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the square ball week: massimo cellino is confused

the square ball week: massimo cellino is confused


Massimo Cellino is confused. He wakes in the night in a hot sweat. “Where’s Brian?” he yells at his wife.

“It’s not Brian anymore, it’s Dave,” she says.

“But I sacked Dave,” says Massimo.

“Already?” she says. “Well, who’s in charge now?”

The darkness is joined by silence.


The next afternoon, over breakfast, it’ll come to him: Neil. Neil is in charge. Massimo might have thought Neil was leaving when Benito Carbone came, but it was Benny who left first, taken several others with him: Richard Naylor, Leigh Bromby. But Neil is still there and now Neil is in charge, and Leeds won at the weekend, and all is well. But Massimo is confused.

This is the third time now that Redfearn has been dropped into what used to be known as the ‘Elland Road hot seat’, until it became unlikely anyone will sit in it long enough to even get it warm. His brief caretaking spells are a good lesson in what it is to work hard, show hunger and improve; all the things Dave Hockaday said he would deliver, but never did.

Redfearn’s first go at the job was a farce, but these were the late days of Ken Bates at Leeds United, and most things were. After beating Bristol City 3–0, Bates gave Redfearn three more games to prove his worth in a job that Redfearn didn’t really seem all that keen on anyway; two miserable defeats later, and Bates was talking to Neil Warnock in Monaco; come the weekend, after a first half that sent Leeds hurtling towards another defeat at home to Doncaster, Warnock was in the dressing room, taking the reins from Redders.

It hadn’t been good, but the club hadn’t helped. The official website had wheeled out player after player to declare their willingness to “Do it for Redders”, shows of support that all looked more likes Ken-orchestrated pokes in the ribs of the departed Grayson. What the players actually did for Redders was turn in two of the season’s worst performances at Brighton and Coventry, and pave the way for Warnock to take over. Thanks lads.

What looked like a retreat for Redfearn at this point was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. Redders had never seemed that interested in whether the first team players were going to do it for him or not; doing it for the kids at Thorp Arch was his priority. He took over again for one game when Warnock was fired, and was given a bit more limelight when Brian McDermott asked him to become first team coach as well as Academy manager to create a link between the youth and first teams, but unless you were slavishly following the (very good) results of the U18s his name faded behind the bright lights of, er, Dave Hockaday.

Now his star has never been brighter, and his biggest problem now might be stopping Cellino from giving him the job. There’s no job security anywhere at Elland Road, but for as long as Redfearn is doing a good job of managing the Academy, he’s much safer there than in charge of the first team. It might be safer for the club, too; I don’t buy the idea that the youth system will crumble into dust if Redders isn’t there – part of his job should be to ensure it’s dependent on structures, not personality – but if it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

But Cellino seems to be running out of options; at least, options he likes. If Massimo isn’t waking up screaming Brian McDermott’s name in the night, it might be Oscar Garcia’s, or Steve Clarke’s, or Simon Grayson’s; but rather than abandonment, this time it’s rejection that terrifies him.

And it is a bit of a worry. While the pop media pitied poor Dave Hockaday for being chewed up and spat out by the Massimo/Leeds machine, here in Leeds it’s the long-term effect he’s had on our club that’s more of an issue. Make no mistake: Hockaday’s appointment drew attention within football, for all the wrong reasons: laughter, disbelief, mockery. Massimo Cellino, the famous manager-eater of Italian legend, revealed with his first appointment that far from being someone he takes no nonsense, he’s actually someone who takes nonsense and puts it in charge.

That Massimo is more fragile than the bluster is designed to suggest becomes clearer the more we get to know him. He speaks from the heart, and about his heart, and wherever he is, his heart is; and when he gets it wrong, that’s his heart too.

The statement he had printed and distributed around Elland Road before the Bolton game read like an apology letter from a six year old: “I made the wrong decision last week to retain the services of the head coach and his assistant … We have to face our mistakes when we make them and I have done that … I may make other mistakes but if I do I will be big enough to own up to them like I have with David and Junior.”

