Image: Steve W.
It used to be midweek evenings that Leeds fans feared the most, having gone a full year between November 2011 and November 2012 without a win on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. But now they’ve fallen out of love with Fridays.
And it’s all Massimo Cellino’s fault.
For anyone who’s missed the unfolding spectacle at Elland Road over the last two weeks, or have developed a special sort of tinnitus for news related to Leeds United’s impending financial meltdown, here’s a summary.
Leeds fans’ weekends were first spoilt on Transfer Deadline Day, when, having apparently received a text from current chairman Salah Nooruddin congratulating him on the purchase of the club, Cellino casually dispensed with the services of Brian McDermott as manager. Well, to be accurate, his lawyer, Chris Farnell did. Over the phone.
Scores of pints will have been chugged in Leeds that Friday night to toast the departed McDermott. So imagine how much sore heads throbbed further still on Saturday, when it was revealed that since Cellino didn’t own Leeds United yet, he couldn’t really sack its employees. After much legal wrangling, the absent McDermott missed the club’s 5-1 pasting of Yorkshire ‘rivals’ Huddersfield, but returned to take training on Monday.
Then Farnell was sent packing himself, escorted off the premises by security. There were rumblings that Andrew Flowers, the chief executive of Enterprise Insurance, who it was assumed would be taking over Leeds as part of the Sport Capital consortium before Christmas, had joined forces with Mike Farnan, the ex-Manchester United employee who had fronted another bid to buy the club back in November. This super-consortium made it clear they wanted to complete their own takeover. So far, so confusing – so Leeds.
The majority of Leeds fans were pretty happy about this. Cellino has a spent conviction for fraud and is awaiting trial regarding alleged embezzlement in Italy, and has the happy track record of having employed 36 managers in 20 years as owner of Cagliari.
But current owners GFH Capital seem pretty keen on Cellino, so much so that he’d been given a tour of the training ground weeks before even agreeing a deal. This courtesy was almost extended to Gianluca Festa, the ex-Middlesbrough defender and Cellino associate, being given a seat in the dugout before the game against Ipswich. McDermott refused, which seemed to irk Cellino.
But as last week went on, the chances of Farnan and Flowers brokering a deal faded. Flowers pulled out, and has now issued a winding-up petition against the club.
So Friday came again, and with it more grim tidings. The club announced on their official website that, subject to Football League approval (which – incredibly, he is likely to get), the club was Cellino’s. For fans who gathered in their hundreds outside Elland Road a week previously against a Cellino takeover, this seemed like a hammer blow.
But, incredibly, it seems the mood in Leeds is shifting. Cellino gave an interview to the Sun on Sunday which seems to have stirred the Leeds faithful. ‘If I was running a Fiat 500 in Italy, now I have the chance to run a Ferrari,” he said. He also announced he would buy back Elland Road on his first day in charge of the club.
Some Cagliari fans have emerged on Twitter too to soothe doubts. It has been suggested that Cellino likes to invest in producing young players, and he reportedly was most proud at Cagliari when the club fielded six local players. But, we know that he tried to bring in up to five players on Deadline Day without consulting McDermott (probably because he wanted to sack him).
It is concerning that some Leeds fans are being so fickle. The club needs to own its ground, but Ken Bates also stressed how important it was that he repurchased it when he took over in 2005. Nine years on, the ground is no closer to returning to its rightful owners. Cellino’s comments about the club mirror Bates too. “I’m delighted to be stepping up to the mantle at such a fantastic football club. I see Leeds as a great club that has fallen on hard times,” said Bates in 2005.
Of course new owners will pay lip service to fans. But Cellino has already tried to sack a popular manager, draft in a complete novice and employ new players without anyone at the club’s permission. All that before he’s even officially taken charge. It should surely take more than a few cute comments to make up for that.
Cellino and McDermott were expected to meet tonight, when the former jetted in to see his probable new charges play away at Brighton. But it appears Cellino did not attend the game. But both have made reconciliatory noises since that freaky Friday two weeks ago, with McDermott even suggesting they’d chat about their mutual love for playing guitar.
But it seems an uneasy truce. Even though McDermott has said he would be happy to have Festa on his coaching staff, he is very much Cellino’s man. A couple of defeats, or anything close to resembling the 6-0 humiliation to Sheffield Wednesday, and McDermott will surely be sent on his way again. A Ferrari isn’t much use without a driver at the wheel.