Leeds United still haven’t fully recovered from their relegation to the Championship in 2004.
In the previous five seasons, they had never finished higher than 13th or lower than 15th. That was basically their station, exactly where they belong in the modern-day pecking order of wage bills and balance sheets. Throw in the caveat of a crackpot owner who operates in a whimsical world driven by superstition, not to mention the instability caused by seven permanent managers in barely three years, and it’s easy to understand why the bookmakers rated their chances of promotion in August at no better than eight per cent.
Enter Garry Monk, the one-time future England manager. An insight into his methods create a stir and leave a lasting impression of his attention to detail and the concrete manner in which he explains his methodology.
Monk spent 22 months in charge of Swansea before his sacking in late 2015
Given that Monk had guided Swansea into eighth position the previous season – the second-best finish in the club’s 105-year history, and their best since 1982 – the clamour to acclaim this ‘young British manager’ in the summer of 2015 was understandable. However, with the Swans 15th in the Premier League following a run of only one win in 11 matches, Monk was out of a job.
That his initial achievements were forgotten to such an extent that he was made to wait 18 months for another opportunity says much about the disposable nature of today’s society.
In less than a year, Monk had gone from Next Big Thing to Forgotten Man, barely even mentioned as a contender for most Championship vacancies. That the opportunity he eventually chose to accept was Leeds says much about him.
Working for a trigger-happy chairman like Massimo Cellino, on a 12-month contract that offers next to no security, was a risk to say the least. You only have to look at the list of Cellino’s victims – and where, if anywhere, they rocked up next – to understand that conditions are seldom taken into account in a results business.
To those hiring and firing in the top two divisions, failure at Elland Road simply translates as ‘big chance, blew it’.
Monk, though, is a traditionalist. According to the field of personality profiling, he is of the guardian temperament – the dependable, no-nonsense, co-operator who experiences a sense of abiding duty towards institutions, even crumbling ones like Leeds.
To him, it’s an honour to serve such a famous old club, akin to being called up for national service. And when he says he’ll never be bigger than the club, he means it.
Monk’s strong suit is logistics, the ability to break something down into component parts, make each one more effective, then put it all back together. When he talks about “putting our performance out on the pitch”, there’s nothing abstract about it; with him, everything is black and white. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do anything. Players must be accountable, excuses won’t be tolerated.
Some bigger names in the Leeds squad were black-balled almost straight away, with Monk relying on his special talent for observation, reading the body language of players and how they respond to instructions.
The proof is in the pudding and the anatomy of a Leeds performance was seen through the prism of various statistics.
No team in the entire Football League had conceded fewer first-half goals (10) and only Newcastle in the Championship had broken the deadlock more often.
A game against Leeds was like boxing an expert middleweight, as much about stamina, footwork and game-management than power or punching ability. You knew in advance they wouldn’t be throwing haymakers at the first bell, but drop your guard and they’ll punish you.
Ultimately, though, they were trained to go the full 12 rounds. The longer the fight went on, the more territorial they became and they began to dominate the ring. With great conviction, they knew the sheer clarity of their preparation gave them a huge advantage through the onset of fatigue.
Their consistency under Monk was arguably the most unheralded achievement of the 2016/17 Championship campaign. And all those nice things that were said about him two years ago when his stock was highest are every bit as relevant today as they were then.
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