Tag Archives: Leeds United

Cellino chaos has Leeds fans fearing freaky Fridays

Image

Image – Steve W.

I wrote this for the excellent The72 about the Massimo Cellino saga which has engulfed Leeds United, and is still, at time of writing, yet to be sorted out. Read the original here.

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.

Sacking

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.

Changing mood

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.

Advertisements

Cautious optimism for Leeds fans as owners splash the cash

Image


Just another boring pre-season for Leeds, I tried to write something about the torpor…

You can tell it’s a long time since Leeds United were a force in English football, a great footballing chasm since David O’Leary’s babes almost bested Barcelona, dismantled Besiktas in front of a rocking Elland Road and tamed Anderlecht in their own back yard.

You know how? On the fleeting occasions now that Leeds are on television, commentators rarely exclaim how many years it is since 2001, when Leeds went on that thrilling Champions League run, or since 2004, when they dropped out of the top flight in the midst of the financial tsunami which made it fall to its knees.

Now, the club are treated with the same casual indifference afforded to a range of mediocre Championship clubs, with only the odd reference thrown in to that side, built on the quicksand of Peter Ridsdale’s kamikaze chairmanship. Despite the money, that era, like Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson’s before it, now seems a curious quirk of footballing past; an anachronistic tale of a side full of home-grown talent causing earthquakes amongst the very best in the country and Europe.

It may appear that, compared to that period, and the tumultuous fall down the leagues that followed, the last few seasons have been relatively calm for Leeds fans, with the club safely cossetted in the Championship once more.

But in fact this period has increasingly engendered resentment and frustration, as under-investment over several seasons and the increasingly vituperative conduct of chairman Ken Bates has drawn fans’ ire. Neil Warnock, brought in to engineer one of his trademark promotions, spectacularly failed, succeeding only in instilling what seemed almost a deliberately awful brand of football which saw Leeds sink to 12th place before he departed in April.

Initial optimism generated by GFH Capital taking control of the club last December quickly dissipated, despite the new owners impressing with fan pleasing measures like half-season tickets and moving ageing bile dispenser Ken Bates out of an operational role.

New boss Brian McDermott had spoken at the end of last season about the need to get six or seven new players in, preferably before the start of pre-season. But when the squad returned to Thorp Arch 10 days ago, only one had been signed, rookie beanpole striker Matt Smith from Oldham Athletic.

This festering hostility bubbled over a week ago, when rumours on Twitter quickly went viral on the #lufc hashtag that McDermott had spoken frankly about a lack of funds at a charity dinner. The former Reading manager revealed he was due to meet the board to discuss why several of his summer transfer targets had not yet been signed.

After getting the job in April, McDermott has impressed all with his quiet but steely determination. He oversaw an immediate refresh of the club’s on-field performances, drawing unfathomably energetic performances from Warnock’s leaden booted charges. There is a belief that he is the man to get Leeds back into the top flight, if he is given the money required to do so. That it appeared that Leeds were back in the familiar position of having none only ratcheted up fans’ despair.

Then, suddenly, the club’s dusty old coffers were opened. Rumours spread late on Saturday night last week that Leeds had made a seven-figure bid for highly-rated Crewe midfielder Luke Murphy, and those rumours came to unlikely fruition on Monday when he signed for the club, in the most expensive transfer since the capture of Richard Cresswell in 2005. That was quickly followed by the signing of Noel Hunt on a free transfer from Reading, and rumours circulate that the club are in for Dundee United’s highly rated Gary Mackay-Steven amongst others.

So what to make of this sudden and dramatic shift from skint to spendthrift? GFH Capital have made no secret of the fact they are open to further investment into the club, and a transfer of mortgage shares between GFH and a company called Brendale Holdings based in Dubai has increased speculation that more funds are coming into the club.

But, as some ever pessimistic Leeds fans have suggested, the funds for the transfers of Murphy, Hunt and others could have been freed up by the completion of contracts for peripheral squad players at the end of June. Unsettling links still also remain between starlet Sam Byram and Premier League clubs.

Whatever the reason, the signing of Murphy has reenergised Leeds fans, and McDermott has sounded refreshed and optimistic when giving interviews to local media about further additions.

Fans are restless for Leeds to be back in the top flight, and are perhaps more willing now to turn a blind eye to the schizophrenic backroom behaviour of the Leeds United board. The consequences of financial irresponsibility of the club have been terrible for the club in the past so there is a need to be wary, but, with McDermott at the helm, there is a sense that the media won’t be ignoring Leeds for much longer.

Read the original, my debut article, for the excellent Footyplace here

Leeds United: Let’s be realistic about O’Leary

Image

I can’t blame Leeds fans for wanting David O’Leary back, however daft the idea seems.

