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the square ball week: disappearances

the square ball week: disappearances


It might not have been everybody’s first thought, and to be fair it was only about my eleventh or twelfth, but I have begun to wonder this week about were Dave Hockaday has gone.

I admit it’s probably not a common reaction to what the tabloids have revelled in calling a “Race Storm”, but it was actually the common reaction that made me think of him. What, in these circumstances, would Dave and Junior Lewis have done?

My mind returns to the last time we really saw them in action together, in the dugout at Bradford. As the whistle blew at the end of the first half, they remained sat together, the Hock suggesting possible tactics, Junior chewing his teeth, the Sky cameras trained on our management team as they pondered deeply how best to beat – or lose to – Bradford City in the League Cup.

Dave Hockaday & Junior Lewis, Leeds United

The course of action they decided on, in the wake of Luke Murphy’s sending off, was to do nowt and see how it went. One more training session for luck the next morning and that was it for the dynamic duo – and they haven’t been seen since.

Brian McDermott is alive and well and working for Arsenal and appearing on Sky Sports to talk about how well he gets on with Massimo Cellino nowadays, but Hockaday and Lewis have been nowhere to be seen since they walked down the tunnel at Valley Parade; you have to hope Cellino’s penchant for sacking people hasn’t taken a sinister twist, and their long walk didn’t end with being ushered into a helicopter and flown from the scene, destination: unknown, or oblivion.

You would have to support Darko Milanic’s decision to leave his family back in Austria in those circumstances. One of the reasons I started thinking about Hockaday and Lewis on the touchline at Valley Parade was because I watched the footage of Darko Milanic on the touchline at Carrow Road as Cameron Jerome made his complaint, and it was just like having them back.

While Norwich manager Neil Adams listened carefully and intently to referee Mark Clattenburg as he outlined the situation, Milanic gestured to one of his assistants to join the conversation, while he hovered nervously around its edges, catching words where he could but looking as if he wasn’t sure if he should butt in or not. Eventually, while serious and potentially career-defining allegations were being made against one of Leeds United’s key players, Milanic wandered away to suggest some tactical nicety to Sam Byram.

Perhaps it was a communication issue, and Darko felt that a native English speaker was better placed to take in what Clattenburg was saying; but then, one of the reasons Milanic was brought here was his language skill. “We have an international team, Italian, French, England,” said Nicola Salerno at Milanic’s first press conference. “And I think Milanic is the best for us at this moment. He speaks Italian, German, Croatian, English.”

Instead, it seems to be a leadership issue, or rather a lack of leadership issue, or rather – and you can probably see where this is going – a ‘nobody dare contradict the true leader’ issue.

“For me it’s difficult to comment on something I didn’t hear and something that is new for me,” said Milanic after the game. “It is better if other people in the club comment on this.” This was a slight shift of emphasis from what his counterpart Neil Adams was saying, which was – rightly – that the media area after the game wasn’t the place to debate such a sensitive and unclear situation.

Darko’s point wasn’t that nobody should say anything until more was known; it was that anybody but him should do the saying. Don’t look at me, I only work here.

That stock response continued on Thursday; while some websites did run with, ‘Milanic Press Conference on Race Abuse Probe,’ all Milanic told the press was that he couldn’t talk about it.

“Peppe is now with the president and sport director in the club, and I cannot comment about the situation. There is an investigation, but I cannot talk about this.”

Cheers Darko, but the headline’s already written so that’ll just have to do. Perhaps the club captain could fill in where our head coach feared to tread?

“As captain,” asked the BBC’s Adam Pope, “What can you say about the situation?”

“Erm…,” replied Jason Pearce. “It’s not in my hands… I don’t really feel like I need to comment on it at all, to be honest, like… we’ll see what happens… I don’t know. I don’t know what to say really, I don’t really need to comment on it.”

Okay, does anyone know what to say? Neil Redfearn? Adryan Tavares? Lucas the Kop Cat – assuming he didn’t disappear in the same chopper as Hockaday and Lewis?

It’s one thing to not want to provoke a volatile situation, and it’s not hard to find plenty of words about the Jerome and Bellusci “storm” if you want to find them. Not many of them are worth your time, and not many will until the FA investigation establishes once and for all – if it can – what Jerome says he heard, what Bellusci says he said, and what the problem is between them. At that point we can jettison every barely plausible hypothetical ‘yeah but what if he… and if he…’ scenario and concentrate on what actually went on and what needs to be done about it.

