Why Leeds United Has The Most To Fear Of Those Relegated
In the end, Leeds United fans will wonder if it was their team who finally demonstrated ‘survival specialist’ Sam Allardyce had lost his touch.
Relegation, confirmed with a comprehensive 1-4 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, meant what was previously a solitary blemish was becoming the trend for the manager.
Just like his last assignment to keep West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League, the appearance of Allardyce on the Elland Road touchline did little to alter Leeds United’s descent into the second tier of English soccer.
Post-game he suggested the opportunities the team created deserved to score more, but realistically, as has been the case in almost all of Allardyce’s games in charge, the number his team leaked meant the side would have needed an avalanche of goals.
"It is really sad the club is in this position," he added. "To the fans, I apologize. The last thing I wanted was to be the man who took Leeds United down.
"It is a tough old world when things start failing. You have to come back more determined.
"I haven't said I am staying. There is a lot of discussion to be done and I am not committing myself. We will thrash it out because both sides have to be comfortable."
Of concern to the Elland Road faithful was Allardyce’s analysis of the bigger picture, his assessment wasn’t that the club had an off season but would be okay, he believed there had been a more substantial drift.
"The rebuild has to be carefully planned,” the 68-year-old continued, "what is the strategy going to be like both on and off the field? If things are going in the right direction, then we'll see [if I stay].”
Unusually for a temporary charge, he delved into the ownership situation, suggesting the uncertainty was an issue.
It has been long anticipated San Francisco 49ers owners, who currently possess 44% of the club, will acquire the entire entity from current chairman Andrea Radrizzani.
But relegation raises questions about the way this deal will be done as the value of the club inevitably will be hit as a consequence of demotion.
Allardyce warned this needed to be resolved if the club had any hope of succeeding in the fiercely competitive Championship division.
"Is it going to be bought, is it going to stay the same? That is the first thing that needs to be sorted out," he added.
Leeds United was last relegated from the Premier League nearly two decades ago.
And, whilst the current uncertainty off the pitch is hardly helpful, the sheer chaos that the Yorkshire side faced in 2004 is incomparable.
So bad were the financial issues back then, several times in the years followed Leeds United could have ceased to exist.
The 16-year absence was bruising for Leeds and saw the club drop into the third tier of English soccer.
That said, the issues Allardyce identified suggest the rebuild is still far greater than the other two relegated clubs this year, Southampton and Leicester City.
The problems stretch back to Marcelo Bielsa’s departure in early 2022, since he left Leeds United has lacked a coherent strategy.
Replacement Jesse Marsch may have guided the team to safety on the final day of the season before last, but the sale of its two greatest assets Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha that summer left gaping holes in the team.
Lots of players with potential were acquired to replace them, but they rarely seemed to fit together coherently.
Marsch’s tactics didn’t exactly help, raised in the Red Bull group’s philosophy of organized chaos, his intense, aggressive style was seen as a sensible successor to Biesla’s man-for-man pressing approach.
The trouble was whilst the charismatic Argentinian’s strategy left Leeds open for the occasional rout but blew teams away, with Marsch it appeared only the negative aspects of the chaos remained.
“The hope was that Marsch would continue Bielsa’s free-flowing football but shore up a leaky defense,” an article in the Daily Mail with an insider’s account of the transition explained.
“He has not managed either. ‘Worse football and worse results,’ said one player privately pining for his former boss earlier this season. Under Bielsa, there were well-drilled patterns in Leeds’s attacking play. Under Marsch, it was just chaos and was never going to breed consistency,” it concluded.
‘I am responsible for this sh*t’
The American’s failure to continue the work of his iconic predecessor at Leeds United had consequences beyond the coach’s dugout.
Combustible director of football Victor Orta chose to replace Marsch with Javi Gracia, a decision which proved equally ill-advised.
When Gracia tanked Orta was held responsible and both were dispensed of.
An insight into how bad things had got at the top of the club was delivered by chairman Radrizzani in a social media message to a fan midway through the 4-1 defeat to Bournemouth which preceded the double firing.
"I am broken. I am responsible for this sh*t. Unacceptable. You don't deserve this. Ridiculous,” he wrote.
It was then Radrizzani turned to Sam Allardyce to save the club from relegation in the hope of embarking on a rebuild in the top flight.
But he was unable to do so and Leeds United will have to try and sort out the mess whilst also dealing with a relegation.
Abundantly clear is the need for some long-term thinking, Marsch may have failed but at least his hire was part of a strategy to create a distinctive identity.
The appointments of Gracia and Allardyce were the opposite.
If Leeds United can conclude the ownership situation there is a chance to wipe the slate clean.
But they need a director of football and a manager on the same wavelength fast if the club is going to bounce back rather than flounder.