Driven to succeed
Sacked by Reading less than a year after guiding the club to the title, Brian McDermott is preparing for another assault on the Championship with Leeds United. Adam Bate caught up with McDermott to discuss his hopes for the new season.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 29/07/13 6:31am
The atmosphere is good at Thorp Arch. Making your way through the main entrance at Leeds United's training ground, young defender Sam Byram is strolling around in his flip-flops trying to get a signal on his mobile phone and exchanging pleasantries with the ladies on reception. His manager also has a spring in his step. But don't let this relaxed environment fool you. Brian McDermott is a man in determined mood.
As recently as January, McDermott was the Premier League's manager of the month after guiding newly-promoted Reading to come-from-behind wins over West Brom and Newcastle before earning a dramatic point at home to Chelsea. Four league games after collecting the award, he was sacked and replaced by Nigel Adkins. It's a grievance that is serving to motivate the 52-year-old coach.
"There's no hiding behind that," he tells Sky Sports. "I'm driven by the fact that I did lose my job at Reading. That's gone now. Reading are happy with the manager they've got and I hope Leeds are happy with the manager they've got. But I am driven, there's no doubt about that."
While McDermott would never have wished it this way, Reading's subsequent relegation means he will come up against his former club this season as the manager of Leeds United. The Yorkshire club have not featured in the Premier League for almost a decade but their new manager is acutely aware that in many ways it represents a step up.
"Travelling away from home has been the big thing," he points out. "We went away to Slovenia and there were hundreds and hundreds of fans. I don't even know how they got there! At Walsall there were 1500 of them. There were 1400 at Stevenage. It's not just in Leeds, it's all over England - there are Leeds fans coming up to us.
"That's great. I like that. They've got these expectations and good luck to them. They deserve success and we'll do everything we can to try and give them success. You have to build something as well though. We can't just make statements about how we've got to do it this year. We have to work hard to be as good as we can possibly be every day and then we'll see where we end up."
McDermott is preparing for his first full season in charge since replacing Neil Warnock in April and pre-season results have been mixed. Consecutive defeats in Slovenia were followed by an alarming loss at Walsall but a three-goal victory over Stevenage provided more encouragement and the manager's high hopes for the forthcoming campaign are unlikely to be dented by Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Nurnberg.
"You're always optimistic going into a new season," says McDermott. "You have to be. We've come back right for the summer training and worked really hard every day. It's been good for us for all sorts of reasons whether the performances have been good, bad or indifferent."
This mantra of hard work runs is a recurring theme for McDermott and was at the core of his success at Reading. The Royals went on a run of 15 wins from 17 games to win the Championship title in the spring of 2012 and while the set-up is different at Elland Road all the indications are that the beliefs which sparked that remarkable run are unlikely to change.
"You have to recreate an environment," he explains. "That's really important. What we're trying to do is create an environment that's conducive to work - where everybody is in a relaxed state and a focused state. But you have to come to work and enjoy it. That's so important."
Perhaps that explains some of the thinking behind bringing in former Reading forward Noel Hunt. "Noel is someone I've known for five or six years and he's a real catalyst around the place," adds McDermott. "He's a good lad who is great in the dressing room and good on the pitch as well. We've also signed Luke Murphy as well who is a good young player. We've got Matt Smith in as well who is getting better and better all the time. They're all good lads who work hard and have got talent."
With the transfer window open well beyond the big kick-off against Brighton at the weekend and reports of Premier League interest in the likes of Byram, it represents a complication of sorts for the Leeds boss. McDermott knows the speculation is unavoidable and admits there are still areas he needs to strengthen.
"The transfer window is what it is. We've signed three players and a lot of players have left during the summer. We are short in certain areas and that's something we need to address, there's no doubt about that. If we can do that then hopefully we can do that sooner rather than later."
So is promotion realistic? "I don't know what's realistic for Leeds but I know what's realistic for me. We'll try to get a team on the pitch that puts on a performance for the fans. I just look at it each day. We'll do the best we possibly can and then see where we end up come May."
If he can succeed in fostering the dressing room spirit he enjoyed at Reading then those Leeds supporters might just be surprised how far that can take them - and McDermott could earn another shot at that Premier League he's so determined to get back to.