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the square ball week: ever fallen in love with someone?

the square ball week: ever fallen in love with someone?

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•• Artwork by Joe Gamble – www.joegamble.co.uk

One of Massimo Cellino’s saleable qualities is his passion; that he doesn’t think and act like a businessman, he thinks and acts like a fan.

We could call it a saleable quality; we could call it a crutch. It’s something to lean on when the heat is on. Basically, when everything is going great, he’s at the centre of it all, the hard-headed man of sober business sense. When it’s all going wrong, though, he’s on the outside looking in, as bemused as any other season ticket holder.

“Everything needs sorting out for next season – the sponsors, ground, lights, even pre-season,” he told Simon Austin this week, not telling any supporter anything they didn’t suspect already. The problem is that when we want to know the answers, it’s to Massimo Cellino that we look.

“Nothing has been sorted out and instead there is just shit,” he says. Well, I suppose that’s a straight answer, even if it’s not the one we were looking for.

Cellino has been banned since the end of January, so he can claim not to have to take complete responsibility for every aspect of the current situation. For the past three-and-a-half months, he has had to adopt the same position as any Leeds supporter – watching from the sidelines, powerless to act. He might have found it easier to get a statement put on the club’s official than you or I, and at least somebody redecorated his office – all grass and white lines – but otherwise, for those fourteen weeks, he was one of us.

Well, no.

“When I left, everyone was looking after their own skin rather than what was good for the club,” says Massimo now; “They told me we were booked for the pre-season. Then I find out the Liverpool under–17s are booked at the same place and there is only one training pitch. Amateurs … This is unbelievable and quite scary. Andrew Umbers is a nice man, but this is hopeless.”

Okay, you can imagine any Leeds supporter saying the same things: “Amateurs! Unbelievable! Scary! Hopeless!” But you’ll also find Leeds supporters screaming as if into an ancient abyss: “But Massimo, you bloody hired him!”

And what’s more, while Cellino has returned to oust Umbers as chairman, Umbers still sits at the boardroom table, frowning beneath his skullcap of hair at not being “permanent chairman” anymore. Maybe he’s being allowed to stick around because, although the situation he has created is amateurish, unbelievable, quite scary and hopeless, underneath it all he’s a nice man.

Dave Hockaday was a nice guy, according to Massimo. Darko Milanic too. We’ve heard this ‘nice man’ stuff before. Neil Redfearn? “I am in love with Neil.” Okay, but nice guys really should get to stay though, right?

Ah, but he didn’t say Neil was nice; he said he was in love with him. Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with? Those ups are the hardest to break and the worst to bear. No wonder Massimo won’t talk to him. He’s too shy; his heart flutters and his voice catches and his eyes give him away.

Umbers is not the problem anyway, according to Cellino; Austin reports Cellino saying that Umbers role was to be “a figurehead in his absence and that he didn’t wield the authority or importance people bestowed upon him.” Okay then; so who did?

That, I reckon, is the point, and it’s what we’re being encouraged to believe was the problem – nobody at Leeds United for the last three months has had the authority or importance we thought they did, because nobody at Leeds United for the last three months had the authority or importance of Massimo Cellino.

Who else could arrange pre-season without being double-booked with Liverpool U–17s? Who else could hire a head of press, an academy head, a sporting director (I thought we still had one?), a club secretary? Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man? Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?

You see this cat Massimo is a bad mother – “Shut your mouth!” – But I’m talking about Max! I’m always talking about Max. We’re all always talking about Max. And if he shrugs and moans enough about the state the club has got into while he’s been banned, we’ll be talking about him even more – talking about the only man who can save us from collapse. He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman; and in our hour of need, he’s back.

And when he solves all our problems? Why, we’ll fall for him all over again. Like Massimo <3 Redders, Leeds fans will <3 Massimo 4eva – again. We know he might not be a nice man. We know he might not be good for us. But how cold and lonely and difficult was life when he went away?

The problem is that he’s been too long inside to stand on the outside with us looking in, as if nothing going on in there was anything to do with him. “When I left, everyone was looking after their own skin rather than what was good for the club,” he says; but who brought all those people to the club, and who set the tone, from the top, for how they should behave? If there is a culture within Leeds United of people putting themselves before the side, that certainly isn’t Leeds United’s fault.

Many of the problems that Leeds United have now, that urgently need solving, could have been avoided either through better management by those who actually were appointed to take charge by Cellino, or through better planning by Cellino himself before the ban hit. It’s not like he didn’t know it was coming.

What Cellino’s complaints about the state of the club condemn is not the work of the staff while he was away, but the lack of work by the president before he went. Yes, we know he’s had a lot on pushing aeroplanes and all the rest of it, but he’d find life easier if he hired some trustworthy, competent help; if the board wasn’t chock full of his kids, his mates, a couple of amateurs and a few people who hate him; if he had a CEO who could take care of business whenever the president is banned, summoned to Miami by the wife, asleep, or out on the lash.

But Neil Redfearn’s example has shown us what happens when Cellino hires somebody who is actually good at their job. Massimo falls in love with them, then he stops talking to them, then he fires them, and then he hates them.

Massimo can complain all he likes about nothing being done when he’s not around; he’ll no doubt complain about it being a one man show when he’s back sorting out all the shit again. He’ll complain about owt, basically. That’s another respect in which he’s like a fan; and another respect in which we wish he wasn’t.

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