Leeds United's director of football Victor Orta
Thomas Christiansen was talking about “a luxury problem” before Tuesday’s game against Birmingham City, which in football parlance sounds like mechanical issues on a private jet. Christiansen, from what we know of him, is not one of life’s extravagant high-rollers and in this instance he was talking about footballers: so many form players, so few places in his team. A manager’s dream, a month into the season.
Hearing him say so brought to mind the Leeds United coaches over the years who found the question of who to leave out very simple. In the words of one, the easy part of the job was establishing who among his squad wasn’t good enough. There were always alternatives and decisions to make, players tentatively knocking on the door, but a ceiling of performance whichever 11 they chose. Nothing like Christiansen, who at the start of this week had the highest-scoring and most defensively-sound team in the Championship.
The biggest feather for Leeds’ early results rests in Christiansen’s cap, because football clubs can’t have it both ways. If the mess at Crystal Palace is Frank De Boer’s doing then the buck for United’s best start to a second-division season in more than a generation stops with Christiansen but behind him is a scouting team whose hit-rate is going through the roof, vindicating a distinct approach to the summer transfer market.
It became clear with hindsight why, on the basis of recruitment alone, Garry Monk did not like the sound of Andrea Radrizzani’s intentions. Middlesbrough, to a point, went at the Championship with the division’s own players: Assombalonga, Howson, Christie, Shotton, Randolph. Leeds’ solitary Championship signing was a second-choice goalkeeper and only three others were based in England. Leeds’ scouting has moved into the 21st century, albeit a little behind the curve. Phil Hay United’s recruitment department like the breadth of talent abroad and the club like the value for money. Samuel Saiz cost somewhere upwards of £3m. Pierre-Michel Lasogga is playing on loan for £15,000 a week. These were Championship prices, before the Championship got out of hand