With the appointment of Neil Warnock in February, the current regime at Leeds United signalled that they are purely looking at the future of the club on a short term basis. The former QPR boss has been appointed with just one aim, to get Leeds back into the Premier League, and has been given just one full season in which to do it.
Warnock has admitted that this is his last challenge in a career which has seen him achieve promotions with Scarborough, Notts County, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United as well as taking QPR back to the Premier League in 2011.
However the 18 month contract he has signed gives him no room for failure and also means that he is unlikely to manage Leeds in the top flight, should he get them there. So the big question should not be whether United will be promoted next season, but what will happen in the seasons which follow.
Whilst some supporters will look at the performance of the club on a season by season basis, there are others who are worried about the long term planning of the football side of the business. There are lots of talks of grand plans regarding stadium development, with news breaking recently of the club bidding to be the site of a new super casino to be opened in the city. There is a danger that by chasing further property deals, the club are gambling with their footballing future.
The Academy at Thorp Arch, which has produced such jewels as Paul Robinson, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Fabian Delph and Jonny Howson to name but a few is currently not even owned by the club, sold off as part of the fire sale which followed the relegation from the Premiership all those years ago! Despite claims that it was a priority to be bought back once the club was on a firm financial footing, it still remains outside the club’s ownership.
It is also currently rudderless, with Chris Sulley the academy director relieved of his duties in April. Despite this the U-18’s at the club finished 2nd in their division of the Premier Academy League. Whilst it is always the first team that takes the priority, in the current financial climate it is imperative that Leeds are in a position to continue to produce players of their own, educated in the unique pressures that playing for the Whites brings.
Therefore one of the tasks that the Leeds United board need to be undertaking this close season is not just providing the players needed for Warnock to succeed in the short term objective, but also to begin to think, and quickly, about what is required for the 2013/14 season and beyond.
Identification of a manager who can not only take the first team on in the long term, but who can also oversee the development of a conveyor belt of talent for the future, should be high on the agenda for the board at Elland Road. With there being little chance of a billionaire investor to take Leeds to the next level, United should be following the examples of clubs who can develop their own talent.
Whilst Chelsea and Manchester City have splashed the cash to take them into the elite, there are others that have developed over a long term, a breed of players educated in the way of their clubs. Ajax, Barcelona and Manchester United are famed for bringing players through their youth systems, all brought up in the ethos and taught the playing style used throughout all levels of the club.
This summer is seen as being a critical one for the future of Leeds United, with the feeling in the city that it promotion is a must for the Whites this season. Whilst that is certainly the case, a successful club should have a long term view. If Leeds are to regain their place at the top table of English football, they should be thinking of who will be the man to help them stay there.