There is chaos at Leeds United at the moment. On transfer deadline day, the night before their match against Huddersfield, Leeds United looked to have sacked manager Brian McDermott, only to have the decision reversed.
McDermott had been given the last few games of the previous season to assess his squad, and he decided to make a few changes in the summer. Leeds spent £2 million, with Manchester United’s reserve defender Scott Wootton, and Crewe midfielder Luke Murphy, coming in for £1 million each, plus a number of free transfers. Most of the players he brought in were very tall, indicating a preference for a direct style of play, as he favoured at Reading.
The first half of the season was mixed. After a promising start of eight points from his first four in August, September saw Leeds go on a run of four defeats from five. From October to December, Leeds put together a run of six consecutive home wins, with disappointing results on the road being the main problem. They were also very reliant on the form of top scorer Ross McCormack, who scored a remarkable seventeen goals in the first half of the season, including four in one game in the 4-2 victory at Charlton.
After a 3-0 win at Doncaster in mid-December, Leeds climbed into the play-off spots and looked to be making a convincing push for promotion. However, after that result, they went on a woeful run of eight games without a win. In that time, they lost 6-0 to Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday, and crashed out of the FA Cup at the hands of League Two Rochdale.
On 31st January, it seemed as though Leeds had sacked McDermott. However, the reporting of his sacking had much to do with the potential new owners. Massimo Cellino, also the owner of Italian side Cagliari Calcio was, and is, close to completing a takeover, subject to the Football League’s “fit and proper person” test – whatever that means.
This spells, potentially, an era of chaos and controversy for Leeds United. As a chairman, Cellino can be considered very much in the Abramovich mould – and by that I don’t mean in the mega-rich sense. He has sacked thirty-five managers in the space of twenty-one years at Cagliari, which is almost two per year. He currently faces court action, after being arrested on suspicion of attempted embezzlement and false representations with regards to the development of the ‘Is Arena’, Cagliari’s current ground.
He has bizarre superstitions. Because it is an unlucky number to him, he will not allow any seat numbered 17 at the stadium, instead labelling them ‘16b’. When a league game was re-arranged for the 17th September, he asked fans to turn up to the match wearing purple. Purple, to Cellino, is an unlucky colour, but his thinking was that one negative cancels out another. Cagliari won that particular match 2-1. Coincidence? Probably.
As if you needed any more evidence that Massimo Cellino is a bit of a nutcase, he is a 57-year-old man, but still plays the guitar in a rock band called ‘Maurilos’. It is clear that this is not some sensible, reliable businessman looking to take over Leeds United.
Ahead of Leeds’ match against Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield, Brian McDermott admitted he was unsure about his Leeds future. He had indicated frustration about the uncertainty regarding the club’s ownership, and was keen for the drama to end one way or another. It created limitations in the transfer market and, inevitably, had an affect on the players.
McDermott was sacked the night before the Huddersfield game, prompting mass protestation from the Leeds United fans. It had been suggested that Cellino, who was close to buying 75% of the club, wanted to appoint Gianluca Festa as manager. A group of Leeds fans attempted to blockade the club’s prospective new owner inside Elland Road, and supporters chased away a taxi sent to collect him from the ground.
Bizarrely, Leeds won the following match against Huddersfield 5-1, with Ross McCormack netting a second half hat-trick. But the drama did not end there. On Saturday evening, it became apparent that Brian McDermott had not been sacked. Rather, Massimo Cellino had told him he would be dismissed once the Italian took control of the club. The Leeds board later issued a statement saying that McDermott remains the club’s manager for the present.
If the takeover does go ahead, one cannot imagine McDermott lasting long. Indeed, it is surprising that he has not chosen to walk away now. He cited his love for the club as a reason for not resigning, mentioning the staff and supporters. This attitude has certainly won him popularity amongst the fans, yet it is questionable that he genuinely means it. He may well prefer to get a big pay-out by being sacked, as he still has two and a half years left on his contract.
From everything we know, we can guess that Massimo Cellino belongs to the increasingly common breed of dodgy owners in football. His striking tendency to sack managers suggests that Leeds, as a club, will not get the stability needed to create a team capable of getting into the top flight. From a money point of view, the court cases he is currently undertaking, suggests he could be putting the club at financial risk. Cagliari’s current squad transfer value is around €8M, the rest made up of academy products, loans, free agents and co-ownership deals, which, for a top flight club, does not scream of a chairman with plenty of cash in reserve.
You would worry that he will loan money from other entities to try to bankroll a promotion push, and therefore accumulate the Premier League TV money. While this scenario would be good for Leeds, there is a distinct possibility that the club will get into financial trouble if they then do not go up. Loans would need to be repaid, and Cellino could end up either selling players to do so, or worse, sell shares in the club, and put Leeds United’s future in jeopardy.
Leeds United are a club that, it is fair to say, not everyone likes. But in this situation, as a fan you must be on their fans' side. Cellino’s probable takeover is yet another indication of the problems with modern football.