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the square ball week: clarifying the clarifiers at leeds united

the square ball week: clarifying the clarifiers at leeds united


It has to have been a coincidence that defeat at Brighton coincided with the reappearance of Massimo Cellino. To think of it any other way would be to venture too far into his own Prince-lite fear of a purple planet and Paddy Kenny.

What is not a coincidence is that his ‘open letter to the supporters of Leeds United’ began several new days of speculation, mirth and Gladiator jokes.

Maybe it says something about Russell Crowe’s standing in the world that his tweet about buying Leeds United sparked a hail of Gladiator jokes and not much else; I’m sure he’s been in some other films that we could make just as much fun of, just nobody can think of what they are right now.

It also says something about Leeds fans that his possible interest was met with a bunch of speculation about how he’s probably not independently wealthy enough anyway so he should just rack off; which is how pretty much anyone who talks about buying the club is greeted, from Mike Farnan to Leeds Fans LLP, except, strangely enough, GFH and Massimo Cellino.

We could look at the chap who tweeted at Russell Crowe and started all this; although I wouldn’t really know what to ask him, beyond spreading my arms, raising my eyebrows and shouting, “What the hell?” “That escalated quickly,” he tweeted later in the day.

But it’s not really his fault. He was only doing what lots of Leeds fans have done over the last decade; looked around, and over and under and in dark dusty corners, seeking anyone, anyone at all, who might take a crack at owning Leeds United and not screw it up completely. Stefan Edberg is a Leeds fan, by the way. His Twitter name is @StefanEdbergOff. Well it’s worth a try, isn’t it?

I’m not sure anybody would have been bothering Russell or Stefan or Jeremy Paxman (he’s got to be next) this week if a certain someone hadn’t tried to clarify the ownership situation three hours before we were due to be playing Brighton. The performance and the defeat at Brighton were disappointing, but far from catastrophic, and Leeds have a bit more chin these days, are a bit more ready to take the hit and move on. There were signs, as Leeds wobbled inbetween conceding the first goal and half-time, of an old-style Grayson/Warnock/McDermott-era multi-goal collapse, but the players got through that and kept the final score respectable. You can’t win them all.

The temperature is always increased when Massimo is around, though, even if (for the benefit of the Football League, if you’re reading) he was only around in the form of a garbled statement that read like it had suffered badly on its way through a Google Translate mangle turned by Ken Bates’ mother.

Obviously there’s a language barrier between most of us and Massimo, and that’s just a fact; but there are also barriers between us and his intentions, the facts, and the truth, and there isn’t a web service on the internet that can bring us closer to those.

The weirdest thread running through the open letter was Cellino’s cheerful admission that in runs completely opposite to what he’d told us all before, even though he had decided then what he is telling us now.

“At first I suggested that my intention was to resume in April the office of President of Leeds United Football Club after expiration of the disqualification term,” he said. “I will not do so and I had actually decided not to do so in January already, soon after the confirmation by the Football League of its verdict.”

Alright. Well, thanks for that. The letter rushes on through the usual stuff about him doing loads of good for the club but being banned anyway which can usually be summed up as ‘But I wanted a yacht and this is totally not fair!’, to the closing paragraph which starts:

“All of the above leads me to reconfirm the decision already reached in January…”

In just a couple of paragraphs he’s gone from admitting that what he told us in January didn’t reflect his real decision, to ‘reconfirming’ the decision he never confirmed to us in the first place. ‘Yeah, what I told you in January wasn’t what I really planned to do … so, like I said in January, I – what? What’s the problem?’

We’ve been down this route before with Cellino. Everything was “fixed” with GFH; until a few months later, under pressure to explain why he hadn’t met his own deadlines for buying the ground back, he confessed that when he’d said that things were almost fixed, well, they were really close to being fixed, sorta, well okay they weren’t fixed at all but he’d sent Hisham a really lovely birthday card he bought from Clinton’s that had a great joke about indefinite detention without charge printed inside, and he thought that surely would have done the trick.

The only thing we can say with any certainty about the communication we get from Massimo Cellino is that he only communicates when he has something he wants us to think he’s said. This week’s open letter says he’s going to remain estranged from Leeds United after his ban concludes so that he can fight his punishment independently without harming the club. I have no idea, and no way of knowing, whether that’s true. But I know Massimo Cellino wants me to think it’s true, just as, back in January, he wanted me to think it was true that he’d be back in April, even though he’d already made his mind up the opposite way.

That’s what leads to speculation; that’s what leads people to throw up their hands, decide they can’t be bothered with all this anymore, and go tweet at Russell Crowe. When your distant president’s clarifying statement is immediately followed by a statement from the chairman you don’t trust yet clarifying the clarifying statement, and when between them you still don’t know what any of it means, you can either ignore it all and get back to carefully removing your Edgar Cani poster from its staplehold without damaging the paper; or just hope that someday soon someone or something better will come along, whether it be Leeds Fans LLP, Russell Crowe, or a Crowe-Edberg-Paxman dream team.

“Twitter?” Jeremy Paxman told Channel 4 News last year, “This is an activity for people who have got nothing going on in between their ears, or nothing going on in their lives.”

OMG. He’d be perfect.

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