the square ball week: fail to prepareBack
I have a lot of questions about Garry Monk at the moment. I’ve been asking some all season. Others for a few weeks; some after the last couple of results.
In no particularly order: why, after international breaks when Monk has most time to prepare his players, are performances always so poor? Surely the team should be responding to two weeks of intensive but pressure-free coaching?
Why are our tactics measured in epochs, when some coaches switch approach mid-game dependent on circumstances? We were 4-4-2 for ages, now we’ve been 4-2-3-1 for ages; can’t Monk switch it up?
Why are we so reliant on Chris Wood (pipe down, Kermorgant) and set pieces for goals? With so many wingers buzzing around Pablo Hernandez, shouldn’t we expect a bit more creativity in attack? I mean, mate, look at Brentford.
Liam Bridcutt playing between the centre-halves. Is that Monk’s thing, or Bridcutt’s thing, and why does it keep happening?
And about those centre-halves; shouldn’t we have got another one in January when we had the chance? Has Monk been a bit non-committal about resolving the impending suspensions situation, which still threatens to bite us? And isn’t the discipline to avoid stupid bookings and suspensions something Monk could or should be coaching?
Related to which, Pontus Jansson: explain? (I promise not to tell anyone.)
Are recent results a symptom of the fact that, although Monk has been promoted plenty of times as a player, he’s never yet done it as a manager, and is only learning himself how to deal with this situation?
There are plenty of others. Most pressing, and most important, though, is this: why hasn’t Garry Monk been given a new contract yet?
Because, although I have many questions about Monk, I’d rather be asking those questions about him, rather than ‘Why doesn’t he just fuck off?’ about Steve Evans, or ‘What on earth is he doing here?’ about Dave Hockaday. I’m happy that we have a head coach (or manager, or whatever) of whom we can ask reasonable questions about his work. Admittedly the answers will often involve some dry flannel about “the group”, and if we mention ‘identity’ he’ll bite our bloody head off, but the answers Monk has given us on the pitch have got us up to 5th in the Championship.
The question about Monk’s contract is being asked with increasing regularity as the weeks go by. As it stands, he and his backroom staff are all out of a job at the end of the season — yes, even cuddly Clotet, with his pensive pre-match photos and Motörhead-soundtracked Instagram movies. Monk, and presumably the others, has an option in his contract for another twelve months, but somebody at the club has to actually tell him that option is being taken up. And Monk, at that point, also has to tell the club that he hasn’t got some better options to consider. At the moment we can’t guarantee either case.
“I’m focused on the football but I’m sure the club will want to sit down at some point,” Monk said in his pre-Preston press conference, sounding disturbingly like Steve Evans this time twelve months ago. “I’m sure the club when they’re ready will want to talk about the future but for me it’s not right now.”
Well, for me, Garry, it is right now. ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ was a famous maxim of Howard Wilkinson’s, but it needs modifying for our present circumstances. Right now, preparing to fail comes first. The last two games have shown us that qualifying for the play-offs is by no means a certainty, although I’m still reasonably confident will make it. I’ve never, though, been confident that if we do make the play-offs, we’ll make the Premier League. Depending on our opponents, we’ll have to rely on season’s best performances, thirst for revenge, and hope that our opponents don’t use the same weapons against us. It’s not impossible; nothing is, especially not three games of football. But we won’t be favourites.
The most likely scenario is that, next August, Leeds United will once again be trying to get promoted from the Championship. And that’s the scenario the club should be preparing for now.
“It’s impossible to doubt this group,” Monk told the press this week. “They’ve put Leeds back on the map. They’ve made everyone talk about Leeds for the right reasons, which is the football, the results and the performances. They’ve given the club something back, a team they can be proud of, and that’s harder to achieve than the position we’re in, with a chance to get to the play-offs.
“This is a situation the club haven’t seen for a long time, with the crowds, the atmosphere and the numbers who are coming. We’ve had a lot of games that have been very meaningful and they still are at this point. It’s got the buzz among the crowd. The results and performances have got everyone talking about the players and that’s what the club’s been missing. It’s something we’re all very proud of. The challenge for us now is to keep showing why we’ve been talked about this season.”
That challenge isn’t only about right now, the next game, or the hypothesis of the play-offs. The challenge now is about keeping hold of all that progress and positivity and making sure it survives the impending high possibility of failure. That’s not defeatist, that’s football; as many teams will be relegated from this division as will be promoted from it, and the vast majority will do nothing at all. That’s just the way it. But that’s why it’s so important that your preparation for failure is spot on.
If Leeds United don’t make the play-offs this season, that will be a sort of failure. But if they start next season with Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson in central defence, some fresh options on the wings (that perhaps look less like random punts), and some back up for Wood — whether that’s in the shape of a reserve striker, or a midfielder who can score — as well as keeping Wood himself; well, that begins to look like a different sort of failure, that might even be called success. If we start next season with some or all of that, and Garry Monk as head coach too, then we can take defeat in the play-offs, go down to the river, wash it in the water, and call it success.
If we don’t? Then we’ll be right back where we were at the start of this season. Remember what that felt like? It felt like failure. That, ultimately, it wasn’t, has an awful lot to do with a coach we need to stick with.
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