the square ball week: the madman in the atticBack
“We just felt that the press conference last week, was…”
And here there was a rare stuble in Adam Pearson’s otherwise eloquent performance in this week’s episode of Leeds United Do a Press Conference.
“We just felt that the press conference last week, was, became, too about the owner, and about the way… and we wanted this conference to be about a head coach who we believe in strongly, and listening to his views and his philosophies on the team.”
Adam got there in the end, but if this was poker you’d call that a tell. It’s not the mention of Massimo Cellino that got him; he dealt with enough of those. It was the reference to last week’s fiasco. “Any reason why Massimo’s not here today?” Adam Pope had asked him, deadpan.
Massimo Cellino’s absence was one key difference from last Thursday. The other was that this press conference actually came with news; the crucial element lacking from last week. Uwe Rösler was there, flesh and blood, bald head and blue jacket, 4–3–3 and 3–5–2.
Uwe Rösler was the news, and he’s welcome news. Rösler was in demand after his work at Brentford, and his reputation rose at first at Wigan; there are big questions about how and why that ascent became such a crash last season, but it wasn’t a severe enough fall to have left many dents on his chrome.
Of all the managers/head coaches Leeds could have hoped to hire – and it still wasn’t clear at the unveiling which title he’ll hold – Uwe Rösler looks about the best, and that we’d got him was the news, and as news goes, that was good.
Not good enough, however, to overcome the credibility gap at the top at Leeds United, which is why this column – and plenty of the column inches devoted to Leeds United this week – will be as much about Massimo Cellino and Adam Pearson as it is about Uwe Rösler. Nice as it is to have him here, people are only half-joking when they circulate mocking betting markets that have him sacked during pre-season.
The point of origin for Cellino’s dummy-spit over Redfearn seems to have been jealousy over Redders’ profile and popularity, but Rösler’s appearance at Elland Road confirmed how much of that really was all in Massimo’s mind. You’re better at this than you realise, Massimo, because managers really are still a sideshow at Leeds United.
Cellino wasn’t there, but Pearson found himself talking anyway on behalf of the man he variously called The Owner, The Chairman, and The President. The first question about Redfearn was aimed somewhat cheekily – Adam Pope again – at Rösler: “Do you feel awkward that there is a head coach already here?” Pearson leaned across to bat that one right back: “No, sorry, if I could handle any questions in relation to that. There isn’t a head coach here.”
I dread to think how Massimo Cellino would have responded to the question, but here we got concision and we got answers: Neil Redfearn is not head coach, he’s been offered his old job at the Academy, he’s thinking about it. Blam, blam, blam. There’s still that age-old question that has dogged Leeds United’s pronouncements for a decade – is any of that actually true? – but Pearson headed that one off too. “It is definitely a realistic offer [to Redfearn],” he said, “Because I made it.” Where last week he looked cowed, this week Pearson looked defiant. Jaw out, eyes bulging: prove me wrong.
“Is it possible to move on?” asked Pearson at one point; self-assured, and on message. Cellino’s interview in the last Sunday Mirror had just been raised, and as Pearson repeatedly pointed out, that wasn’t the news everybody had been gathered together to discuss. It wasn’t the news; but it was very much the message.
“Infrastructure,” said Pearson. “Orderly,” was another thing he said. “Structured manner,” too. Given how Adam Pearson visibly flinched when last week’s press conference was brought up, I’d like to have seen Massimo Cellino’s reflexive reactions as he heard those blows land, from whatever safe distance he’d been removed to.
“I think you’ll find over the coming weeks that there’s a sense of order and stability that starts to pervade the club,” said Pearson, and you could almost hear the howls from under the eaves at Thornfield Hall. The question that gave Pearson pause was about why Massimo was absent; it would have been interesting to hear Pearson explain where Massimo was: Mr Rochester trying to justify to Jane Eyre the madman shut away in the attic.
Once upon a time, that was how ‘excessive sensibility’ of the sort Massimo showed last Thursday was dealt with; shut her away – and it was always a her – out of sight and out of mind, either in the attic or the asylum. Then present a stout and severe front and carry on as if nothing was amiss. We don’t talk about your Auntie any more. Best to forget you ever had one.
We’re not in a post-Massimo world, not by a long way. “There is one owner of this football club,” said Pearson (I assume Massimo will get round to telling him about GFH at some point), “And he will set the policy, and he will make the ultimate decisions.”
But that’s not the whole story. The (hopefully) approaching end of the Redfearn saga doesn’t only hint at the usual cowardice from the manager-eater, who won’t even go to the Manager Restaurant himself, let alone sit down to dine. Pearson’s “mature and professional” conversation with Redfearn didn’t sound like merely dirty work on behalf of the big boss, but a problem actually being wrested away from the big, useless boss, and dealt with. The offer to go back to the Academy was made by Pearson, “with all credibility”; and a conversation between Cellino and Redfearn, which Phil Hay of the YEP suggested was “crucial” to finally sorting the situation out, is “not crucial at all,” according to Pearson.
“I’ve dealt with the situation. That’s what I’m empowered to do as an executive of the club. I’m handling the situation and at the moment it’s in hand.”
At the moment – unless Auntie Massimo’s nurse falls asleep on the job and allows her ward to roam the corridors unguarded, that is. When Adam Pearson spoke about building infrastructure and order, he began to describe a cage-in-construction around Cellino designed to let the sensible and sober grown-ups get on with running the club, while Cellino… Cellino stays out of the way.
Pearson’s sudden involvement at Leeds is still quite mysterious, with theories ranging from ‘Cellino’s seen sense’ (unlikely) to ‘Pearson’s a trojan horse’ for some complicated, labyrinthine takeover (as if more intrigue was what we needed). Whyever he’s here, he’s not being backward in coming forward, in speaking for – and instead of – Cellino. Last year Cellino described himself as the Sheriff; now Pearson is calling himself the law.
Uwe Rösler was asked if he believed he could work successfully with Cellino.
“Yeah, obviously we do believe that,” answered Adam Pearson for him, and you could feel the power shift. “We’ve got three key pieces of the jigsaw to fit in place. Uwe’s two choices are assistant manager and first team coach – and a head of recruitment; we’ve then got an extremely strong and capable football secretary coming in.
“And I think then we’ve got a management team and a football team that can make decisions in an orderly and structured manner for the benefit, medium to long-term, of the club. And I’m really excited to have Uwe here, I think he’s a top coach, strong character, strong personality. I think he’ll inspire this club and this crowd, and get the ball rolling and get some momentum into the club.”
And never, ever, ever deal with Cellino. If that’s the plan, I can get behind it; whatever your opinion on Cellino, you can’t deny that he is wittingly or not the source of most of the problems and controversies that beset Leeds United these days. If he can be gently sidelined into a quiet upstairs room, while still being assured that he’s doing a great job and everybody loves him the best, there just might be hope for this hopeless club of ours.
But if that’s the plan, whose plan is it – and what’s the aim? It certainly won’t be Massimo Cellino’s plan; while you’d like to think the aim is ‘the good of Leeds United.’ But life at Leeds hasn’t been that simple for a long time. And in case you’re not familiar with the plot of Jane Eyre, after being confined too long the madwoman escaped from the attic, set fire to the house, and jumped to her death from the roof as the building burned to the ground.
Good luck anyway though, Uwe.