That’s all very laudable but it in no way fits in with the crotch-grabbing, hard-rocking, hard-nosed businessman Cellino’s popular public image portrays. “He comes from Italy, he don’t pay VAT” is the best song we’ve come up with for Cellino so far, hailing his tax evasion as if he’s a modern Robin Hood; “He comes from Italy, he’s really sorry and he can’t promise he won’t make another mistake but if he does he’ll be sorry again” would be more accurate, but it doesn’t quite scan.

What I want to hear from Massimo Cellino after the farce of David Hockaday is not that he’s sorry and not that he’s owning up to his mistake – and note that the only mistake he’s actually acknowledging in that statement is of keeping David and Junior on after Watford, not for hiring them in the first place. What I want to hear is that he will get the next appointment right.

We’ve seen with Hockaday and Lewis that coaching does matter; that the guys in the dugout aren’t uselessly standing by, unable to influence the prima donnas on the pitch. When Cellino employs his next coach, I don’t want him to have to try and persuade us that he’s the right man for the job, despite everything about him looking wrong; I don’t want Cellino to employ someone that he suspects he might have to apologise for again soon. I want him to just employ the right man for the job.

Whether the right man for the job will want to come is the other side to that demand; hiring and firing Hockaday in such a public and embarrassing manner – for all concerned – didn’t just make it difficult to win games while he was here, but seems to have made it difficult to win the interest of good coaches now he’s gone.

“I’ve decided to leave the team to Neil,” Massimo said on Wednesday evening, “At the moment too many coaches call me and I’m confused.”

According to Phil Hay of the YEP, Cellino has had countless applications from the likes of Paul Hart, Tony Mowbray and Chris Hughton, but I suspect those three and some of the others will apply for any job going in the Championship. I also suspect a number of lower division chancers from across Europe don’t think Hockaday’s ten grand pay-off was all that shabby and are trying to become Hock II.

But I wonder if what’s confusing Massimo is not being inundated with phone calls from coaches, but that the good ones – the ones he wants – aren’t calling him back. Oscar Garcia might have flipped a coin to decide between Watford and Leeds, but I bet if it landed on Leeds he would have flipped and flipped again until it said Watford. Simon Grayson would walk across hot Pennine rocks to take the Leeds job again, except he won’t; Preston are a stable club off to a decent start this season, and while his life might lack Leeds, I suspect he isn’t missing being told when to substitute his left-back.

Steve Clarke might be the most telling snub of all, not because he’s turned the job down straight – he hasn’t, as far as we know – but because all the noises coming from Cellino are that, much as he might want Clarke, he doesn’t think he can get him. “Don’t think Cellino is confident of persuading Clarke to take it,” tweeted Phil Hay this week, introducing the idea of Massimo Cellino not being confident about something to a fanbase who assumed Cellino the Sheriff’s word was law.

It’s not just ‘typical Leeds’ arrogance to suggest that no coach should need persuading to take the Leeds job; but the only coach we can say with certainty that Massimo Cellino has spoken to about the Leeds job since he took over is Dave Hockaday, and he could probably have been persuaded to take over a pub team at that point in his career. You’d think Cellino could convince anybody to do anything – all that talk of his heart, the hound-dog expression and the low burr of his voice – but he doesn’t think he can convince Steve Clarke to manage Leeds United?

After four-and-a-half months, I’m still no nearer to understanding what Cellino’s management style is all about. I actually, despite everything, have a surprising amount of faith in his ability – surprising, because I’m not normally such an idiot. But does Cellino, confused, lacking confidence, have the same faith in his?

“Cellino is spending time in America this week,” report the YEP, “and was absent from Elland Road as FIFA’s summer transfer deadline came and went.”

The Cellino family home is in Florida, so I assume Massimo is spending some time with his wife, and I also assume he’ll be back as soon as she tires of being woken in the night by his fever-dreams about the vacant coach’s job.

“Where’s Brian?” yells Massimo in his sleep, for the third night in a row.

“I’m so confused,” he explains, when his wife asks what’s wrong this time. “I’m not confident I will pick the right coach. I don’t want to make another mistake.”

“Oh Massimo,” she says, removing the sunglasses he fell asleep wearing. “It’ll be okay. Listen to me. Can’t you get one of the kids to help?”

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