GARRY MONK insists tomorrow is not about him.
“I understand why people think otherwise,” said the 38-year-old Middlesbrough manager yesterday when asked about his first return to Leeds United since walking out in the summer. “But that is an external view. Internally, it is all about the team.”
Monk was equally dismissive when asked about the likely reception awaiting him, which is expected to reflect more the messy ending than a preceding 12 months that had brought a long overdue re-engagement with the top end of the Championship for Leeds after too long paddling around its lower echelons.
Such a ‘welcome’ is unlikely to faze the Boro manager. In fact, it is more likely to inspire him, judging by the year he spent at the helm of United.
There were exceptions, such as when locking horns with Jaap Stam and David Wagner or even the odd journalist. But, in the main, Monk’s response to any confrontation was to keep his counsel and walk on.
He did just that when berated by one supporter, irate at the weakened team selection, following United’s lame FA Cup exit to non-League Sutton United. Monk heard every word, but chose not to react.
Away from the public gaze, however, there was a sense that such incidents stoked the fire burning within Monk, an ‘I’ll show you’ mentality that he will be hoping Boro carry on his behalf into tomorrow lunchtime’s clash.
Elland Road, of course, is never slow to turn on those one-time heroes who the locals feel wronged their club by leaving.
The fiercest vitriol has inevitably been reserved for those who joined Manchester United. Eric Cantona, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Jordan, Alan Smith and Gordon McQueen all had to run the gauntlet down the years.
So long can memories be round LS11, in fact, that McQueen, almost quarter of a century after his controversial switch to Old Trafford, spotted a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Jordan, McQueen, Cantona, Ferdinand: Traitors’ when attending the opening day visit of Manchester City to Leeds in 2002.
I said a bad run would come. We are making a project of several years where almost everyone is new in this, starting from the chairman and the sporting director.Leeds bosds Thomas Christiansen
Monk’s reception will be nothing like those afforded McQueen, Cantona et al. For a start, Boro do not stir anything like the same emotions inside Leeds supporters. Few, if any, teams do.
What may also deflect some of the heat from Monk is how minds are more focused right now on the travails afflicting his successor.
Thomas Christiansen, even allowing for the public backing he received from managing director Angus Kinnear earlier this week, needs a positive result.
Seven defeats in the last nine outings and an alarming tendency for the team to collapse feebly at the first sign of a setback mean the Dane is under huge pressure.
He was a surprise appointment in the summer, considering the only previous managerial experience on the former striker’s CV came via three years in Cyprus.
Christiansen is understood to have emerged as the club’s choice following a meeting with Andrea Radrizzani, head of recruitment Victor Orta and director Ivan Bravo.
A lengthy presentation, which included dissecting a number of last season’s fixtures and an outlining of necessary changes to United’s style of play, swung the search in Christiansen’s favour.
When Leeds topped the Championship in mid-September, the appointment looked inspired. Now serious questions are being asked, not least because the lengthening list of defeats are taking on a familiar look.
A soft underbelly is evident in United, particularly after falling behind, that sees heads drop and no one, either in the dugout or on the pitch, seemingly able to lift them back up again.
Christiansen’s response during the international break has been to get his players in for double training sessions.
“It has not been nice, but you have to be strong to come out of it,” he said yesterday when asked about Leeds’s current predicament.
“I said a bad run would come. We are making a project of several years where almost everyone is new in this, starting from the chairman and the sporting director.
“Our target (this season) is still to finish in the top six. Middlesbrough have targets, like we do and theirs is automatic promotion.
“We are only three points away from each other and that can soon turn. We are in a bad situation of results, but not in the way we play.”
Life will not get any easier after Boro, with trips to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Barnsley being followed by Aston Villa ushering in December with a visit to Elland Road in front of the live TV cameras.
Such is the unpredictable nature of the Championship, of course, that forecasting this quartet of results is nigh on impossible.
Christiansen could, as the first doors of this year’s Advent calendars are being opened, be basking in the afterglow of three or four wins and a return to the top six.
Or he could be one of those managers with fingers crossed that the only sack heading his way in the final month of the year belongs to Father Christmas.
Either way, tomorrow’s all-Yorkshire clash is the sort to focus attention. It promises to be a fascinating affair, even if Christiansen is as unmoved as Monk by the likely reception awaiting his Boro counterpart.
“We will see what reception he gets,” he said. “But it is the players who have to deliver on the pitch.”