So Massimo Cellino has broken cover in the wake of the spineless United display against a deeply ordinary Bolton Wanderers side at the weekend. He’s raged, primarily at the players, calling them “chickens”. They didn’t fight, he said. They are guilty and without pride; they should be ashamed of themselves. Can any of us honestly argue with the wisdom and accuracy of that little lot? Wouldn’t we all be queuing up to kick a few arses, as Signor Cellino has expressed the earnest desire to do, if only we had the chance? And why, pray, do we feel this way? It’s because we’ve invested hard-earned cash in supporting our team, that’s why – only to see overpaid non-triers throw that loyalty and commitment back in our bitterly-disappointed faces. Imagine, then, how Cellino feels, several million down already, hauling the club out of deep and rank ordure – and being messed about by a dilatory governing body into the bargain. No wonder he’s a little miffed.
Some have said that Cellino has overstepped the mark in being quite so vocal, not yet being the confirmed owner and all. For a couple of reasons, I strongly disagree with that viewpoint. Firstly – as referred to above – the man has paid – paid handsomely – for his right to express a vehement point of view. He who pays the piper calls the tune or, in this case, kicks the arse, if that’s his reaction of choice. Nobody, surely, can deny the man who has funded this club over the last few weeks when, due to inept management and a craven refusal to dig deep on the part of GFH et al, we might otherwise have been well on the way to the wall by now.
Cellino will know just how much he’s stumped up in wages, with absolutely no guarantee that his purchase of the club will end up being sanctioned. He will know exactly how much X has “earned” and how much Y is being paid for his headless chicken act. It must drive him mad to have actually seen those players fannying about on a professional football field and succumbing without so much as a peep of protest to a team they should be taking to the cleaners – especially at home. The money the Italian has shelled out gives him an absolute right, in my view, to express himself as strongly as he sees fit. Good on him for condemning the guilty parties in strong and unequivocal terms. It’s not before time.
Which brings me on to reason number two that Cellino was right to act as he did, confirmed owner or not. A bit of anger and invective has been needed from within the club for far too long now. It’s all been much too friendly and cosy as far as we can tell from the regular soundbites, and there are people on the payroll taking blatant advantage of that easy-going atmosphere. They will have been aware, perhaps, of some discontent out here in the real world, but they appear to be living and working in a little pink bubble where all is sweetness and light and, oh so polite – so why should they care if a storm is raging outside of that bubble? Somebody needs to shake the place up a bit. I think we all know who that somebody should be – but if that’s not happening, then – by all means Massimo, old son, you stand up for all of us out here. Vent your spleen, rattle a few cages, have a go. Maybe if they see the guy holding the purse-strings getting slightly aerated, they might sit up and take notice – due to a footballer’s well-known respect and concern for the bottom line.
There have been far too many humiliating results lately, far too many score-lines that speak all too clearly of extremely well-paid young men who simply don’t care – not anywhere near as much as they should, given the honour that is theirs to wear that white shirt. That’s the ultimate in not good enough, and it’s high time someone let loose a few slings and arrows at those guilty parties and read the riot act here and there. For all of these reasons, I’m glad to hear that Cellino has climbed down off the fence where most of the rest of the Leeds United personnel appear to be roosting, and has made his acerbic views known, in no uncertain terms.
We’re likely to be able to gauge what kind of effect this Latin bollocking has had when Leeds meet McDermott’s old club, Reading, on Tuesday. I hope the players feel upset, angry and humiliated to have been spoken of in such very frank and derisive terms. No professional likes having his or her professionalism called into question. In the macho world of football, nobody will relish being called a chicken, or having shame called down upon their heads. The players should be hurt, they should be annoyed; above all they should be possessed by a bloody-minded determination to show exactly what they’re made of. They should be ready to go out and sweat blood in a do or die attempt to prove Cellino wrong and to put in an effort to prove they do have the bottle to play for, as McDermott puts it, a “big badge”. And, lest we forget, a demanding crowd.
Ironically, such an effort would only go to confirm that the Italian was actually 100% right to say what he said about the abject and spineless display the players gave in the Bolton game. It would draw comparison with the second half against Huddersfield when, as one of them put it, “we did it for Brian”. Well, chaps – you’ve done bugger-all for him since. But take three points off Reading on Tuesday, and a lot would be forgiven, if not forgotten. Such is the way of football and human nature.
What Cellino has achieved with his outburst – beyond any reasonable doubt – is to focus the most intense scrutiny on how the players in those Leeds United shirts acquit themselves on Tuesday evening in the Reading game. Under those eleven “big badges” – are there eleven big enough hearts to take on board the Massimo Cellino message and to come up with the right response? We shall see soon enough.