Leeds might finally look like they're getting their act together, but Gary Hartley wonders why the lunacy ever happened in the first place. And it's not just the Lilywhites affected...
It’s the barmy league where anyone can beat anyone; where all 24 teams seem to finish within about 10 points of each other. The one the serious gambler steers well clear of.
In the league of chaos, the trick is not to be chaotic yourself. Be as dull as possible, in fact. If you’ve got a few capable administrators with above-average word processing and database skills, and you stick with managers and maintain a relatively consistent tactical philosophy, you can reasonably expect be at the upper end of the cramped list of contestants.
THE PFA SAYS...
"There were 20 dismissals in last season's Championship. The average spell in charge is just 0.86 years."
You can rule out Leeds already then, right? Well, not quite. The club seem to have finally bought a small stake in hope by bringing in seasoned old hand Adam Pearson, former chairman of Hull in the days before Tigers stalked those parts, to handle the day-to-day business.
What’s more, the club has actually employed a team around new head coach Uwe Rosler – sounds normal, which was far from the case last season – and there have been no sightings of Benito Carbone or Gianluca Festa this summer.
Moderate amounts of solid acquisitions in positions where they’re needed have been made, as opposed to the previous continental recruitment policy which seemingly mixed Football Manager, Woolworths' bargain bin and blind man’s bluff. Hell, they’ve even got a nice kit – albeit the latter due to legal action from previous sponsors – and brought their matchday catering back in-house.
Despite the depressingly inevitable shenanigans involving Neil Redfearn that have left a grimy trail from post- into pre-season, things are looking up to the point the casually despised club can probably expect an upper-mid, rather than lower-mid table finish this coming term, coupled with increased pie revenue.
Putting a human buffer zone between owner and all the important red buttons is of course more than sensible when you’ve officially got everyone’s favourite sporadically ‘fit and proper’ person Massimo Cellino at the helm.
Practical pays, kids
It’s not only Leeds fans who are well aware that Championship club owners do stupid stuff. It seems that many of them have been turning their heads too high for inspiration, trying to replicate the ‘chaos model’ of running a club that lumbering great drama queens like Real Madrid have employed in recent years, coating themselves in confetti while paying off managers and wallowing in player discontent.
Frankly, if you’ve bought a Championship club, you’re probably in possession of a somewhat more modest stack. The cracks will cost you
But in doing this, they’ve hugely confused correlation and causation. You can triumph in the midst of rapid-fire sackings, unbalanced huge squads and a general mantra of flippant knee-jerking when you’ve got a suitably huge pile of funds to cover the cracks. But frankly, if you’ve bought a Championship club, you’re probably in possession of a somewhat more modest stack, in the scheme of things. The cracks will cost you, and the backwards romance of being a big club punching below weight will not save you in this remorselessly practical league.
Chaos has flag-bearers up and down the geography of the Championship. Representing the Midlands, Nottingham Forest, like Leeds, have been finishing in pretty much the same brain-thuddingly average position in the table for the last few years. They’ve chucked out managers in a hurry and acquired players with fairly notable names and reputations without massively considering how they’d fit into a team that might acquire lots of points.
Down on the south coast, Brighton are in a shiny, heavily branded stadium and are always flying high in the average attendance table. But they have slipped significantly down the actual one. In the meantime a few coaches have come and gone, and a hefty wage bill and significant debts have been racked up in pursuit of a flawed promotion formula.
Sven for hire
While chaos provides plenty of good fun for the neutral, it’s becoming less fashionable. After the initial dopamine rush, owners now seem to be quickly noticing what actually works. Inconsistent, scattergun approaches bring you only the sight of sensibly-run clubs like Bournemouth and Burnley bypassing you again and again en route to the Promised Land as you continue to fester in a purgatory of rusting giants and the analysis of Peter Beagrie.
Leicester won promotion and consolidated via club owners King Power, re-hiring gruff media pariah Nigel Pearson
The journey of Leicester City and Watford from new-moneyed mentalists to stolid Championship conquerors perfectly illustrates a transformation of mindset among the league’s ambitious.
After the rather silly period bookended by Ian Holloway and Sven-Goran Eriksson, and overseen by Milan Mandaric and Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester won promotion and consolidated via club owners King Power, re-hiring gruff media pariah Nigel Pearson. The football was far from unpredictable, but fast, direct and exactly what does the job in the division.
After the really, really silly period bookended by Gianfranco Zola and Billy McKinlay, Watford won promotion by sticking with Slavisa Jokanovic after a distinctly slow start. Likewise, incisive play and a successful strike partnership of quick, physical forwards good at banging it in the net were the basics that proved enough to get one of the division’s mid-sized outfits over the line.
Of course, the trend seems to be that whatever solid decision-making you developed in the Championship, you need to immediately abandon in favour of a return to idiocy and chaos upon promotion.
Watford’s Pozzo family wasted no time in getting back down to the important business of being ludicrous, despatching Jokanovic and bringing in Quique Sanchez Flores to manage first-team affairs, plus a job lot of players with just as many question marks over their heads.
Leicester have taken a while to get the gears of instability cranking again – and to be fair, had their knee somewhat forced into a jerking comeback by an ever-souring pick 'n mix selection of wrestling managers, errant sons and ostriches. But if the ultimate outcome of this PR crisis is the appointment of Claudio Ranieri, all points to the wires that were soldered so nicely two years ago coming perilously loose once again. Both of these teams may well have to re-learn stolid effectiveness in time for their 2016/17 promotion campaigns.
Cash and calm; a Championship reverie that’s being dreamed of by more and more. Tony Fernandes, incredibly, has opted for continuity at QPR by sticking with Chris Ramsey for the coming campaign and bought division-appropriate players ahead of a surely inevitable transfer embargo. Even the Venky’s seem to be doing relatively quiet and efficient work at Blackburn these days.
However stable you are, it seems you still need to push the wallet harder in order to compete with all the louche new money as it arrives in the second tier
Consistent stewardship has never been much of problem for Middlesbrough and Steve Gibson – but now has come a sudden burst of investment on the pitch which should mark the club down as big favourites in the latest frenetic chase for the big sack of TV money. However stable you are, it seems you still need to push the wallet harder in order to compete with all the louche new money as it arrives in the second tier after daft early excesses.
Intriguingly, though, a couple of clubs have decided to fly in the face of continuity and risk aversion.
Brentford have dispensed with Mark Warburton, jumping on the Moneyball approach to pursuing glory about a decade too late and installing analytical Dutch draw specialist Marinus Dijkhuizen as head coach. Sheffield Wednesday supporters are excited about billionaires in the same sort of way Leeds fans were just over a year ago. This is despite new chairman Dejphon Chansiri quickly removing Stuart Gray (allegedly for not being a big enough name) and not even revealing the length of contract given to new, decidedly unproven coach Carlos Carvalhal.
Time will tell if these are the trailblazers for impatient, zany instability coming back on trend in the second tier. Sven and Dave Hockaday should probably keep their CVs saved in drafts.