the square ball week: to play for leedsBack
Uwe Rosler says he has not spoken to Fernando Forestieri. “I can’t tell you if he wants to come here or not,” he says.
It’s not clear who has been talking to Fernando Forestieri, if anyone has. Fernando looks happy with his life. He tweeted photos of himself this week on a merry plane ride to play a game for Watford against Preston in the League Cup. He started that game, his first of the season, but Watford lost, 1–0.
Last weekend he was tweeting his thanks to the Watford fans for supporting him during their game against Southampton; “Was nice to be in the pitch again feeling the love from the fans,” he said, and there must have been plenty of love going round Vicarage Road that day because Fernando was only an unused substitute. He sat on the bench next to Watford’s kitman, who sobbed uncontrollably for the full ninety minutes, overwhelmed with emotion at his reception from Watford’s fervent, passionate support.
Either Forestieri is fronting or he really is blissfully unaware that Massimo Cellino effectively owns him now. “Forestieri? I bought him,” Massimo allegedly told everybody’s favourite Twitter source, Emanuele Giulianelli. “Yesterday I was with his agent that seemed enthusiastic, today looks hesitant: what do you want me to tell?”
What’s with the echoes of Jane Eyre? That’s what I want you to tell, Massimo. Oh, and what exactly does “I bought him” mean here? Because if he was bought to play football for Leeds United, his midweek game for Watford and the newspaper stories that Sheffield Wednesday are about to sign him suggest that there is more work to do on that deal.
Or no work at all. There is an argument that when you reach an impasse with a player like this, that you should keep fluttering your eyelashes at him, keep sending the fruitbaskets, the courtesy cars, the brand new set of golf clubs; or that you should set off, as a deputation, Cellino, Rosler, Pearson, Terry George, Lucas the Kop Cat, down the motorway to Surrey or whatever to call Chez Forestieri and put an arm round him, and talk. Really talk. Convince him to come. It’s Leeds United; it’s a great club. Uwe’s a great manager. Lucas is a great Kop Cat. Terry’s a great… Terry’s great. Everything in Leeds is just great. Come on, son.
The other argument is that you should just drop the ungrateful little swine like the rock that he is into the deepest well available, and impound every long-haired collie in the county so that there’s no chance of a rescue. We don’t know what Forestieri has been offered in terms of financial rewards, but he has been offered the chance to play for Leeds United, and that ought to be enough.
Maybe once upon a time it would have been, but it’s not the automatic deal-closer it might once have been. Massimo Cellino has played his own part in that, creating such a crazyhouse atmosphere around the club that players like Chris Wood admit to having to think very carefully about joining, because of all the things they’ve heard. On the other hand, meeting Cellino (and Rosler) helped to convince Wood that things at Leeds would be a-okay.
That’s where we’re at, though. The club’s new transfer policy, replacing ‘sign everybody we can possibly get our hands on before an embargo hits and worry about the details later’, was outlined by Phil Hay in his column yesterday; pay the fee the club is asking, but don’t be held to ransom on the wages. It’s a sound enough policy, when you consider the that the main troubles United have saddled with in recent seasons can be categorised as 1) The Owners 2) The Wannabe Owners 3) The Former Owners and 4) The Wage Bill.
Like lots of lessons at Leeds United, it’s been a long time in the learning, and it’s going to be tough in the doing. Steve Morison’s departure and Luke Murphy’s pay cut seem to have been the final swings of an axe that felled at last a forest of outgoing paper (in the dollar bills sense). Only Sam Byram seems to be holding out for satisfaction where his current and future contracts are concerned, and that’s where the pain begins of not only learning a lesson, but putting it into practice.
There’s got to be a reason why, after being “bought” by Massimo Cellino, Fernando Forestieri has gone cheerfully on with his life as if there was no imminent danger of an enforced family night out with Massimo, Eduardo, Ercole and the gang; why if he’s being tempted north, it’s into the arms of Tom Lees.
A cynic might suggest that the reason has something to do with the draft contract Leeds United’s club secretary faxed to Fernando’s agent, that was soon pinned to the office notice board next to a printout of a ‘Keep Calm & Laugh at Leeds United’ jpeg someone found on the internet. And modern football makes cynics of all of us, so I’m going to suggest that is exactly what has happened.
It’s aggravating, because it still feels reactive, and Leeds United still can’t get off the rockin’ railway whereby the ramshackle ol’ engine swings and lurches as it hurtles down the tracks. We do one thing wrong for long enough for it to impede our progress as a proper football club, and then we lurch so far over in the other direction that it solves nothing anyway; we’re just held back in a different way.
From paying handsome wages to players that didn’t require handsome fees, because they were ugly, ugly souls, we’ve veered all the way over to dropping bags of cash on the doorsteps of football clubs, then going round to collect them again because we’ve offered the player a pittance. It breaks, yet again, one of the principle aims and desires of a football fan: to have everything we want, all at once, now.
But of all the lurches of policy Leeds United have made in recent years, this one has certain advantages, that stretch beyond the bottom lines of the wage bill and the transfer pot. It might be inadvertent, but it’s possibly canny, on Cellino’s part; because the emphasis has now shifted from the failings of the club in the transfer market, failings that have aggrieved fans for years, to the failings of the players. Even better, it’s the failings of players that don’t play for Leeds, which makes it all the easier and more pleasant to boo them when they run out at Elland Road.
That’s what will happen, if Forestieri does end up signing for Sheffield Wednesday. Our luminance might not be enough to automatically secure the signing of any player from any league, but it is still enough to expose to unforgiving light any player who chooses to play football in Sheffield when he could play football in Leeds. The asking price was met. The deal was done. The player was ‘reluctant’, ‘unsure’, ‘unwilling to commit.’ All phrases that translate as ‘a treacherous coward’ in the ears of a Leeds United fan. Arrogance? We married it.
“Forestieri? I bought him,” says Cellino. “Yesterday I was with his agent that seemed enthusiastic, today looks hesitant: what do you want me to tell?” Nothing, Massimo. That’s all we need to know. And don’t you just know it, you rascal.