The warning signs were all already there when it was first reported at the end of last year that Massimo Cellino had a watchful eye on the protracted and ultimately unsuccessful takeover of Leeds United by Sports Capital.
Here was a maverick in the Italian game, fearful of the colour purple (not the film with Whoopi Goldberg) and of the number 17. Don’t worry Massimo we’ll retire that shirt number now the legend that was Michael Brown has left. Cellino had serenaded the supporters of Cagliari with his guitar at the opening of the new IS Arenas – which was subsequently closed by local authorities due to lack of requisite building permits.
The real alarm bells were around 36 coaches in 21 Years (note coaches – not Managers, more of that later)
The tumultuous process via which Cellino came to be President of Leeds United is already too well documented to repeat, suffice to say his entry to the English game was not without the odd bit of drama thanks to the Football League fit and proper persons test.
The gutter press has leapt upon the recent freezing of our bank account thanks to a seemingly vexatious winding up order from Sports Capital, and a raft of cost cutting measures at Leeds, notably closing Thorp Arch over the summer, and then only partially reopening it for pre season – its been the request for players to bring in Sandwiches which has caused most hilarity to date, lets call it Butty-Gate.
But how far have Massimo’s decisions been madness? How far might they be the workings of a genius, as the quote goes… “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”
That’s Marilyn Monroe, not a stock for insightful quotes but it’s one I like, and one for me that sums up Massimo Cellino’s MO so far at Leeds. Let’s look at some of his work so far..
Closing Thorp Arch for the Summer
Now I for one thought Thorp Arch was already closed over the summer, so was actually surprised to hear the club ran it year round at full steam. But what about Davide Somma? I hear you all say he’s been living there since 2009? Well I fall in line with Cellino here, to say we were running a fully functioning training centre and academy with ostensibly no gate receipt income, and only the dwindling vestiges of sponsorship and TV money to keep us going does seem stupid in the extreme.
There are other options to consider for the future, but Thorp Arch costs £800K a year to rent, but it also needs heating, maintaining, and the staff who work there all need paying, cooks, physios, coaches, groundsmen. Yes these are peoples livelihoods and Thorp Arch is pretty much Leeds United’s flagship – but should it really be viewed with such consternation that it’s been closed down for a short period?
In terms of the future Cellino is probably right – it needs reviewing. There’s the good stuff in terms of the academy and production line of young talent – but the costs for doing that and logic have to be balanced against what we can afford. A professional football club does need good physio and rehabilitation facilities, and place the players can keep fit, but we’re an established 2nd/3rd tier club. We haven’t frightened the upper reaches of the Championship for a while now, and we need to rebuild – but part of that means we realistically need to readdress basically Premier League costs. Do we share Thorp Arch with another local team? Lease part of it out, or renegotiate with the landlord – or do we outsource some of the functions we are currently paying for? Initially raising some cash for the team. Cellino actually trained as an accountant – he is no fool on this front and I expect there to be changes. But short term this does appear a necessary evil – if the cash we are losing stands at £1m per month.
Verdict – Packed lunches were harsh Massimo, but the overall concept seems sane enough Sanity rating? – 8/10
Brian McDermott’s departure – David `The Hock’ Hockaday
Brian McDermott is a good coach and a manager with a string track record from his time at Reading. At Leeds he did some good things in terms of morale, and on a personal level I rated him as a coach. However the facts stand that we finished an appalling 15th last season. There was really no need for that, with Ross McCormack, Matt Smith and Even Luke Varney as options up front we should have scored more and not been quite so reliant on Ross. Yes Mcdermott was let down by the risible GFH Capital on the transfer front, but he spent money on incomings (loans and purchases) on Stewart, Kebe, Murphy, Smith, Hunt, Zaliukas, Wickham and Butland to name but a few. Of that list who was consistent? Smith, probably Murphy came well towards the end of the season, but there were too many passengers.
What of youth development? He continued where Warnock left off with Lees and Byram all good, but other than promoting Alex Mowatt (largely through necessity) and striking gold there was precious little else to crow about from the stellar group of teenagers Richard Naylor coached through the latter stages of the FA Youth Cup last season. McDermott brought in youth players? Ariyibi, Bryan, McDaid? Only one of whom remains
Cellinos comments “where is Brian” when he was potentially with his mother at her sickbed were out of line and need an apology but he does seem to have got the sacking right here.
His choice of coach in David Hockaday on 19th June saw Ross McCormack (according to the BBC) hand in a transfer request on the following day – related or not? You decide.
It was obvious that Eammon Dolan was Cellino’s first choice, but a £500K price tag scared him off – but as the saying goes – buy cheap – pay for it twice. The jury remains out on Hockaday. His only managerial stint at Forest Green saw 7 defeats out of 8 in the conference and three relegation haunted seasons when he was given a relatively big budget at that level, the signs are worrying. Forest Green Rovers fans and indeed rival fans everywhere have seen this appointment as poor. And though the likes of Pearce and Murphy have come out in support of the new coach I am struggling to find positives even now over the appointment.