But it’s another for the head coach and the club captain to not comment and not feel like they need to comment respectively. Nobody’s expecting a massive speech, but a simple, “All we can do at the moment is wait for the investigation to get to the bottom of the situation, and meanwhile the players have an important match against Wolves on Saturday,” while it’s effectively off-the-shelf boilerplate, would have inspired a bit more confidence than nervous laughter and an audible pleading not to be made to touch this hot potato even with Yorkshire’s longest fork.

But it comes back to roles and responsibilities and support systems within the club. Milanic and Pearce can’t comment on the situation through a mixture of fear – of saying the wrong thing – and because they haven’t been told the right thing to say. Has a firm, consistent message been relayed to the players and staff about what to do and say while the press tries to drag controversial comments from them? Or has it just been a case of waiting to read what Massimo Cellino tells the press himself, and then thinking, well. That’s alright for him to say.

“I don’t allow racists at this club and I won’t allow racists at this club ever,” is what Cellino did say. “If one of my players is a racist, I’ll kick his arse and kick him out before the FA has a chance … I’ll write to them to clarify my position on Bellusci and racism. If any Leeds player was shown to be a racist, he’d be out. That’s my philosophy and my promise.”

Giuseppe Bellusci, Leeds United

And that’s pretty emphatic. It’s also not the sort of thing you would expect Milanic or Pearce to say. You can watch the video of Darko talking to the press from his little table, and watch his eyes roam the ceiling as he wishes the ground would swallow him up, and at no point do you get the impression he’s about to throw said table at the wall and yell, “I’ll kick his arse, and all of yours too!” That, however, is the nearest thing we have to a club policy on the Bellusci situation, so Darko had better either hope for a slightly watered-down memo to be sent round to get everyone on the same page, or get practising his Hulk face in the mirror.

My confident prediction is that Darko Milanic will be gone from this job before Christmas; Cellino may only want a yes-man in the head coach position, someone who’ll drop Warnock when he’s told to, but he’ll also want a yes-man who wins games. That’s the other reason I started thinking about where Dave Hockaday had gone.

Leeds United these days is such a fleeting, insecure thing. Coaches come from nowhere and disappear into nothing, unheard of before or after. Players are signed and then not seen, unless you are a devoted viewer of the Development Squad on LUTV or hang around what’s left of the treatment rooms at Thorp Arch; did we imagine Montenegro, Del Fabro, Ajose, Benedicic? Some of them only came on season-long loan deals anyway, and with news of a knee injury for Benedicic, will he ever add to his only two appearances in senior football to date, subbed on against Accrington Stanley and Bolton? Will they all be gone before we even have time to miss them?

And added to the at-risk register now is Bellusci; Cellino will kick him out before The FA do if he’s found guilty, or so he says. Massimo has a track record of not taking decisions from authorities too well. But should there be no defending him and he’s out, what then? Ten games, two brilliant goals, one chiptabulous assist, a red card, lots of dives, some indifferent defending and a race storm; cheers Peppe, and goodnight; maybe our paths will cross again one day.

Or maybe he’ll just be added to what will, if Cellino lasts as long at Leeds as he did at Cagliari, become a long list of the lost and the missing and the barely even seen. Rack up the count, until you lose count: so long Carbone, Bean, Benedicic, Bellusci; Milanic and Hockaday and all. We barely knew ye. We barely even knew you were here at all.

The Square Ball 14/15 03

There’s no chance of a soft-landing for the new issue of The Square Ball, I’m afraid, so we’re just going to have to tell it like it is: Ken Bates is on the cover. Sorry. We thought those days were behind us, too. Does it help that the art by Joe Gamble is brilliant? No? Well, bear in mind that 25p from each issue sold will be added to the kitty from the recent TSB charity walk to Rotherham in aid of Leeds Children’s Hospital and the Luey Jacob Sharp Foundation, which has raised over £6,000 so far – maybe you can put it in a brown bag, or something.

There are more pleasant things to read about inside, although you have to be prepared for more Bates there, too; but once you’ve ripped those pages out in a fury you’ll still have 52 left that are all about the aforementioned charity walk, from the perspective of one of the poor sods who did the whole thirty miles; an obituary for Harold Williams, the man who supplied John Charles, from Jailhouse John; a return to Elland Road for Steve Firth, a trip to the archive for Chapman and Whtye’s last stand in 1993, a look at Leeds Ladies FC’s season so far and an appearance from their captain Emma Bentley alongside Billy Sharp, Danny McGuire and European champ Josh Warrington in our centre pages.

Plus the Diary and match reports and the Hock’s views on the threat posed by Wolves’ Steve Sedgeley and more, all for £1.50 if you buy it outside Elland Road before the game tomorrow, or just a quid if you want a pdf version to read on your newfangled phone or tablet.

Get your copy here and don’t forget that digital subscriptions can be had for only a tenner.