Massimo Cellino cuts a very divisive figure with his ban-laden, conflict-ridden two-season ownership of Leeds United, one of English football’s fallen giants.
For some, he is a knight in less-than shining armour, riding a less-than white charger who rescued Leeds United from the inept ownership of GFH Capital. For others he is almost the Devil incarnate, a symbol of all that ranks as bad at Elland Road, a canker eating away at the club.
In an article in the Telegraph, Cellino puts himself firmly in the middle of those two extremes, seeing both the good and bad even in himself. As he says in the article: “I can be the best a—hole in the world but I’m not a bad person and I never want to hurt anyone. I can be a pain in the a— but I’m not a bad person. So when people say I’m dishonest, it hurts me.
Cellino’s reputation preceded him when he became the majority shareholder at Leeds, a man who dispensed justice of his own brand and with the rapid nature of knee-jerk reaction being his preferred modus operandi. Known as il mangia allenatori (the manager eater) during his time as owner of Italian side Cagliari, Cellino brought that style over with him to Leeds United.
In two seasons, six managers have been eaten through, with curernt incumbent Steve Evans becoming the longest-serving manager under Cellino’s stewardship at Elland Road, something Leeds celebrated with a scrappy 3-2 win over Reading – whose manager was Brian McDermott, Cellino’s first chewed up/spat out manager at Elland Road.
The way he has run roughshod over the club has made him many enemies, with one movement in particular, the ‘Time To Go, Massimo’ group, mobilising support in a series of symbolically stylistic protests that have ranged from video projections of his broken promises since taking over the club, through a mock funeral procession through to Saturday’s march on Elland Road – numbers attending ranging anywhere between 250 and 1,000 depending on what source you read.
These critics say that Cellino is damaging the club, making it even more disliked than what it prides itself on being. Sacking of managers, laying off of staff, whimsical decisions affecting the good standing of Leeds United, a giant in slumber gently snoring and waiting to be stirred. The vilification of Cellino and his maverick handling of everything came to a head with last week’s decision against the club in Lucy Ward’s employment tribunal claim. One thing in this that Cellino came under immense criticism for was an indication of his views on the ideas of gender-specific roles and women in football – something brought up in the judgement and attriubted to Cellion in a conversaton with Gary Cooper, manager of Leeds United ladies team.
Cellino refutes that he said what he was accused of saying, that women didn’t belong in football, saying to the Telegraph: “It’s been a trial against Massimo Cellino, not against Leeds. I’m now supposed to be this man who hates women and has such a low of opinion of them that they’re only good for the bedroom. It’s a total lie. The only conversation I had with Gary Cooper was about money for the women’s team. I would never think of saying something like he claims.”
In a rallying call that may dismay his detractors, dishearten such as the TTGM group and those non-affiliated Leeds fans that want rid of him and to gain back what they consider ‘their’ Leeds United, Massimo Cellino says that he is going nowhere quick. Amidst the rising protests and the building fan anger and resentment, Massimo Cellino continues to stand both tall and proud.
In a parting shot to those who want to see the back of him, Massimo Cellino says: “People tell me to go away. F*****g hell. But I’m not going away because I’m not a coward. Otherwise I’d have already run away.”