Eight Years of Ken Bates have conditioned me to focus my anger towards things I can really make a difference to in life. Cellino has appointed the hock and it’s now up to him to prove McCormack, the fans, some of the current squad, the press, and common sense wrong. Maybe this really is a stroke of genius? Nicola Salerno will control incoming transfers as sporting director, Hockaday just has to organise them on the day and keep them fit… Surely he could mess that up? Could he?
Verdict – McDermott had a poisoned chalice from GFH Capital, but then went to the drinks cabinet and topped that up with extra hemlock, weed killer and Turps he had to go. Hockaday is proven poor in this country’s 5th tier, the jury remains out – Sanit Rating 8/10 on McDermott 4/10 on Hockaday that averages out at 6/10
Take a deep breath.. Even before McDermott was sacked, Cellino, with the assistance of Redders and Carbone decided to release, Michael Brown, Danny Pugh, Luke Varney, Adam Drury and Jamie Ashdown. Plus Nathan and Lewis Turner, Gboly Ariyibi, Smith Tiess, Ali Amiri and Richard Bryan.
Since then hes additionally got shut of Lee Peltier, Marius Zaliukas and has told (allegedly) Paddy Kenny and Stephen Warnock theyre welcome to leave too or they can find another club.
On the incomings front so far? Andre Blackman is on trial at left back, a player who was last season on Dover Athletics books – but didnt get a game, having previously been at Maidenhead United (and not getting a game) he has also seen unsuccessful spells at Celtic, Plymouth, Bristol City and was on Chelsea’s and Arsenals books as a youth player. According to site of all knowledge, Wikipedia, 24 games since 2007 tells its own story. His appearance at the new kit signing has justifiably raised howls of derision from the Leeds faithful. Warnock may be dearer – but why clutter the books with a player of this standard?
Our only other confirmed signing is Perennial No 2 Keeper Stuart Taylor (33) Taylor is a good keeper and has played for Man City, Arsenal and Reading with various loan spells. As it stands the squad in Val Gardena is low on experience and his arrival will hopefully be a bonus, but as it stands the squad is threadbare.
Sanity wise this appears a big risk. There are tired old hacks everywhere digging up random Serie B players which we’re linked to each day, but the English players signed so far are hardly setting the pulse racing. But on the face of it the players we’ve released have anecdotally released over £4m a year of wages, if McCormack goes then we will also have £8m-£10m of cash if the press are to be believed (good luck signing McCormack Fulham if Newcastle or Villa come in with £9m) plus his wages.
Perhaps with the exception of Warnock, most of the released players were not entirely consistent or particularly good. Releasing them to me seems eminently sensible, and getting the likes of Walters, Cook and Skelton through the ranks quicker is a good thing, the sanity of these decisions though is entirely dependent on who else comes in. Blackman to me would be an insane signing, but there again he could turn it round here? But balance that against effectively cutting out the deadwood was vital and something GFH Capital and Bates always wavered on.
Verdict – Most of the players released were right decisions, possibly with the exception of Warnock, incomings are light, and this will bear out how on the money Cellino and Salerno really are Sanity rating 6/10
Selling Ross McCormack
The most emotive decision of the lot – not yet a done deal as this went to press, but looking increasingly likely.
Ross McCormack came to us for £350,000 from Cardiff the season we got promoted. He was overshadowed by Max Gradel and Luciano Becchio for most of that first season, but came good towards the end. The following season saw his input increase, but McCormack was not used up front all the time by Grayson and Warnock and his goal tally suffered accordingly. Played in position by McDermott shock horror he was prolific in a dire team.
McCormack is a fans favourite (though probably no tin all quarters now) he shared most of our abhorrence at Hockadays appointment (it seemed) at McDermotts sacking in January, he by all accounts `gets’ playing for Leeds, perhaps his time at Rangers gave him access to a fanbase of similar levels of intensity and unreasonable expectation! All that aside we are a second tier side and £10m offers for players can’t be ignored. Many will criticise Cellino for a Bates style about face, on 19th June he was never going to sell McCormack to a rival Championship club – but hey – money talks. Bates would have sold McCormack for £2m to Leicester or Palace last season instead of paying an extra £500k a year of wages d’uh. McCormack’s sale may be the making of Leeds United a real conversion of a bit part player into an eight figure sale – that hasn’t happened since Hasselbaink left Leeds, his fee paid for Mark Viduka and Michael Bridges. But just like then it’s how Cellino reacts here that defines the sanity of his decision. The squad is imbalanced; he has an inexperienced coach at this level so McCormacks departure not only has to be justified with a decent replacement / successor it needs to be communicated right to fans and players in terms of the clubs ambition.
Verdict – Inevitable, but caused by many of Cellinos own decisions around Manager and player recruitment. Leeds get offers for McCormack every summer, but the sanity of this decision will only become clear when we see Plan B Sanity rating 5/10
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