Yorkshire Post 6/6/15
SO what of the 2014-15 campaign for Leeds United? Just another run-of-the-mill crazy season in the recent history of the Whites - although let’s be honest, there have certainly been a few of late, haven’t there.
The short-lived head coach stints of Dave Hockaday - 70 days - and Darko Milanic - 32 days - have entered Elland Road folklore for all the wrong reasons as did the circus towards the end of the season when six players suddenly declared themselves unfit ahead of the game at Charlton Athletic on April 18.
Not to mention the Steve Thompson affair, the clause in Mirco Antenucci’s contract... Or the barring by the Football League of Massimo Cellino for breaching their owners and directors test. The list goes on.
There was plenty more besides with Neil Redfearn rightly taking credit for steadying the ship in hugely difficult circumstances when the spectre of relegation looking very real at the end of 2014.
For that, Leeds fans will be grateful, although the man in the dug-out next term will not be Redfearn, but former Wigan and Brentford manager Uwe Rosler. Good luck, Uwe.
Here are five things, on the pitch, that Leeds need to address in 2015-16.
1. Several additions to the goalscoring department, not just one.
It was a dispiriting season for United’s forwards and only one, Mirco Antenucci, ended the campaign in double figures. That said, Antenucci was a fading force in the second half of the season and also fell away from many fans affections due to his implication as one of the ‘Charlton Six.’
United’s four central strikers of Antenucci, Billy Sharp, Souleymane Doukara and Steve Morison managed 22 league goals between them last term. Compare that to 2013-14 when Ross McCormack and Matt Smith plundered an combined total of 40 goals. Some difference...
Leeds are, understandably, being linked with several forwards, most notably Motherwell’s Lee Erwin, who is understood to be close to joining. Rosler’s preferred system is an attack-minded 4-3-3, with the emphasis being on pace down the flanks in the attacking third. Goalscoring nous is also a vital prerequisite, but bonafide proven Championship operators of a certain age and type cost money.
2. Keep hold of the family silver in Cook, Byram, Mowatt and Taylor.
Lewis Cook’s recent contract extension was a welcome development, although it also had plenty to do with Leeds covering their bases, call it an insurance policy if you like. It put an extra premium on the prodigiously talented midfielder - if he emulates his first half of 2014-15 with some similarly inspired performances in the next campaign, you can bet your bottom dollar that Premier League clubs will have Cook in their sights in January.
It can take nerve to fend off Premier League advances and all too often in the past, Leeds have cashed in. Given the fact that Cook, Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Charlie Taylor have roughly emerged at the same time onto the first-team scene, their development has genuinely enthused United’s scarred support, who have been let down on too many times worth mentioning over the past decade. Massimo Cellino have spoken about keeping the young kids together and building something. It’s essential that he delivers in that respect and that they aren’t just cheap words.
3. Sign Sol Bamba permanently.
Bamba did as much as everyone on the pitch to stabilise matters for Leeds in that key season-defining spell of late winter and early spring, when United pulled away from danger in impressive fashion - it was an uplifting, if ultimately brief, hiatus at Leeds when everyone seemed together as one.
With little or no future at Palermo, Bamba is now waiting for his next step and a return to Leeds, to many, seems a no-brainer - although his criticism of the behind-the-scenes events towards the end of last season were pretty damning ones, if Cellino chose to read them. At least it showed Bamba cares.
In his short time at Leeds, Bamba was also clearly a strong voice on the pitch and in the dressing room and at 30, he still has a few miles left on the clock.
4. Continue to get the best out of Luke Murphy.
One of the key stories in United’s renaissance from January to March was the welcome re-emergence of Luke Murphy, who was brought in from the cold and gradually began to blossom, thanks in no small part to the input of Redfearn and Thompson. Rosler and his assistant Rob Kelly have Championship savvy and will know about the talents of Murphy, who clearly had his confidence knocked in the first half of last season.
Murphy again needs to be encouraged and given licence to express himself and cajoled in the right way. Do that and he can be a big player for Leeds next season.
5. Address the schism between some of the English players and their foreign team-mates.
It is clear that there was some form of divide between some domestic and foreign players in the Leeds dressing room at times last term and it needs a skilful operator to bring sections together again and maybe mend a few fences.
Rosler, as a German with experience of the Continental game alongside his time in England, will need to employ some canny man-management, you sense in this regard. All good sides are built on a strong team spirit and some ice will need to be thawed when some players reconvene for pre-season training - regardless of the fact that it will be mid-summer by then. It needs addressing quickly.