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Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Matter of Time

Nobes looks at Paulo Sousa's appointment as manager of Leicester City - and why he may need time to get things right in his new job.

Paulo Sousa enjoyed a surprisingly successful season at Swansea

During his time as manager of QPR, Paulo Sousa expressed his frustration with interference from the club's hierarchy into his managing of the team. At Swansea, too, he reportedly had difficulties with the board.

Now, after resigning from the Welsh club to take on the manager's job at Leicester City, he finds himself working for Milan Mandaric. Sousa would be well advised not to fall out with his latest employer.

During his time in English football, first at Portsmouth, and now Leicester, Mandaric has earned himself a reputation for being hard to please. Readily sacking failing managers is what's in fashion for this Milan.

At Fratton Park, he went through eight managers in his nine years at the helm, and he went through five managers in less than two years at Leicester before appointing Pearson.

Losing the services of t
he 46-year-old was a careless piece of chairmanship from the Serb. Pearson had turned around the Foxes's fortunes, and finally made them look like realistic top flight candidates for the first time since 2004.

Whether the pair had a falling out, or Pearson felt he wouldn't be able to take them any further, there is a nagging feeling that Leicester's loss is very much Hull City's gain.

However, it needn't be the end of City's recent revival. Sousa has proven himself a capable manager in English football.

However, he now needs his chairman's backing - both in the transfer market and in the time he's given - to continue Pearson's work. Mandaric must step up to the mark.

That's because Sousa's appointment will herald a big change in the culture of how Leicester will play. A patient style which needs time - and patience - to be successfully

It is something
the City owner must be aware of, and he should take into consideration just how long it can take for such an ethos to be implemented at a football club.

In many ways, Swansea was the perfect platform for Sousa to preach his message of how the beautiful game should be played. He inherited a group of players already used to playing a continental style of football.

His predecessor, Spaniard Roberto Martinez, had already ingrained into his squad the importance of retaining the ball, of a slow-tempo, probing approach, and of the need to play good football as well as winning football.

At the Walkers though, he will take over a group moulded in Pearson's image - hard-working, gritty, big, and strong. Leicester were capable of playing good football - but also of mixing it up when they had to.

Drilling into players used to always looking forwards for their next pass that, instead, square balls and simply keeping hold of possession for the sake of it is how they should be playing will not be easy.

Sousa may well find that some of the players are incapable of making that transition. Like any new manager, he will have his own men he will want to bring in.

Milan Mandaric has a reputation for being ruthless with his managers

All of which, inevitably, takes time. Even with less of a culture change to implement at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea began last season slowly under the Portuguese.

It may be a similar scenario in the East Midlands this term. Everyone, from the terraces to the boardroom, must be willing to exercise some patience in the hope that, in the long term, there will be benefits.

And there should be. Sousa's approach to the game is the kind of football which fans will enjoy watching - and players should enjoy playing too.

Ask any professional, and they'd rather have the freedom to express themselves when playing rather than the repetition of hitting direct balls into the channels and playing a percentage game.

Although that direct style is a lot easier to implement early on, its short term gains eventually disappear. Leicester's journey under Sousa will be a lot more difficult than taking Route One.

The biggest criticism levelled at his Swansea last term though was the paucity of goals on offer. Despite boasting the division's second meanest defence, the Swans found the back of the net just 40 times - the lowest in the Championship.

It could be argued that was largely down to the lack of a quality finisher up front to finish off the chances. A succession of missed opportunities in their 0-0 draw on the final day against Doncaster summing up a frustrating season.

Had one been converted then they would edged out Blackpool and reclaimed the place in the play-offs they occupied for the majority of last term. Their shortcomings up top ultimately cost them.

At Leicester though, he finds a squad with greater attacking strength. The likes of Matty Fryatt, Andy King, and Paul Gallagher are potent at Championship level. Steve Howard could also thrive in the lone striker role in Sousa's preferred 4-5-1 formation.

Maintaining Leicester's own impressive defensive record last season shouldn't be a problem for the new man at the helm either - suggesting that City can once again be competitive in and around the top six positions.

It is raised expectations, perhaps too high expectations, which could be his greatest problem. It is easy to forget, because of their successful campaign, that Leicester had only been promoted into the division last season.

True, they were always too big for League One and ran away with the title in 2009. Before relegation to that level though, they had only secured mediocre mid-table finishes in the second tier under a succession of managers.

Pearson has raised expectation levels back up to the point where fans can believe Leicester can reclaim and retain the Premier League spot they became accustomed to in the '90s under Martin O'Neill.

While on-pitch hopes for the future might be high though, it's instant success from Sousa they shouldn't necessarily be expecting.

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