Birmingham’s loss could turn into Leeds’ gain, as the Yorkshire club would do well to acquire the Leeds-born shot-stopper.

The goalkeeper grew up in the city and is a Leeds supporter, and even had a trial with the club when he was 12.

Stockdale failed the trial back then but has a superb chance to move to Elland Road and deputise for his beloved childhood club.

The goalkeeper has been a problem position all year for Leeds.

According to Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post, summer signing Felix Wiedwald has “struggled to adapt” to the Championship, while Bailey Peacock-Farrell is relatively inexperienced at only 21 years of age.

The signing of David Stockdale would benefit all parties involved, reuniting the goalkeeper with his boyhood club and solving the positional dilemma at Elland Road.

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Leeds United

Turfed out by Leeds, Souleymane Doukara is relegation hero in Turkey

The forward was released by Leeds United last August.

Mathew Coull

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Leeds United fans were likely left very surprised when they heard who had been signed to replace the legendary Samuel Eto’o at Antalyaspor in February. The Turkish side were in the relegation zone at the time and decided to cut down on wages and big-name players. The Cameroonian headed to rivals Konyaspor, whilst Antalyaspor pillaged fellow relegation battlers Osmanlispor. The player they stole away? None other than former Leeds United forward Souleymane Doukara.

Of course, Leeds fans were right to find the idea of Doukara replacing Eto’o somewhat unbelievable. Doukara had an indifferent spell at Leeds after joining from Catania in 2014.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

He was, however, one of the few Massimo Cellino led signings who managed to stick around and put in some good cameo performances, particularly under the management of Garry Monk. He will always be remembered for an incredible volley v Nottingham Forest that nearly ripped a hole in the back of the net and won the 2016-17 goal of the season.

Indeed, he always seemed to be a player up to the challenge of trying to prove those around him wrong. Despite his good moments, he was released last August after falling out of favour with new boss Thomas Christiansen.

(Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

After impressing in his first six months in Turkey, Antalyaspor decided he was the man to save them from relegation. They were right.

Doukara has been fantastic for the club since joining in the winter. The 26-year-old has scored six goals in 14 games for the club. Earlier this month, he raced away from Genclerbirligi defender, and Paul’s older brother, Florentin Pogba to slot home a 1-0 winner against their relegation rivals and secure Antalyaspor’s place in the Turkish Super Lig for next season.

Leeds fans know that when Doukara was in the mood, he had all the tools to be a real handful in the Championship. Unfortunately, those days were often few and far between. But this year so far has been excellent for the attacker who, based on recent evidence, could have played a major role at Elland Road this season.

Replace Eto’o he certainly did and he will now forever be a hero in Antalya. Leeds might regret deciding to cut their losses on the versatile French-Senegalese attacker.

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Leeds United

Jaap Stam would be a pointless appointment at Leeds United

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Photo: Getty Images.

Paul Heckingbottom’s start to life at Leeds United has been far from ideal, winning just four of 16 games in his opening few months in command. Yet there is already speculation that Leeds could appoint a 13th manager in just six years, with Jaap Stam the latest man linked.

The news comes from Sports Witness, quoting De Telegraaf, as suggesting that Leeds are interested in appointing the former Manchester United central defender who is also on the radar of Swansea City.

Such a move would be nonsensical for a club used to turmoil and crying out for stability. It’s clear that Heckingbottom’s early form has not been up to the standards that may have been expected when he was appointed, but the 2017/18 season was all but written off when Thomas Christiansen was dismissed in February.

Andrea Radrizzani and co. knew that in Heckingbottom they were hiring a coach who lacked experience, with no past in having handled the pressure of such a role at a club the size of Leeds. They went ahead with Heckingbottom because he knows the club, knows what it can mean to fans and has the potential to bring about a long-term plan at Elland Road.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Yet only three months later, rumours of a replacement are on the cards.

Stam would be the kind of man that would fit the Leeds agenda, a high profile name with no clear affinity to Leeds’ set-up, but his record does leave question marks.

His three at the back system deployed with Reading brought about success in 2016/17, taking the Royals to the play-offs with a reputation for their attractive style of play which caught the eye as they came close to returning to the top flight with Stam seemingly the inspiration.

Then came the team’s inexplicable collapse in 2017/18, crashing down to the wrong end of the table and leading to his inevitable sacking in March as he seemed to be too stubborn to change his ways as his side edged closer and closer to relegation.

Stam may implement a recognised style of play at Leeds, one which would be welcomed by many fans, but it would take time to get results. Time and patience is something that managers at Leeds do not get, as would be shown if he was to be hired with Heckingbottom abandoned after only three months in charge.

If Radrizzani wants to see Leeds finally awaken from their slumber as a sleeping giant, he needs to bide his time and trust his man. Whether Heckingbottom is the right man or not will only be seen with time, but having made his bed he must now lie in it, appointing Stam would show yet more short-term vision which has destabilised the club.

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