Leeds interim Chris Armas has chance for last laugh after Manchester United 'Ted Lasso' jibes
He may have unkindly been compared with American comic figure Ted Lasso, during his brief, unproductive time at Manchester United but one thing Chris Armas has in common with his fictitious counterpart is the chance for a re-run.
It will come at Old Trafford on Wednesday, when the 50-year-old American will be part of the interim management team appointed to replace his compatriot Jesse Marsch, who was dismissed on Monday after a terrible run of results.
Armas spent a five-month spell on the coaching staff at United last season, under interim manager Ralf Rangnick; a period of dysfunction and increasingly poor performances that ended with the summer arrival of Erik ten Hag.
A former US national and Chicago Fire team-mate of Marsch’s, Armas moved to Elland Road in January and will now, barely two weeks later, be back at the scene of an unhappy period in his, and United’s, recent history.
His record as a manager - his last job was a spell of two wins in 15 games in charge of MLS side FC Toronto in 2021 - certainly raised eyebrows when Rangnick first added him to United’s coaching staff last season.
The respected German had expected Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna to form part of his United team, only for the pair to leave the club, for different reasons, soon after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dismissal.
Instead, Rangnick was left appointing a coach who had been blamed for the demise of US power New York Red Bulls, after stepping up from Marsch’s assistant to head coach in 2018.
Armas had been out of work for five months, after his sacking by Toronto, when he received the call to join United in Dec 2021; difficulties in obtaining work permits for other targets eventually leading Rangnick to move for a coach, with whom he had never worked directly, after Carrick and McKenna left.
The German manager knew Armas from the American’s time as assistant and manager in New York - part of the Red Bull football portfolio of which Rangnick had been in overall supervision of as “head of sport and development” for the group.
Such was the nature of United’s problems - and the leaks coming from the club - that it did not take long for reports to surface of players’ supposed dissatisfaction at the American’s coaching methods, which were reported to be old-fashioned and focused upon 11 against 11 routines, rather than more refined drills.
Armas could be seen on the United bench with wireless earphones in place, relaying information to Rangnick - an image, which, unkindly, drew further comparisons with the hit television character Lasso, an American coach who is catapulted out of his comfort zone into English football.
Sources at United later claimed such comparisons were unfair and criticisms of Armas more a product of the general air of disorganisation at the club at the time - something which Ten Hag has wasted no time in correcting.
Significantly, however, the new United manager had no interest in retaining the services of any of Rangnick’s staff and spent only a minimal amount of time spent talking to the veteran manager as part of the handover process.
In his defence, former players in the States talk of Armas’s people skills and, after his departure from United last summer, he was offered the chance to re-join Marsch at Leeds before eventually opting to return to the States.
In January, with Marsch having lost Mark Jackson from his coaching staff after he took over MK Dons, the American finally reunited with Armas by bringing him to Elland Road.
That reunion lasted barely a fortnight, with Saturday’s desultory defeat at Nottingham Forest stretching their winless streak to seven games and proving the last game of Marsch’s underwhelming time in charge at Elland Road.
The US links remain strong at Leeds, who will be managed by the three senior coaches on the staff - Armas, Paco Gallardo, a former reserve manager with Sevilla, and Michael Skubala, the Leeds under-21 head coach who appears to have been anointed the senior figure on the team.
Marsch was eventually undone by Leeds' inability to turn possession into goals in the final third
As an indication of his higher standing, it was Skubala who spoke on the eve of what will be the first of two meetings against United this week. "Chris obviously worked with Jesse Marsch before and came in a couple of weeks ago," he said. "He's still new to the team and new to getting to know the squad but he's been around the Premier League before with Manchester United.
"We've also got (analyst) Ewan Sharp behind the scenes who also worked for Manchester United so they've got a lot of insight into the players there and their attributes and their profiles. Obviously the staff team has changed there recently so their manager will play in a different way but we've got a good insight into certain things."
Given the short turn-around between Marsch’s sacking and the two United games, it is hard to imagine a change in approach from the struggling visitors to the style championed by their former manager of high-energy, pressing football.
No less an authority than Pep Guardiola often referenced Leeds as the most aggressive and fittest team in the Premier League - a statement very much meant as a compliment.
But, beyond those characteristics, Marsch was eventually undone by his team’s inability to turn possession into goals in the final third, as a run of just two wins in the last 17 league games indicates.
To compound that, Marsch’s decision to play Rodrigo in the recent FA Cup win at Accrington Stanley back-fired when he sustained an injury that will sideline him for two months, a major headache for his long-term successor.
Meanwhile, Armas’s fictional counterpart, Ted Lasso, is about to feature in a third season on streaming service Apple TV. Whether Armas himself ever has a third season in English football is doubtful.