Events at Leeds United during the last decade have rarely read like any one of football's traditional scripts; following on from a takeover by new owners GFH Capital seven months in the making which was only concluded last December, the club now finds itself in the unlikely situation whereby the incumbent manager is talking publically about finding his own successor.
But the Anfield boot room this is not. There is no cosy, promote-from-within philosophy in the modern game as we know, and Neil Warnock in reality finds himself a victim of his own personal schedule, one he's repeatedly stated doesn't feature any involvement with a side in the Championship beyond the end of this season. This bold vision of the future would of course all point towards a record eighth date with destiny via another promotion to the Premier League come May, were it not for the more painful truth that United's Premier League hopes are only a possibility in the hands of several pure mathematicians. Instead of gearing himself up for one last crack at the big time, Warnock instead finds himself contemplating a more mundane reality in which the only Ferguson he'll be involved with 12 months from now will be of the four wheeled Massey variety.
It's a measure of how outgoing despot Ken Bates had managed to lower expectations that Warnock's appointment was at the time seen as some sort of coup, the veteran slipping into an Elland Road ejector seat still warm from Simon Grayson's ultimately flawed stewardship. The former was supporter friendly and it was widely perceived had been undone by a lack of support in the transfer market; the latter was initially viewed by fans in popularity terms lurking somewhere on the barometer between Abu Hamza and Ryan Giggs. The locals were restless, a state of mind compounded by the arrival soon after of El Hadj Diouf, a player who needed no introduction and completed a remarkable triptych by which Leeds were now the most hated club, with the most hated manager fielding the most hated player in British football. Oh, how we laughed.
Warnock's popularity gradually rose to tepid based on some of his rhetoric and constant attempts to keep the fans onside by playing to their combined ego. The protracted early scuffles in the takeover meant that he found himself able to exploit similarly Grayson's get out of jail free card - the slammed shut transfer window – and for a while the club began to make modest on field progress, taking advantage of the odd Premier League club for whom the League Cup is a financial irrelevance. The problem though lay equally in his direct style of coaching – branded hoofball by the rapidly diminishing faithful – and in his odd tactical nuances, especially away from home where he attempted to match formations with the opposition, with disastrous and frequently embarrassing results.
Then came the January window, one dreaded by Leeds fans and in which top scorer Luciano Becchio was sold to Norwch F***ing City. Unsettled by an agent possibly agitating for one last money spinning move, the Argentinian handed in a transfer request, an act which Warnock seemingly took personal umbrage to. Short of a scale model of the Belgrano being produced in press conferences before during and after the move which saw a bemused Steve Morison come the other way, the manager's contempt for his want away player couldn't have been more thinly veiled. Given the Beak's temporary control of the first team squad, however, in retrospect this act of spiteful expedience will now almost certainly end up being his sole legacy. That, and a number of claims for whiplash.
Despite declaring himself as happy as he could be with the post January playing residue and stating without irony that he feels he's done a “Fabulous” job, Leeds under Warnock have become harder to beat than in recent years but turgid to watch. The loss of Robert Snodgrass (To where? To Norwich F***ing City, of course) last summer has proved even more damaging than at first thought, as a roster of players which almost to a man define journeyman has struggled for any kind of ignition. By the time Leeds had been beaten at home by lowly Huddersfield after only mustering a draw with Peterborough, the game was up.
But hold on. Warnock has made no secret of his desire to throw in the towel should things get on top; the first hints of this were after the humiliating FA cup defeat at Manchester City. The clamour to replace him is now almost deafening. But for once I'm agreeing with him here, saluting the flag pole on which he's running up his thoughts. Leeds are currently on 52 points, a total from which relegation remains a distant possibility but not a practical one. The bold move by GFHC would've been to unseat the manager in January, but they didn't and that's history. Why knee jerk now, when you have months to find a new supremo? The task in front of whoever that is will be astoundingly difficult. A lop sided squad that lacks quality. Far too few goals. A fan base that is constantly failing to unite. It's time for a long term, pragmatic view on things, to hire someone who has an ambitious vision for the club, a mindset which extends to all facets of how it plays football. This might mean missing out on some short term targets, but for me anyway, no matter. The next decision the new owners make is likely to be the most important of their entire and probably brief tenure. If that means a few more games of route one mediocrity before the right decision is made, so be it. There's little room for manoeuvre now.