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the square ball week: seventy days of leeds united

the square ball week: seventy days of leeds united

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You could say that Dave Hockaday should have had more time. You could also say that he got seventy times as much time as he ever deserved.

There’s no need to be nice any more, or to temper judgements against the chance that Hockaday somehow came good, and it turned out he really was setting the controls for the heart of the Champions League, even as he was dithering uselessly on the margins of a horrible defeat at Valley Parade.

Does Hockaday deserve sympathy for finding himself in the situation he is in this morning, ex-head coach of Leeds United? No. Six months ago he was just hoping for another non-league gig after failing at Forest Green Rovers. Whatever the terms of his settlement with Leeds, his seventy days at the club will sure have beaten seventy days without work.

And while his reputation may not have gained anything from his association with Leeds United, his profile certainly has; and since his reputation was so low that he couldn’t even get a job in non-league, I’m not sure that’s a major concern. Or that it’s a concern that would even bother Dave; he hasn’t shown any signs of lacking self-confidence so far, so why start now?

Dave’ll be okay. His middle name is ‘Pressure’, after all, and so he’ll have thrived on Wednesday night, when all four sides of Valley Parade joined in a chant of ‘You’re Getting Sacked in the Morning’ after United went 2–1 down. Hockaday absorbed the pressure, summoned up his forty years of experience, and brought Dom Poleon on. Pressure? What pressure?

His name will live on. If we’ve learned one thing from Hockaday’s time in charge of Leeds United, it’s that coaches do make a difference; and that you can’t just take any loser off the street, put them in charge of a professional football team, and expect them to do a good job. We can call it The Hockaday Experiment and publish our findings: coaches with bigger names and better track records than Dave Hockaday have failed before and will fail again, but in football to be a success you have to give yourself the best chance of succeeding. And a non-league manager will not give you the best chance in the Championship.

That’s the sort of truism that shouldn’t need testing in a live environment, but here we are in Massimo Cellino’s lab, testing the limits of absolutely everything. Most Championship club chairmen would never have dreamed have appointing Dave Hockaday as, effectively, manager of their team; but Leeds United have Massimo Cellino, the original rebel, the guy who’ll try anything once.

We’re fortunate that Cellino doesn’t seem to be too stubborn when it comes to admitting his own mistakes. “After the defeat at Bradford I realised that my decision to keep David at the club following the defeat at Watford was wrong,” said Cellino when he finally sacked Hockaday, “and I had to change my mind on the coach’s position.”

Bellusci wanted too much money, but then Cellino changed his mind; Cooper was too expensive, but then Cellino changed his mind; Sharp was too old, but then Cellino changed his mind; Hockaday wasn’t the problem, but then Cellino changed his mind. That Massimo Cellino changes his mind so often and so easily might be Leeds’ only salvation, because his first instincts don’t seem to be up to much.

Let’s not forget that Eamonn Dolan was set to come from Reading until the compensation was deemed too expensive; since then we’ve thrown much more money than he would have cost at every Serie B player we can find. I wonder if Cellino thinks about not just changing his mind on that decision, but travelling back in time.

Dave Hockaday will forever be a punchline for jokes at Leeds United’s expense, but his tenure doesn’t really amount to a massive deal for us. He wasn’t with the club long enough to do any serious damage. What’s more concerning is what his tenure says about Massimo Cellino’s time at the club, which doesn’t look like it’ll end any time soon.

It’s fair, as we wave farewell to coach number one, that we use this moment to pause and see how Cellino is getting on. Looking at the season so far and the last week in particular, you have to say he’s not doing so well lately; although it played out a little less publicly and didn’t involve anyone being barricaded inside Elland Road, last weekend took us to Mad Friday II: This Time It’s Hockaday, 48 hours of decisive acts later regretted and later, last night, repeated.

Uncertainty over the coach’s position is only one metric we can use to judge Cellino, but definitive information about the other measurables is sadly scarce. Externally the playing squad appears to have been improved, although for reasons as varied as international clearance, ill discipline, and plain not being signed yet we’ve yet to see the benefits of the umpteen new players we’ve signed this summer.

Externally, too, the financial situation has either been ‘eased’, ‘improved’ or ‘solved’, depending on how optimistically you interpret Cellino on the subject; then again, Cellino has been very quiet on the subject lately, just when Leeds United’s spending has suddenly increased.

Three months ago Leeds United couldn’t pay the wages of players or staff; but since paying off the debt to Sport Capital and renegotiating repayments to GFH, Leeds have paid transfer fees and wages of a dozen new players, with more to come, and are now sustaining a first team squad of more than 33 players. The fees have not been insignificant, either; while £600k might not be much for one player, approximately that amount has been spent on several players this summer; Bellusci, initially here on loan, suddenly became a £1.6m player. When people talk about Adryan, they’re talking about £4m or £5m.

Despite the disbelief when Leeds spent £1m on Luke Murphy just over twelve months ago, in the spend-happy days of GFH’s “restructuring”, this expenditure has passed almost without comment, and certainly without questioning where the funds are coming from. The fee for Ross McCormack has been ring-fenced to buy back Elland Road, so it hasn’t come out of that £11m; a club that showed losses of £9.5m in its last published accounts can’t suddenly have become cash-rich enough to fund such a spree.

That leaves Massimo Cellino’s own pockets as the source, in which case we must tug at our forelocks and thank ’ee for ’ee bounty, sire, assuming ’ee bounty actually be any good. And assuming ’ee ain’t going to suddenly change his mind and want all the bounty back.

One thing Hockday has done at Elland Road is concentrate all our attention on him and on the football, and to be fair to Dave, dimming Cellino’s limelight for a while was no mean feat. It’s just a shame that what he lit up instead was such a godawful mess. It would also be a shame if he had distracted us from where out attention should really have been; on the actions and machinations of Cellino and co at the higher levels of the club.

It’s a coach’s fate that while club accounts are only published and analysed once a year, his work is put on display and scrutinised once or twice a week. Nicola Salerno, Andrew Umbers, Graham Bean and who knows who else seem to have been taking decisions at a higher level than the Hock, but we won’t know the results for some time – and if we never know what decisions were taken or by whom, we may never know what results to look for.

Or whether, in other areas of Leeds United, other Hockaday style mistakes are being made, away from the public gaze, mistakes that we can’t see and mistakes that aren’t getting fixed so quickly. We have to trust that Massimo knows what he’s doing in every department, but to do that we have to ignore the whole Hockaday ‘thing’, and I’m finding the whole Hockaday thing pretty hard to ignore.

At least we knew by what results to measure Dave Hockaday, and could see when he was found wanting. In the end, though, Hockaday’s brief and doomed time with Leeds was no big thing; he’s gone and we don’t have to worry about him anymore.

But that Hockaday’s time became so brief doesn’t end the madness at Elland Road, it only speeds it up. Six games into the season we’re already asking: what next?

Leeds United play Bolton on Saturday afternoon, and if you’re going, it might be a good idea to set off a little earlier; and to set off from Holbeck Moor Park. Martin Hywood and a group of fellow Leeds fans will be meeting there at 12.45pm and setting off at 1pm to walk exactly one mile to Billy’s statue as part of the Move a Mile for Muscles Campaign, to raise money for research into Muscular Dystrophy. That might sound easy, but walking to the game is not as easy for Martin as it once was; I strongly encourage you to read Martin’s story in his own words here: and then either join for the walk on Saturday, or donate on Martin’s JustGiving page here. MOT.


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