Home Sports Inside the fall and rise of Leeds United: How Daniel Farke turned it around and led the club to the brink of promotion back to the big time

Inside the fall and rise of Leeds United: How Daniel Farke turned it around and led the club to the brink of promotion back to the big time

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Daniel Farke has Leeds on the verge of promotion, but if he fails, some will want him to leave

Daniel Farke gave a half grimace, half smile when he was told on Friday that a huge image of his face had been plastered on Trinity Leeds, a shopping center in the city.

“This would have distracted me when I was younger,” the German said. ‘In my job, there are two options: build a statue and put paintings in a shopping center or throw tomatoes. I say: “Don’t get carried away by these emotions. Stay as you are.”

The 47-year-old’s response summed up the binary condition of the modern manager, who is loved or hated as results dictate. In this monumental weekend as Leeds attempt to return to the Premier League, the truth is that many will judge it solely on the events of Sunday afternoon.

If he fails to win Leeds back, some will want him to leave.

That’s tough, because Farke has turned the team and the locker room around to put the club in a position that seemed almost impossible in the first months of the season.

Sources within the camp point to his individual work with players, his eye for how they can develop and his ability to ease anxieties as key to the club moving towards the play-off positions after a painfully slow start. There were no wins in their first three league games and one in their first five.

Daniel Farke has Leeds on the verge of promotion, but if he fails, some will want him to leave

The German has turned them around and has them in a situation that seemed impossible

The German has turned them around and has them in a situation that seemed impossible

Those first desperate weeks, in which a return to the top flight seemed so far away, were something for which Farke could hardly be held responsible.

It was an inauspicious start due to last summer’s player exodus, partly as a result of former Leeds director of football Victor Orta giving players clauses in their contracts allowing them to go out on loan in the event of relegation.

Leeds lost Robin Koch, Diego Llorente, Brenden Aaronson, Rasmus Kristensen, Marc Roca, Maximilian Wober, Jack Harrison, Tyler Adams, Rodrigo and Luis Sinisterra. Of the 10 players who started 20 Premier League games last season, seven were gone.

A change in club ownership to 49ers Enterprises, and the hiring of Farke, came just weeks before the season, leaving little time for planning. Farke made some good initial additions. Ethan Ampadu has been one of the signings of the season.

And as a manager intimately familiar with promotion to the Premier League, having promoted Norwich City twice in three years, he knew how the second division, away from the fishbowl of the top flight, can give young players the opportunity to breathe and develop. .

Sources say he saw particular potential in striker Georginio Rutter. He arrived for a club record £35m in January of their relegation season, struggling with expectations and earning just one Premier League start. It turned out that the Frenchman just needed time and space to fulfill that promise. Farke saw it. Rutter’s name now echoes weekly around Elland Road.

“It has been a great gift,” says a source close to the club. “If Leeds hadn’t been relegated, Rutter’s future would have looked uncertain, but he now looks like a future Premier League player, regardless of whether the club is promoted or not.”

The same goes for left inside forward Crysencio Summerville. He’s had fewer trust issues to deal with and just flourished.

Leeds lost a host of key players in the summer and Farke helped them rebuild under pressure.

Leeds lost a host of key players in the summer and Farke helped them rebuild under pressure.

Ethan Ampadu has been one of the signings of the season under Farke's tutelage

Ethan Ampadu has been one of the signings of the season under Farke’s tutelage

For Archie Gray and Wilfried Gnonto, this championship season has been a continuing education. The pressure Farke faces this weekend is compounded by the fact that some, or all, of those players could prove attractive to Premier League clubs if Leeds fail to reach the top flight now.

Leeds’ recovery, which accelerated with an extraordinary unbeaten run between January 1 and April 1, when they dropped just four points, has not just been a matter of individuals.

The collectivism that Farke has created is why some are drawing comparisons with Howard Wilkinson, who took charge of a struggling Leeds team (21st in the second division) and turned it into First Division champions in four years, in 1992.

