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the square ball week: the mad monk

the square ball week: the mad monk


“From the moment I sat down with him,” said The Garry, in an interview with Thom Kirwin on LUTV, before the press conference that announced him to a world agog as Leeds United’s manager/head coachey bloke, “just his knowledge about football is incredible.”

He was talking about Massimo Cellino, in case you’re wondering.

“And when you hear him speak like that,” The Garry went on, “and understand what his thought process is, it ties in with what I want to do as a manager.”

Woah, woah, woah!

In a way, hearing this was a relief; it means it’s not me, it’s him. Because, I mean, Garry Monk seems like a good appointment to the head coach’s job at Leeds United Football Club. Under normal circumstances I’d be pleased; he’s managed in the top division, he doesn’t look like a testicle of any size, he was being talked about as a future England manager while he was at Swansea. And he’s come from Swansea, where forward thinking has extended from fan involvement in the boardroom, to ‘sleeping pods’ at the training ground, to letting a Laudrup be manager (a Laudrup! Imagine). Admittedly I’ve heard him described as a poor man-manager and ‘clueless with players’, and a lot of Swansea fans don’t look back on his spell in charge with much fondness, but everyone has a past. At least Monk hasn’t spent time in any cells, that we know of.

But I’m finding it really difficult to react positively to The Garry’s arrival, for a few reasons. One is that it’s too eerily similar to Uwe Rosler’s arrival, an appointment that I was actually positive about, that left me with smouldering fingers. The parallels are weird; the smartly dressed cult-hero ex-player (for another team) with the v-neck pullovers and the thoughtful demeanour, who has achieved moderate success with an unfashionable side but faded, and is now looking for a route back into the game, and a challenge. He sits next to some new sort of Leeds United executive and offers some platitudes about exciting football and giving the fans something to smile about, and everyone pretends they don’t want to talk about Massimo Cellino.

Next to Rosler on his first day was Adam Pearson, and it’s worth noting that each head coach in the Cellino era has been introduced to the press by a different suit; Hockaday by Cellino himself, famously; Darko Milanic by Nicola Salerno; Rosler by Pearson; Evans by Martyn Glover; The Garry by Niccolo Pio Barattieri di San Pietro. None of the execs, except Cellino, Barattieri and The Garry, are still at the club, which says as much about the way the club has been run over the last two seasons as the list of coaches, and that I might not need a typing shortcut for Niccolo Pio Barattieri di San Pietro for very long.

That’s one part of the uneasiness I feel towards Monk; the deja vu. Another is simply that he’s taken the job at all in the current circumstances. Informed estimators say Leeds have been turned down by around ten potential coaches this summer, and not many of them have the pedigree of The Garry; John Sheridan seems destined to tour the lower leagues, Darrell Clarke is unproven above League Two, others in the frame were youth coaches or whoever it was Cellino spent last week unsuccessfully wooing in Italy. Cellino’s questing has become national banter over the past few weeks, as if Leeds United wasn’t being bantered about enough already.

Equally, we still had a head coach anyway, until Steve Evans finally decided to bring things to a head and ask Cellino what was happening. It helped that they were in the same building at last, but the timeline of events only highlights what a nonsense Cellino makes of running Leeds United. Evans asked for a decision on his future; Cellino called a board meeting to discuss Evans’ future — who with? and what was there to decide, when he’d been publicly pursuing coaches to replace Evans and everybody knew it? — and then Stuart Hayton was sent to tell Evans he was sacked, a month before the end of his contract, a day after the season ticket money-back offer ended.

It’s no way to run a football club. It’s not just the characteristic cowardice; and I’ll need to be convinced that this ‘board meeting’ wasn’t just Massimo hiding in the boardroom on his own, sending pleading texts to Hayton to tell Evans to go away. What actually condemns Cellino is not only the lack of work while he’s away, but the speed with which things happen when he does come back to Elland Road, which only underlines the lack of a coherent structure at the football club.

Steve Evans couldn’t leave because Massimo Cellino was not at Elland Road to tell Stuart Hayton to sack Steve Evans; but within three days of Cellino’s return that’s all happened and a new man is appointed. What would happen should anything ever happen to Massimo, like an FA ban for illegally paying an agent, or jail for embezzling public funds? Does the whole club just pause until he can come back and hold a meeting in his private office with Mr Chivas and Mr Regal, and decide what to do?

It’s a way of working that has cost the club a sponsor this week, and while bathroom-fittings supplier and Elland Road tunnel sponsor Crosswater’s protest has been predictably dismissed by some (“Never heard of them”; “Publicity stunt”; “Who needs taps anyway, I get my water from a pond with a bucket”), that ignores the importance of club-city links that a sponsorship like that represents.

Football sponsorship is not always about selling bathroom fittings to football fans; it’s about what potential customers think about your company when you tell them you’ve been a sponsor of the local Championship football team for ten years, and ask if they’d like to take in a match from your executive box. At one time, that said that you were a well-connected person of business with strong local links, not immune to the earthy glory of sport, and exactly the sort of guy you’d buy taps from; you think about that big tap deal whenever you see the players come out for a Leeds United on TV. Now, if you sponsor Leeds United, it says you must be a bloody mug, and the rest of the conversation is about whether you’ve met ‘that Italian fruitcake’ before your customer goes to get his taps from someone else.

Amid all this the question of the summer has been about who will be daft enough to submit to the Leeds United fairground next, a question The Garry has now answered. As it was for many of us when Rosler took charge while Redfearn’s gardening/not-gardening status was still being sorted, the unanswered question for Monk following the treatment of Steve Evans is: why? Why do reasonable seeming men put themselves through this, put themselves at Cellino’s mercy, willingly decide to work in a place that so many people have found unworkable?

And why do they all say stuff like this:

“Having spoken to the owner, it wasn’t even a discussion,” quoth The Garry, when asked it he would have autonomy over football decisions. “It wasn’t even part of the questioning or thought process, he made that very clear from the very start. He’s never done that in the past, and he has no intention of doing that in the future. He wants to work with me, I felt a really good connection straight away with him and everyone at the club in this short space of time.”

If you hadn’t just met The Garry, you’d laugh at him when he got to the part where Cellino told him he’s never interfered in team matters in the past, and has no intention of starting now. It’s almost as ludicrous as when Evans finally admitted that Cellino came into the dressing room at half-time at QPR, but clung to the claim that he didn’t say anything while he was there. Anybody who starts a sentence with a variation of, ‘I’ve been assured by Massimo Cellino that…’ needs to not finish the sentence, go to their room, and think about what they’re doing with their life.

Except, with The Garry, there’s more to it than that, and it’s not definitely not just being me; Massimo-hating, negative, everything good is bad old me. It really is him.

“From the moment I sat down with him,” said The Garry, in an interview with Thom Kirwin on LUTV, before the press conference that announced him to a world agog as Leeds United’s manager/head coachey bloke, “just his knowledge about football is incredible.”

He was talking about Massimo Cellino, remember.

“And when you hear him speak like that,” The Garry went on, “and understand what his thought process is, it ties in with what I want to do as a manager.”

Woah, woah, woah!

“And when you hear him speak like that, and understand what his thought process is…”

“And understand what his thought process is…”

“Understand … his thought process…”

Massimo Cellino … thought process … understand … “ties in with what I want to do as a manager” … Massimo Cellino’s thought process … when you understand what it is…

Good luck The Garry; good luck, Monk. If you think you understand Massimo Cellino’s thought process, then you’ve probably already failed. But good luck, anyway, good luck.


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