When, on 25 May 2017, Garry Monk penned his resignation as head coach of Leeds United, everyone concerned with the Whites were in shock.
Having guided Leeds to a seventh-place finish on the back of a remarkable season – Monk’s first year in charge – expectation was that the former Swansea player would begin building for the following campaign.
His successor, named 15 June, Thomas Christiansen left many Leeds fans puzzled.
Just two days after Italian businessman, Andrea Radrizzani, had taken over the Yorkshire outfit, Monk left.
With no talks of a rift with the staff, players or boardroom – indeed Radrizzani had spoken of his desire to trigger the 1-year contract extension Monk had initially signed – the decision left many at Elland Road asking why and what next?
The former was simple: Middlesbrough came calling. With relegation from the top-flight looming and with a boring style of play, Karanka was sacked midway through March.
Replaced by Steve Agnew as caretaker manager, relegation proved inevitable. In desperate need of rebuilding, Boro looked to Monk, the architect of United’s march up the Championship table.
Leeds’ fans felt it was typical that after one good season things would fall apart. This was compounded when rumours of Chris Wood attracting Premier League attention increased in intensity.
Though Wood seemingly appeared content at Elland Road, Radrizzani knew that any new manager would have to instantly build on what Monk had gradually achieved during the season.
A virtual nobody
In a customary Leeds fashion, someone out of the blue was appointed in his place: Thomas Christiansen.
A retired 44-year old striker having played in Denmark, Spain and Germany, and with only five years of managerial experience, the news provided more questions than answers for the Elland Road faithful.
Who was he? Why was he appointed? What has he even achieved? Is he another ‘Darko Milanic’? Can he pick up where Monk left off?
Google must have been sent into overdrive with thousands of United fans searching the name of their new head coach and his track record.
All is not lost
For Leeds fans there is hope, however.
Appointed head coach of Cypriot First Division side, AEK Larnaca FC in April 2014, he guided his team to two second place finishes on the bounce. This was no mean feat for a team which had finished eighth in the 2013-2014 campaign.
In the 2015-2016 season he also led Larnaca to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. Even more impressive is Christiansen’s achievements at his next club, APOEL FC, to whom he moved to in May 2016.
As reigning champions, APOEL had the chance to progress in the Champions League. Knocked out in the third qualifying round, APOEL dropped into the Europa League where Christiansen steered the Cypriot minnows to the last-16 for the first time in their history.
Domestically, Christiansen’s impact was equally as impressive. APOEL again won the league title, but in a much more emphatic style, with only two losses and 27 clean sheets.
Leeds managing director, Angus Kinnear, spoke of how “Thomas was someone who had been on our radar from the very early stages of the process and quickly established himself as the outstanding candidate”.
What many Leeds fans will want to know is how did he establish himself as the outstanding candidate? Who were the other candidates and why was Christiansen ‘better’?
John Leonidou, Cyprus correspondent for Uefa.com, speaking to BBC Radio Leeds: “I am confident he will be able to handle the pressure at Leeds. He certainly had a good crash course at Apoel where he was under tremendous pressure but always kept his composure. He is a really nice guy and he speaks very good English, Spanish and Danish. The players at Apoel spoke highly of him and found him very approachable”.
A fantastic manager of players
It is evident that Christiansen’s main attributes are his calm and friendly manner, seemingly able to strike up honest working relationships with his players and staff.
One could almost say ‘Monk-esque’. But the advantage the Dane has over Monk is his multilingual capabilities.
Any foreign player will tell you that the biggest change when moving to another country is the language and culture barrier. Both Pablo Hernandez and new signing, Samuel Saiz, are Spanish. Christiansen can therefore nurture both players in ways which could help them reach the very top of their games.
Being a foreigner himself, Christiansen can also relate to the non-English players in the squad such as Swede Marcus Antonsson and Frenchman Hadi Sacko.
The manager can thus advise and be given advice himself on how to make the shift seamless for himself and players coming from abroad. To strike up good, working relationships that will then transfer to the field are necessary in any team; and Christiansen can certainly provide these.
Improving Leeds on the field, especially in defence where have they so often struggled in the past, can again play into the Dane’s hands.
“He generally liked to play a 4-5-1 with Apoel, occasionally switching to a 4-3-3. Apoel were not prolific and their main strengths under him were defending and keeping the ball. I would not expect a Barcelona style of football but he will certainly tighten things and make them tough to beat,” John Leonidou, Cyprus correspondent for Uefa.com, speaking to BBC Radio Leeds.
A style of play that gets results
In recent years, Leeds fans have cared less about a Barcelona style of play, and more so on hoping and praying that they will, one day, return to where they believe they belong. But this is only possible with a rock-solid back four.
Under Christiansen’s stewardship, results like the 3-0 loss to QPR in the first game of the 2016-17 Championship season, are extremely unlikely. This is because of the formation the Dane likes to play.
Football matches where ‘one up top’ is used is often compared to watching paint dry; for Leeds – and Chris Wood – it could be the tonic to greater success.
With an emphasis on strong defence, Christiansen’s style could bring the stability at the back vital for escaping the second-tier.
And, as Championship top scorer last season with 27, and at 6 ft 3, Wood fits the ‘target man’ trait that the Dane likes to build his teams around. If Christiansen can ensure his midfielders get the ball into Wood, it could well replicate the success Pieros Sotiriou had under the Dane at APOEL in 2016-2017.
Named as Cypriot Footballer of the Year, Sotiriou largely had Christiansen to thank for his 27 goals in 53 appearances with the formation purely set up to play to the striker’s strengths.
Christiansen can take even more responsibility for Sotiriou’s exploits when considering that the striker had only 15 goals in 60 appearances in the previous three seasons.
The missing piece of the Leeds United jigsaw?
Christiansen, when one delves into his managerial past and his personality and characteristics, seems like a perfect fit for Leeds.
All Leeds fans need to do is to give him a chance. After all, Leeds’ first six games under Monk brought a mere 4 points from a possible 18.
If given a proper opportunity, the nickname ‘Great Dane’ could well find a new home at Elland Road.
Written by Callum Walker
Follow Callum on Twitter @cwalker_1995
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