A gem of a book about Wilkinson’s success at Leeds, Dave Tomlinson’s The Man with the Plan sets out in detail why the dour Yorkshireman triumphed at Elland Road in those extraordinary early 1990s.

The founding principle was a collectivism that is as applicable now as then. It is surprising how often, in a conversation with Wilkinson this week, he resorts to military metaphors.

‘Sergeant Wilko’, as he was called in Leeds, a play on the old TV character Sergeant Bilko, has always sworn by the players you would have with you in the trenches. “If you have six men in a platoon, you look for specific qualities,” says Wilkinson, now 80. “It’s not about learning how to shoot that gun. It’s about how to shoot it when the missiles are coming in front of you.

Farke will be without Patrick Bamford on Sunday after the striker failed to recover from a knee injury and there will be a desperate sense of danger at Wembley. Expect him to be cautious. Ten of the last 11 Championship play-off finals have seen two or fewer goals per 90 minutes. This clash between the third and fourth teams in the division is unlikely to be any different.

Leeds reached the play-off semi-final against Norwich in worrying form. After being on top in mid-March, they slipped badly, losing four of their last six league games and scoring four goals against QPR and three against Middlesbrough.

The collectivism that Farke has encouraged has drawn comparisons with Howard Wilkinson.

The collectivism that Farke has encouraged has drawn comparisons with Howard Wilkinson.

Sources say Farke saw potential in Georginio Rutter, who struggled in the Premier League

Sources say Farke saw potential in Georginio Rutter, who struggled in the Premier League

How to stop the rot before the semi-final first leg was Farke’s biggest problem of the season. He opted to stick with completely the same routine, with a full week at his Thorp Arch training base rather than taking his tired-looking team on some team-bonding exercise.

‘There are no psychological games. We just worked hard,’ she said. The players organized their own group meal at a Leeds restaurant, independently of him.

Farke had been criticized for his lack of boldness in his substitutions. For the semi-final matches, he returned to the 4-2-3-1 formation that had worked so well for him after the turn of the year.

Placing 18-year-old Gray at number 10 behind Rutter was designed to shore things up in the middle and they earned a 0-0 draw at Carrow Road. Then it helped that Norwich were terribly poor in the second leg.

Southampton have had no reason to change their system. When the clubs met at Elland Road three weeks ago, the Saints walked away with a 2-1 victory, adding to the 3-1 victory they achieved in the first leg at St Mary’s last September.

Those games showed that Leeds can be vulnerable against Russell Martin’s side, who have been more than capable of generating the high press they invite by playing out from the back and throwing players forward.

Right-back Kyle Walker-Peters caused problems for Leeds’ Junior Firpo in that match at Elland Road. Southampton striker Adam Armstrong, who scored three goals in the two games, has been another problem for Leeds.

However, there is predictability in Southampton’s commitment to high-possession football. And unlike Farke, this is completely new territory for Martin, who never finished higher than 10th in a managerial career that took him from MK Dons to Swansea, before St Mary’s.

Farke managed to stop the rot when Leeds faced Southampton in the play-off semi-finals.

Farke managed to stop the rot when Leeds faced Southampton in the play-off semi-finals.

'I know there are many legends here. I'm not close to them, but in a few years I hope to be able to contribute a little to play my part in the history of this club

‘I know there are many legends here. “I’m not close to them, but in a few years I hope to be able to contribute a little to play my part in the history of this club.”

The achievements of the three managers who took Leeds to the top flight – Wilkinson, Don Revie and Marcelo Bielsa – were cited by Farke as he gave his press conference before the trip south.

“I know there are a lot of legends here,” he said. “I’m not close to them, but in a few years I hope to be able to contribute a little to play my part in the history of this club.

“I want to create a legacy and I came here because I was convinced that this club belonged in the Premier League.”

The Man with the Plan, by Dave Tomlinson. Hardback RRP £25. pitchpublishing.co.uk

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