It was on Wednesday night, during a friendly at Shelbourne’s Tolka Park, that Garry Monk realised how long he had been away from the touchline.
A playing career of almost 20 years and a 77-game stint of management at Swansea City meant Monk was rarely anywhere else until life changed for him last December when Swansea sacked him and emptied his diary.
Leeds United’s 2-1 win over Shelbourne, Monk’s first game as the club’s head coach, was also his first in any capacity for seven months. “It’s good for me to be back in that match environment,” he said afterwards. This summer has returned him to more familiar climes.
Leeds finish their pre-season tour of Ireland with a friendly at Shamrock Rovers today, the end of two weeks of work in Ireland.
Monk based his squad on the west side of Dublin and used the facilities at the Irish Football Association’s headquarters for training. Johnny Giles, the legendary United midfielder, paid a visit yesterday as Monk was lining up a final session.
The 37-year-old is counting down quickly to a season which starts three weeks tomorrow at Queens Park Rangers. Six months without work were six months without the pressure of management but, speaking yesterday, Monk was happy to leave that sabbatical behind.
“It was the first time in my whole career where I had a period out of football,” he said. “That was very strange and I found it very difficult to adapt in the first couple of months. For a while, I was in this strange situation (of being out of a job) but I realised soon enough that I had to get back to work – and not just back into management.
“I did a lot of studying in those six months. I analysed what I did in my time at Swansea. There were many positives but there were negatives, too. I tried to be honest about those and I tried to get my mind clear about certain situations – why they happened, what you would do differently, what I maybe did wrong.
“I went to Seville to see how that club was run, I analysed the way different sports work – rugby, cricket, hockey, baseball – and I spoke to a lot of people in football. I wanted to get back into management as soon as possible but that time was really useful.
“It’s easily wasted if you sit around doing nothing because you never get the chance to do any of that when you’re in a job. You don’t get free time. Managers always have something to think about or something to deal with.”
When Monk signed a 12-month deal with Leeds, replacing Steve Evans, he became the club’s seventh first-team chief in two years. Some questioned why a coach with his stock would want such a precarious job or risk work under an owner like Massimo Cellino but Monk said he warmed to the Italian during their first meeting and was never in two minds about whether to accept his offer.
“I needed to get my teeth back into something,” he said. “There was interest, there were other jobs, but Leeds matched my own ambition. What I mean is that I wanted a really big challenge. I wanted to take something difficult on, something that was going to test me. I wanted to come to a club which would demand a lot of me – but where the rewards at the end of it all could be really special. I think that’s Leeds United.
“As I see the game, there’s no such thing as a honeymoon period for managers any more. Maybe there was once but you don’t expect one now, or you shouldn’t. Yeah, it’s tough but that’s the way it is and nobody forces you to be a manager. It’s best to accept the reality and come into a job organised and well-planned so you hit the ground running. It’s the only way and I’m happy that I’ve got six weeks (of pre-season) here – much as we’re cramming a lot in.
“My way of thinking’s quite simple: you do your best, put everything you can into the players and you hope it’s successful. I’m more than confident that it will be successful here, more than confident.”
In his first press conference on June 2, Monk said Cellino was “misunderstood”. “When I sat down with him I had a good feeling about him and the club. One thing that I think gets under-estimated is how much he wants the club to do well.
“From that first meeting I knew I was interested in the job and the more we talked, the more I liked the sound of it. I felt I could come here and do something.
“It’s not for me to speak about what’s gone on before. It doesn’t bother me and I’ve never lived in fear of my job, even at Swansea.”
Monk’s view of football in England is that it is now “totally results driven” with no leeway for the average manager. His strategy for countering that and for keeping Cellino happy is to employ a brand of football which he thinks will strike a chord. Swansea were an attractive side under Monk and a competitive side, too, until a run of one win from 11 games cost him his job.
“Words are easy to say but I like my teams to be aggressive,” said Monk. “I like us to get on the front foot, I like us to have the ball and to be possession-based but not in terms of statistics or keeping the ball for the sake of it. I don’t want to come off the pitch with 800 passes and be happy about that when we’ve not won the game or scored any goals.
“I want the players to be excited by the football they’re playing and I want the fans to be excited by the football they’re watching. The worst thing for me would be people coming in, paying their money and watching what they think is boring football. But the bottom line at the end of it all is that you have to play winning football. You have to be a winning team.”