The inevitable finally happened at Elland Road, as Ken Bates’s incurably itchy fingers slipped on the axe and sent Simon Grayson through the exit door. No-one can say it hasn’t been coming. Bates has been dropping hints for a good couple of months that his manager has been underperforming, suggesting Leeds should be battling for promotion amongst the likes of Southampton and West Ham. Results have been poor recently though, and Leeds lie 10th, currently three points off the playoffs. Tuesday night’s miserable 4-1 defeat to Birmingham proved to be the final straw for the unforgiving Chairman and Leeds now face the task of appointing their fifth manager since relegation from the Premiership.
Grayson has in fact been in charge for three years, which must be some sort of record under Bates. It appears he is now victim to his own success, after getting Leeds promoted in his second season in charge, before achieving seventh position last year, a decent return for a newly promoted club. Managing a club with such large ambitions is always difficult, especially when those ambitions are not met with financial backing. Bates has come out arguing the club has spent £12 million on wages and has a large playing squad, so therefore any argument Grayson didn’t receive enough support is futile. This may be the case, but in comparison to those that Bates wants to beat to promotion, it’s simply peanuts. West Ham tried to sign Nikica Jelavic for £7 million on transfer deadline day, while Leeds signed unknown Tottenham right-back Adam Smith on loan. Southampton brought in Billy Sharp, Leicester picked up a raft of players in the summer, including former Leeds favourite Jermaine Beckford., while Birmingham’s frontman, Nikola Zigic, who condemned Grayson to the axe with his four goals, is still on a reported £80,000 a week. How is a manager supposed to keep in touch with those in front if their transfer outlay is considerably more?
It’s not just the lack of investment that has shafted Grayson, but also the decision to sell all his best players. Bates’s ridiculous wage structure has seen Neil Kilkenny leave on a free, Bradley Johnson establish himself as a Premiership midfielder and Jonny Howson quit his hometown club. Aidan White could follow suit in the summer, while Snodgrass has reportedly broken off contract talks, meaning Leeds will search for a fee for the midfielder in the same way they did with Max Gradel. Those players would make up a decent Championship outfit and their replacements haven’t got enough quality to get the side promoted. The fans have recognised this fact and therefore their wrath has not been directed at the manager, indeed Grayson, despite the recent defeats, was still a popular figure on the terraces. Bates, once again, has proved just how out of touch with the fans he is, and seems set to unleash a one man crusade to send the club back into League One.
His next appointment is a crucial step, indeed the next man into the dugout has to quell the fans’ fury at losing a local lad. The early names linked haven’t been promising either. Neil Warnock appears to be the early favourite, and while this could be a sensible decision given his knowhow in getting a side out of the Championship, ‘Colin’ isn’t a popular figure at Elland Road and is unlikely to get the fans’ backing from the off. Steve Bruce is a viable candidate and could be persuaded to take the job, but the man likes to have a few quid to spend, something that is unlikely to happen at Leeds. Other names linked have been truly disturbing. Paul Ince is one that has done the rounds, Alan Shearer is said to have thrown his name into the hat and Roberto Di Matteo, as good a manager as he is, would only stand to enforce the Chelsea influence at Elland Road. One man Bates should take a look at is Alan Curbishley. He has been out of the game for a while, but has proved his class at Charlton and could be a sensible appointment. Whatever happens, it is crucial that Bates appoints the right man. Any wrong turn and Elland Road could turn see some serious unrest in the next couple of weeks.