It was, after all, under O’Leary that we enjoyed our finest years in the (relatively) modern era. Now that it’s almost ten long years since we were last in the Premier League, and twelve since THAT Champions League run, it’s that O’Leary side that represents the best that a sizeable group of our fans have seen, myself included.

As a 23 year old, I don’t remember the great 1991/2 title winning side, and have only hazy memories of seeing the likes of Strachan and McAllister strut their stuff in our midfield. As difficult as it is to admit now, my childhood heroes were the likes of Lee Bowyer and Harry Kewell. It was that O’Leary side that I loved so much, whose posters adorned my walls, who represented all that was good about our club. The gutsy heroism of Radebe, the grit of Batty, the trickery and pace of Kewell, the cool finishing of Viduka. It’s embarrassing, knowing what we do now about the corrosive behaviour in the boardroom, and how so many of those players disgraced themselves after leaving the club.

But my generation still look back on that period with so much fondness. Years of abject performances make us long for that time again, when finishing 4th in the Premier League was deemed a failure.

And it’s not simply nostalgia. Who can blame fans for wanting to relive the better days when there is simply no future vision for the club? We have owners who seem desperate to flog the club a bit at a time, a recently departed manager who kept telling us he wanted to leave, and a bunch of new players accustomed to the nomadic lifestyle of being second-rate journeymen.

How different to how it was under O’Leary. Young players were plucked from the Academy and shone in the first team, complimented by wise old heads like Nigel Martyn. The fans, players and management were all seemingly united in a modern vision of Leeds United, playing exciting, attacking football. We took on the giants of Europe and beat them. Who can forget the last-minute victory against AC Milan or the humbling of Anderlecht?

But we have to take off these rose-tinted glasses. We won’t progress as a club by trying to relive the old days. The great Revie side were thrust into management, one by one, in the 1980s, to try and bring some success back to the club. Bremner, Clarke and Gray, all legends, failed, because of financial mismanagement and no vision for how we moved forward as a club.

And don’t forget O’Leary’s part in our demise. He oversaw a ludicrously imbalanced and bloated squad, signing the likes of Robbie Fowler and Seth Johnson for crazy fees on inflated wages, made increasingly bizarre statements to the press and wrote a book when he should have been concentrating on our stuttering on-field performances.

Not even considering the fact that O’Leary has been out of serious management for seven years, his return would be a bad mistake. We cannot move forward as a club by reliving the past.

Read it here on Spoughts, with lots more of my stuff on Leeds.

No more heroes anymore at LUFC

Image

Luciano Becchio’s decision to pursue a career as a Carrow Road bench warmer left me with sadness in my heart. Here’s what it all means…

After wiping away my post-Becchio tears, I set about writing an article about the incoming Steve Morison, a man Neil Warnock reliably informed me would soon be a ‘legend’ at Elland Road. Maybe he and Ross McCormack could be the striking partnership we’ve lacked in recent years. I’d write about the modern day Chapman and Wallace.

But I couldn’t.

It’s not that Morison isn’t a good player. He’s a good Championship striker who proved himself at Millwall, with a goal-scoring record of better than 1 in 3 during his time there. He sporadically impressed in the Premier League, and he fulfilled the criteria of a Leeds signing in that he always seemed to score against us. The image of him leaving Paddy Kisnorbo in a crumpled heap on his way to putting Millwall one-up at Elland Road in 2010 is burned indelibly on my mind.He’s a perfectly decent player. He has history against Leeds. He should raise sufficient passion to write a profile, or to summon my feelings about his move to the club.

But he didn’t.

I didn’t have that problem with Becchio. Even though he had quite obvious faults, no pace,
the turning circle of an oil tanker and a Carlton Palmer like first touch, he inspired a deep and
unswerving affection. If anyone I knew criticised him or called him limited, I would leap to his
defence. He’s just a goal-scorer, I would claim.

But this isn’t just about one goal-scoring hero being replaced by another goal-scoring non-entity. It’s part of a trend at the club, principally introduced under Warnock, to replace modern Leeds heroes (Becchio, Snodgrass, Howson) with Championship also-rans. However much he improves, I cannot see the likes of David Norris inspiring a song from the Kop. I feel no great attachment to any of the current squad. Sam Byram is promising, but each excellent performance of his fuels a worry that he’ll be plucked by a Premier League side in the summer.Ross McCormack produces occasional flutters, but his long barren streaks in front of goal frustrate.The asset stripping Bates reign has produced a greater effect than just an average playing squad.

The Leeds United of 2013 are a group of players to which the fans have no great affinity with
whatsoever.We won’t get to the Premier League with this side. They are competent, a mid-table Championship side. But it’s not their limitations which are the problem. It’s that they’re not ours. Only when we get the next Becchio, the next flawed genius, will we be back.

Read it here on the excellent Spoughts blog.