Milan Mandaric is convinced Stuart Gray will continue to justify his refusal to be stampeded into other choices after sacking Dave Jones with Sheffield Wednesday in a precarious position.
The Owls chairman also refutes suggestions that a liberal use of the loan market this season was designed to limit his transfer outlay.
Mandaric argues the reverse is true as he opens up on the cost of some high premium recruits.
And, in the second part of an exclusive interview, Mandaric declares:
- He and his manager are now focusing on season-long loans.
- A fresher, more youthful team will emerge from the academy role of club legend Lee Bullen.
- Some youngsters could yet figure this season.
- A director of football will head up recruitment.
At the centre of it all is a manager – or chief coach – who went from keeping the seat warm to setting too hot a pace to be denied the job.
Gray, an experienced backroom man without a proven record as a boss, was a hard sell for supporters. Mandaric admits he wanted a strong, dynamic personality at the outset – hence the link with Rotherham’s Steve Evans and his initial preferred choice, Neil Warnock.
Summing up his explosive pursuit of the ex-Blade and a Hillsborough pantomime villain, Mandaric chuckles over his withdrawal: “I’m a brave man. . . but not that brave!”
But there were other clamours, too. He recalls: “I had a lot of pressure from my supporters, who I love so much, to bring in Ian Holloway and a couple of others. And they were saying to me: ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’”
Very clearly he did and not for the first time. “I couldn’t afford a mistake,” says Mandaric. “Sometimes you need to be patient rather than looking for an answer straight away.”
All the while, less than slowly and very surely, Gray was providing it and his results, projected over a season, equate to a play-off promotion challenge rather than the relegation fight he was tasked to lead.
“Taking time turned out to be right,” says Mandaric, while accepting that Gray did not fit his original identikit. “When you look at what was available, you can’t tell me that we can do any better than what we have today. The fans put pressure on me but they do know their football.
“Stuart is a solid man. Okay, he’s not jumping up and down like some others. But he’s a stable guy and that’s what this club needs. And he’s a good coach, another reason why he’s titled head coach and not manager.”
A director of football, of their mutual choosing, is in the pipeline to spearhead signing plans. “Recruitment is the key thing about this role,” says the chairman.
“We’ll make the appointment together. We have nobody in mind yet but whoever comes in will work in partnership with Stuart.”
Which brings us to loans, of which the number is astonishingly in double figures this season. Mandaric is changing tack here but insists that record – considering the high cost of Premier League strikers Connor Wickham and Matty Fryatt among others – is NOT a sign of lack of ambition. And certainly not lack of expenditure.
“When people say you’re getting loan players so you’re not spending money, that’s absolutely wrong,” Mandaric raps. “You pay clubs fees for those players, you pay salaries, you pay agents fees. Sometimes it can cost you more money (than for a full deal.)
“But it’s convenient because you need the players immediately and it might be a player who fits the system here rather than elsewhere.
“Look at Connor Wickham – eight goals here, none for Leeds.
“Also we don’t have anybody to sell – assets in the team. Sometimes you need to sell to balance the books.
“For the future, we’ll still bring in two or three loan players, but we’ll try to sign them on season-long loans with options to stay.”
So far, there has been no balance on the club’s outlay. The need for assets – though ideally not to sell – is paramount and that’s where Lee Bullen, whose role links the academy with the first team, comes in.
“Lee is a good, positive character who loves the club and helps everywhere he can,” adds Mandaric.
“Right now he’s helping tremendously.
When I took the club the academy wasn’t organised. But I think you might see Jack Stobbs and maybe a couple of others figure in the first team squad before the end of the season.
“I was always amazed that a club of this stature couldn’t bring in two or three of their own players each year.
“Lee is a tremendous contributor in both areas and we’re very lucky to have him.”