Garry Monk spoke a lot about creating an identity at Leeds United when he was first appointed. During his first week in charge Garry said “we’ve not had a culture or an identity at the club for quite a long time.” Which is very true, on the pitch at least, the club’s identity has been ripped apart and rebuilt, season after season.
We’ve jumped from Neil Warnock’s sky bound anti-football, to Dave Hockaday’s centre circle occupation tactics, to Uwe Rosler’s pressing 4-3-3, to whatever the hell Steve Evans was trying to do. Nothing has really worked, so hearing Monk talk of instilling an actual philosophy and style was music to fans’ ears.
Unfortunately, we’re now ten games into the season and there is little sign of this new identity really developing. Bar the Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff games we’ve look as far away from any sort of ‘style’ as we ever have. In all honesty, in the majority of games, we’ve looked utterly awful: bereft of ideas and leadership, an immobile attack, a soft midfield and a defence that is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
I’m not trying bash Garry Monk here, he’s been in the job less than four months, after all. Building a new team with a new style takes time, you can’t expect miracles overnight. Having said that though, he has used twenty six different players in ten games – thirty three if you include pre-season. He has also changed his starting line-up for every single game, which doesn’t really suggest he has a firm idea of the footballing identity he spoke about so much.
This didn’t seem to be the case in pre-season, though, as Monk seemed to be set on using a 4-2-3-1 formation from day one. He put out a team for each game using that formation and it worked, to an extent. The team weren’t world beaters, but they managed to put together some nice passages of play.
More importantly than that, Monk was establishing a style that the team would be taking into the season. That’s why it was so surprising that the former Swansea head coach, after only two games, decided to abandon the system and start playing 4-4-2. Granted, the defeat to Queens Park Rangers was abysmal and the Fleetwood game was painful to watch, but throwing away a whole pre-season’s work seemed very drastic.
Switching to 4-4-2 before even trying any other permutation of a five man midfield seemed to go against everything that Monk said he was working towards. 4-2-3-1 was a system that the Leeds boss knew and was comfortable coaching, it was a system he thought would push Leeds United forward, that he brought players in specifically to play, and a system that suited the majority of his squad.
Granted it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Luke Ayling’s attacking style would leave the defence wide open, that then had Rob Green flapping at crosses so much you’d think he was trying to take flight. In midfield Pablo Hernández struggled with the physicality of the league and ended up just humping the ball at Chris Wood’s head, which he can’t use, for football or for thinking.
It’s a work in progress, though. The system was the key, there was no way the squad was going to gel and come together with only a rushed pre-season and two competitive games under their belt. That is why it seemed so bizarre when Monk opted to change his tactics less than a week into the season.
Was he living in fear that Massimo Cellino would send him packing, just seventy minutes in the second game of the season? Was the decision to adopt 4-4-2 more to do with him trying to keep his job than believing it was the best thing for the team? Whatever the reason, it was a bad move and the kind of short-termist thinking that Leeds United really didn’t need.
I understand it’s hard to stick to a one or two season plan to build a team when your employer has sacked six managers in the previous two years. So, in that respect, it wasn’t really surprising Monk went back on his football philosophy to placate Cellino, but that didn’t make it any less sad.
Leeds United need a plan and a structure and someone with the balls to follow it through. Hopefully the victories against Blackburn and Cardiff have helped Monk find his feet again and convince him that his footballing philosophy can work and that he can give the club the identity it sorely needs.