Neil Redfearn officially joined the ranks of the dearly departed at Leeds United last week. Having been relieved of his first team duties and replaced by Uwe Rosler as last season drew to a close, the fans favourite looked set to return to his role with the academy at Elland Road but a formal job offer has failed to materialise.
Redfearn had a successful stint heading up Leeds’s youth programme and his elevation to first team coach coincided with cost-cutting at the Yorkshire club, as several of his academy products found themselves thrown in at the deep end in a misfiring side.
With Redfearn’s appointment the Cellinos earned some breathing space. With off-field problems continuing to engulf the club, and particularly owner Massimo Cellino, sliding a Leeds United man into the hot seat provided much needed stability and brought the fans back onside, temporarily at least.
Redfearn found his legs chopped from under him when his assistant Steve Thompson was sacked without warning – a sign of ever there was one that the manager’s office at Elland Road might be the hot seat, but it’s not the top job. Cellino keeps his axe sharp. He always has.
But even the most domineering of owners often find themselves locked in an odd and stunted dance with their club’s fans.
Cellino bowed to fan pressure when appointing Redfearn. Similarly, Mike Ashley, who seemingly threw up his hands, saying “Look! I gave you what you wanted!” in appointing first Kevin Keegan and then Alan Shearer to the Newcastle job. It’s not much fun to own a club that’s unsuccessful and where tens of thousands of fans turn up and tell you they hate you, so the urge to bow to popular pressure must be a tempting one – even if against your better judgement.
In Ashley’s case, after several failed experiments which included Keegan and Shearer, he found stability with Alan Pardew holding down the job for four years – a veritable eternity in contemporary terms. Cellino needs to find that stability, but history suggests he won’t. There were 36 managers in 22 years at Cagliari for Il mangia-allenatori, The Manager Eater.
Upon Cellino’s arrival, then manager Brian McDermott found himself in and out of the job again like he was trapped in a revolving door. Eventually he, like Redfearn, emerged onto the pavement with his personal effects in a box. Uwe Rosler is manager number 5 inside a calendar year at Leeds United.
McDermott, again like Redfearn, had made his name developing talent, having successfully stepped up from working with the reserves and U19s at Reading to managing their first team following the departure of Brendan Rodgers. McDermott had also been chief scout at Reading, he wasn’t directly replaced and at times during his tenure, it felt as though he was working from a little black book that hadn’t been updated recently.
Similar is perhaps true of Redfearn. While the continuity he provided blooding youngsters in the first team was valuable – that theory won Germany and Joachim Low a World Cup – he perhaps lacked the next big idea, or the versatility to change when his approach wasn’t working. You have to bob and weave to avoid Il mangia-allenatori, nothing is worse than being all out of ideas.
But Leeds fans, like the fans of every other team in the country, will enter the new season with a sense of hope. New manager Uwe Rosler brings with him an intense desire to manage in the Premier League and an iron will that helped him resist the Stazi in pre-Soviet collapse East Germany.
Leeds have yet to move big in the transfer market, and will look to strengthen before the season gets properly underway, despite Chris Wood and Sol Bamba joining the ranks, and Tom Adeyemi joining on loan. In Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Mirco Antenucci they have the makings of a competitive Championship side.
But what’s needed, again, is stability. Football teams run on personal faith and interaction – when a manager says, work hard in training and you’ll get a shot in the first team, the player has to believe the manager will be there in three weeks time. If your manager is facing the perpetual risk of being eaten, you are significantly less likely to heed his plans for the future, and the team will continue to under-perform as a result.
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