From Marcelo Bielsa to Sam Allardyce in 14 months, Leeds United appear to have orchestrated the ugliest makeover in football history. If their spell as favorites of neutrals has come to an end for good, if they would change an identity as gentlemen to preserve their Premier League status, a shift from purism to pragmatism is rarely so jarring.
The sacked manager, Javi Gracia, may become a forgettable figure in Leeds’ dramatic decline, the late director of football, Víctor Orta, a pivotal person first in their rise and then in their fall. Allardyce will be the four-game gamble that will further save or doom this particular United. A fourth manager of a season that began with president Andrea Radrizzani calling relegation “impossible” may oversee a downgrade that many architects would have.
Ridiculously, Leeds are looking for a second new manager bounce in three months. Gracia’s reign, and perhaps United’s season, turned into Marc Guehi’s equalizing goal on the stroke of halftime for Crystal Palace: what looked like a fourth win in seven games for the Spaniard turned into a flurry of five. goals in 32 minutes. Having lost 5-1 at Elland Road, Leeds were beaten 6-1 eight days later. Factor in a 4-1 embarrassment at Bournemouth and events spiraled out of Grace’s control.
Perhaps, as the fourth choice to be the interim manager, they always would have.
He leaves after 71 days at the helm of Leeds. He puts him in undistinguished company, one day longer than Dave Hockaday, lasting 27 days longer than the more decorated pairing of Brian Clough and Jock Stein. It becomes a sign that panic is the default mode on Elland Road. Gracia is a former Watford manager who, implausibly, survived much longer at Vicarage Road.
But at least it brought some dignity, while Orta’s ridiculous antics in the directors’ box mean he won’t be mourned by many. The director of football, however, can point to an integral part in the good times, in a promotion, a top 10 and brilliant football.
However, his position had become untenable, and not just because the Supporters Advisory Board cast a vote of no confidence in the board on Sunday. He deserves credit for the visionary decision to appoint Bielsa in 2018, but he has failed Leeds’ succession planning twice since: first by fielding Jesse Marsch and seemingly failing to consider other candidates, and then by showing he can’t. secure their preferred targets when the American was belatedly fired.
Marsch, to be fair, did well to keep Leeds on top last season. However, it was apparent that his reign was falling apart long before his dismissal and Orta still seemed unprepared. He seemed to overestimate Leeds’ appeal when Rayo Vallecano’s Andoni Iraola and Feyenoord’s Arne Slot chose not to leave the clubs with much to play for this season, and when their shares would remain high this summer, only to parachute into a relegation battle. .
Leeds stumbled into a marriage of convenience with Gracia, until it became one of extreme inconvenience. The Spaniard was barely suited to a squad set up for high-pressure Marsch: his more passive personality and his more passive football gave not control, but more chaos. Leeds conceded 23 goals, a record for a Premier League club in one month, in April; the previous record came in February 2022 when Bielsa’s men’s marking game fell apart.
The team’s horrible defensive record over the past two seasons is reflected in the Argentine’s overly ambitious tactics and Marsch’s inability to close out a game, but also in Orta. Leeds have conceded 146 goals in 72 games. Orta’s record on recruiting is decidedly mixed, and there’s evidence to suggest he’s hardly much of a defense judge, aside from the notable exceptions of Pascal Struijk and Max Wober.
Perhaps playing for Leeds cost Robin Koch and Diego Llorente their places in the Spain and Germany squads, as Orta’s bizarre approach to squad building left United with an unbalanced group – no real backing for Tyler Adams as a true defensive midfielder, there is no specialist left. -back aside from the atrocious Junior Firpo and with no experienced alternative to the talented but wobbly Illan Meslier. It would hardly have been glamorous, but Leeds needed a proven second-choice goalkeeper in the manner of Sam Johnstone or Alex McCarthy, rather than the unproven Norwegian Kristoffer Klaesson.
Orta’s legacy is evident in a team packed with players bought for Marsch, with an American influence, with a collection of graduates from Red Bull clubs, but very little to show for politics. Spending a club record £36m on Georginio Rutter, who has been awarded a Premier League start and is yet to register a shot on goal, could prove to be a fatal misstep.
Or perhaps, under Allardyce, a savior. Admittedly, that seems unlikely, and not just because of a match list that includes Manchester City, Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham.
If Allardyce can’t make an immediate impact, Elland Road may be feverish for Spurs’ visit. There is a sense that if Leeds were to fall, supporters would at least have preferred him to go the way of Bielsa, a doomed idealism, rather than an unworthy mix of Marsch, Michael Skubala, Gracia and Allardyce. But the relegation could lead to recrimination.