Massimo Cellino – a year of controversy, confusion, and broken promises

It’s been just over a year since Massimo Cellino successfully completed his takeover of Leeds United following an appeal. An ownership campaign that began with much hope, support, and ambition has turned into one that is facing opposition, displeasure, and now protest. It’s a year that has seen many twists and turns along the way, it’s a year that has seen many false promises, it’s a year that has divided the only thing that has remained United at Leeds throughout recent times  – the fans.

The welcome Cellino recieved when he officially completed the takeover of Leeds was a contrast to the reception given to him when he first bought the club. January 31st 2014, a date that will stick out in the memory of many Leeds fans. Cellino completed a deal with GFH Capital for the club and ran riot around Elland Road, sacking numerous backroom staff, dismissing manager Brian McDermott, and nearly forcing top scorer Ross McCormack out of the club, topped off by Leeds fans blocking the Italian’s taxi from leaving the stadium.

The next day it was Leeds’ turn to run riot on the pitch, beating local rivals Huddersfield 5-1, a game where Leeds fans showed their solidarity and support for Brian McDermott. Following the pre-match protest, and 90 minute support of the dismissed manager, Cellino said that it wasn’t his decision to sack McDermott, but was a decision made by current owners GFH, despite previously admitting that he had made the decision, and saying that the manager had done everything he needed to do to get sacked.

The promises Cellino made and the money he provided swayed the opinions of the Leeds faithful, with Cellino being the one who paid the wages as the previous owners didn’t have the funds to do so. However, the broken promises began early on into the Italian’s reign. Cellino promised the Leeds fans that he would keep manager Brian McDermott and work with him, despite sacking him once, he also promised on numerous occasions to buy back Elland Road and Thorp Arch, something that has still failed to happen.Despite performances dipping massively in the second half of the season under McDermott, with much confusion and speculation surrounding the club off the pitch, it is very hard for a team to put a successful performance on the pitch. It must be remembered that McDermott was at the club in a season that saw two separate takeover talks.

Then we move onto Cellino’s first full season in charge, and the summer brought an equal amount of worry and hope. The hope came from a completely revamped squad, Leeds made a total of 15 signings in the summer, most of which coming from the Italian league for obvious reasons. Cellino did however, promise to make a number of English signings, something that he failed to do. Out of all the summer signings Leeds completed only 4 came from the English leagues, strikers Billy Sharp and Nicky Ajose, defender Liam Cooper, and goalkeeper Stuart Taylor.

The worry came from the appointment of Dave Hockaday as Head Coach, his previous job was with conference side Forest Green Rovers, where he was sacked from the role. Hockaday also brought Junior Lewis in as assistant, his previous job being with Hendon, who play in Isthmian Premier Division. The start of the season saw 2 wins from a possible 6, a win over Accrington Stanley and a 2-1 defeat by Bradford ended Hockaday’s reign before the end of August.

Cellino needed to make the right appointment to put Leeds on the right track, and went with Darko Milanic from Sturm Graz. Someone who had managed in both the Europa League and Champions League, yet someone who couldn’t win in his time at Leeds. Cellino sacked the Slovenian after just 32 days in charge. Leeds desperately needed stability, and the appointment of Neil Redfearn from the club’s academy created much positivity amongst the Leeds faithful.

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The slow appointment of assistant Steve Thompson was another frustration for Leeds fans, taking a number of weeks to appoint despite Redfearn stating in the media who he wanted. January arrived, Leeds needed players to push them up the league. Sol Bamba arrived and sorted out the defence, yet Leeds also signed striker Edgar Cani and midfielder Granddi Ngoyi. Cani, scored 3 in 19 appearances for Catania and Ngoyi failing to score in 25 appearances for Palermo. Both have looked less than impressive in the little games they have played for the Whites.

January also saw the Football League disqualify Cellino from owning the club, Cellino vowed to serve the suspension but still involve himself in the club, with another chairman in place, someone else there just to ‘sign the checks’. Things on the pitch improved, Leeds hit good form and dragged themselves away from the relegation places. That was until Cellino reminded Leeds that he was still around, just before the away game against Brighton. Cellino stating that he will not immediately return to his role as president when his ban expires, a statement at an unnecessary time disrupted preparations for the match and Leeds lost 2-0.

Leeds’ push up the table took another hit, as boss Neil Redfearn’s requests for loan players was rejected on numerous occasions. Cellino’s ban by the Football League was also increased until the end of the season. Despite all this Redfearn managed to get Leeds to play football, becoming the most in form team in the league in the second half of the season. But then another decision was made to disrupt this progression, Redfearn’s assistant Steve Thompson was suspended until the end of the season. A decision that was first explained as Thompson under-performing in the role (despite Leeds’ performances drastically improving since his appointment) and then being told as Thompson being involved in an incident with Director of Football Nicola Salerno. Two reasons being given, two opposing reasons suggesting that the decision was incorrectly made.

Cellino then says that Salerno has resigned from his role at the club. Salerno is the man that Cellino reportedly said was the one who suspended Thompson. Regardless who did it, Thompson’s suspension has seen Leeds lose 5 out of 5 since the decision was made. The suspension has also put Redfearn’s future at the club in doubt, Cellino has managed to push out someone who has found a way to get Leeds playing football, utilising the youth academy due to his knowledge of it from his previous role, Cellino stated that a strong youth academy was vital in his reign as Leeds boss, and is now forcing out the man who has made this happen.

The actions of recent weeks has certainly caused maximum disruption at Leeds. Despite Cellino being suspended from his role, the suggestion he made when he was first suspended is that he will still be involved in the club as much as he possibly could, so it must be Cellino who is heavily influencing the decisions being made.

Massimo Cellino promised Leeds United fans that Leeds would be a Premier League side in two seasons time, one season has gone and Leeds are nowhere near the top end of the table. The lack of stability means that Leeds are incredibly unlikely to be a Premier League side under Cellino’s ownership. Leeds have spent the season playing and training at facilities they do not own, despite numerous promises being made that Leeds would own both Elland Road and Thorp Arch. Cellino stated that if Leeds fans do not want him then he will walk away from the club, many Leeds fans are dissatisfied with his current reign, so it remains to be seen if he will walk away in the summer, and bring about the stability that is much needed at Leeds United.

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