Daniel Chapman | Writing etc

End of season reviews for the last issue of TSB, 2014/15.

Massimo Cellino

This time last year I wrote that, “Without really meaning to, Massimo Cellino has played a blinder to win the fans over.” I hope for his sake he can remember how he did it, because by Christ he needs to do it again fast.

Cellino built in his own deflections of criticism about this season by declaring it the first of a two-season plan for promotion; but at the time of writing Leeds are one place below last season’s 15th place finish and on course for the worst Championship position since we were relegated, and it’s hard to see what part actions like the sales of McCormack and Smith; hiring Hockaday and Milanic; the scattergun treble-dip transfer policy (Doukara? – no; Sharp? – no; Cani? – hell no); the isolation of the club’s most promising coach/manager since Simon Grayson; the retreat, banned to Miami; and the oversight of one of the club’s most ludicrous, most turbulent seasons – quite an achievement in itself – are supposed to play in this club’s march back to the top.

Cellino’s other get-out clause is that everything he does has to be set against a background of firefighting; that Cellino is still solving the problems GFH left behind, and continue to cause, and dealing with/fighting with the Football League. Cellino and the club are confident that everything behind the scenes is being resolved, that the club is in better shape than it has been for years. But because because those things are behind the scenes, we have no way of checking if it’s true; whether the fires have all been successfully doused, or whether they’re raging out of control, fiercer than ever before.

That comes down to trust, and that’s the big thing Massimo has lost over the course of the season, and the last few weeks in particular. What he has also lost, just as importantly, is the fun. Massimo could get away with a lot as long as we were all enjoying ourselves – he’s in the away end, he’s a maverick! – but what exactly is fun about player revolts, Football League bans, apparently random suspensions, watching Neil Redfearn needlessly suffer, and finishing 16th?

Responsibility for the atmosphere at the club ultimately rests with Massimo Cellino. And if we’re not enjoying it anymore, we have to ask whether he still is too. If he isn’t, then what is even the point anymore? And if he is – then is he sick in the head?

Dave Hockaday & Junior Lewis

The speculation about Brian McDermott’s successor began even before Brian had been officially sacked, and ended – here. So did, I felt anyway, Leeds’ chances of success this season; in fact, when the speculation began to harden into reality, I put £10 on Leeds to be relegated as a form of anti-depressive insurance. At least, if the Hock got us down, I could get good and drunk. Let’s make no mistake: if Dave Hockaday had carried on much longer as Leeds manager, we would have been relegated and I suspect a domino effect would have begun that would not have ended until Leeds United reached a level where Dave Hockaday might actually be a capable coach., whatever level that might be. I dread to think how low we’d have to go to reach Junior Lewis’ level.

You could feel sorry for the Hock, chewed up and spat out by the LUFC/Massimo maw, if he wasn’t such an unlikeable, belligerent, overconfident berk. Laughably unqualified for the job, he nevertheless seemed to regard it as his birthright. My enduring memory will be of him and Junior Lewis sat in the dugout at halftime at Valley Parade, discussing how to overcome Bradford City in the second half with their hands over their mouths as if they were Messi and Iniesta scheming over a freekick in front of cameras and lipreaders in the Champions League final. Yet neither read the words written on the lips of Massimo Cellino from the morning when he finally sobered up and looked at who he’d hired: you’re sacked.

Darko Milanic & Novica Nikcevic

At first Darko seemed like a nice contrast to Dave; mainly because he didn’t say much. His old club, Sturm Graz, had also seemed genuinely sad to see him go, holding a special press conference to wish him farewell; although expectations were lowered somewhat by reports from Sturm Graz fans who warned that his dour adherence to 4–4–2 had produced some of the worst football they’d seen for years, and it was a dour adherence to a diamond (perhaps whether he liked it or not) that we got in his thirty days at Leeds.

Milanic seemed, most of the time, bewildered to be here – responding to the Jerome and Bellusci incident at Norwich by saying, “It is better if other people at the club comment on this”; which you felt he wished could say, or felt he ought to say, about everything.

Milanic’s most dramatic moment actually came after the end when, back in Slovenia, he came out swinging: he’d been doing a good job, he said, and everyone could see it; and besides, he was still the boss anyway – he wasn’t sacked, he was just gardening. That, for all we know, is still the situation. Darko could well be back.

Neil Redfearn & (sometimes) Steve Thompson

There’s a nice image that people like to hold on to of the football manager as a lone genius, a philosopher, a thinker; a man apart who doesn’t think like we do, who doesn’t plan like we do, who sees things we don’t, who has insight into the game beyond anything we can achieve.

But even if all that were true, he still needs somebody to put out the fucking cones. Oh, and a bit of support would be nice too.

Andrew Umbers’ Q&A with the YEP’s Phil Hay was revealing on the subject of Redders. Pressed on the decision to suspend Steve Thompson, Umbers disavowed responsibility; despite being chairman, his brief, he says, only includes business matters. In Cellino’s absence, the football side was delegated to Nicola Salerno; but Salerno suspended Thompson and then promptly made himself scarce. That left, on the football side of what is after all a football club, Neil Redfearn, and no bugger else; and Neil Redfearn seems to be the one bugger with no power to do anything anyway.

Redders may well be gone by the time you read this; he says it’s in his contract that his future must be resolved before the Rotherham game. But then his contract also says he has 100% control over team selection, and we can see how that ended up. It’s also in his contract that he can return to the Academy, but it’s hard to imagine how Redders could fit back into whatever harebrained management structure Cellino decides to impose next. That might be at the root of this bizarre isolation of well-regarded, high-performing head coach; Cellino doesn’t just want to relieve him of first team duties, but to drive him from the club altogether.

What we’d lose with Redfearn’s departure isn’t totally clear. Sanity and stability for sure; a passionate, committed and hard-working coach, too. But a good one? It’s hard to say. Like too many Leeds managers in recent years, Redfearn has done what he’s done with his hands tied, and we can’t judge whether his more baffling decisions – like Byram and Taylor as inverted wingers – were made through choice or circumstance. Once he’s gone and got a proper job somewhere else – Barnsley would love to have him back – we might be able to tell. But, yet again, we’ll be looking on at what we could have had, not enjoying what we have.


From The Square Ball Magazine, 2014/15 issue 10