“The fans are going to enjoy next season so much, it will be a beautiful season, I promise to them.” – Massimo Cellino, April 2015
It’s been quite a week for holding people to account over promises recklessly made and then casually broken. On Thursday, ex-Tory voter Michelle Dorrell became an instant media star on the BBC’s Question Time, by castigating a shocked and speechless government minister over blatant lies told and cast-iron pledges tossed aside. The hapless Amber Rudd, incumbent Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in Cameron’s team of no talent, simply did not know where to put herself, under a withering barrage of anger and contempt from a voter who felt, with absolute justification, that she’d been conned, betrayed, abandoned. It is possible to speculate that Ms. Rudd, whose face told a tale of deep shame and helpless bewilderment, might not, perhaps, be the best card player out there. Which is unfortunate for that lady as, in her position as a professional liar, she really does need that unflinching poker face.
Compare and contrast the useless Amber Rudd with our very own master of spin and deception, Signor Massimo Cellino. It’s a bit like putting Clogiron Rovers of the Council Parks League next to European giants such as Barcelona or AC Milan. The mighty gulf is best illustrated by the fact that both these public figures lie and dissimulate – but whereas the Tory Minister looked as guilty and crestfallen as an Oxford undergraduate photographed with his wedding tackle in a dead pig’s mouth, our Massimo peddles his many fictions with a countenance as smoothly untroubled as a placid lake on a still, hot day.
Perhaps that inscrutable countenance is the key to Cellino’s undoubted success in many arenas over the span of a long, controversial and eccentric career. But there is a limit to what even such a convoluted operator as Big Mass can get away with. He is on record, as we can see above, as recently as April just gone, speaking in honeyed tones of the “beautiful season” we Leeds United fans could look forward to in 2015/16. It was a solemn and unconditional promise he made to us – a promise now being spectacularly broken as this misbegotten, shapeless, aimless, depressing campaign gets uglier by the week.
Massimo has previous form in his relatively short time at Leeds for making statements amounting to promises, which he has then patently failed to deliver. He said he’d pop down the ATM and sort out the wherewithal to buy back Elland Road upon taking control of the club; many months on, it hasn’t happened (though we’re assured the process is ongoing. Perhaps the pesky cash machine ate his card?). The timescale for promotion keeps getting pushed back, too. Just as Annie the Orphan sang about tomorrow always being a day away, so our prospects of Premier League Football seem to be holding a steady distance of two years into the future, no matter how much time passes in the real world. And Cellino speaks with misty-eyed affection about each successive coach he employs one minute and then, in the next breath, he’s picking a fight with them preparatory to inserting the trusty old stiletto blade between their vulnerable back ribs. It’s all initial promise, moving through bitter disillusion and ending in bleak disappointment.
But the thing about all these lies, as they mount up into an embarrassingly big and obvious heap, is that they tend to detract somewhat from any chap’s credibility. And credibility – the very currency of the successful sporting head honcho – is now a commodity of which Cellino, poker face notwithstanding, is rapidly running uncomfortably short.
Abraham Lincoln said, with typical wisdom: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time“. Massimo Cellino, though markedly less sage, appears to have been quite successful in fooling lots of people for the longest time. But there is a limit – and now, after the latest home defeat to Brighton, the rumblings of discontent are being felt around Elland Road, one time football fortress, now reduced to the flimsiest house of cards. Some of the fans remain defiantly faithful, holding that Cellino is the real deal, simply by virtue of not being Ken Bates. It’s a camp where I once upon a time raised this blog’s standard – but not any more. There have been too many lies, too many rash, undelivered promises. A good proportion of the fans now appear to have seen through Massimo’s affable facade, and they have detected the charlatan that lies beneath – and keeps on and on lying. It’s a harsh verdict on the face of it, but it’s one amply supported by the available evidence.
Football owners are not, in the nature of these things, the most accountable people in the sport. The ones held to account tend to be the coaches, the visible face of a failing football club’s operation, the men charged with making inadequate resources do the job of competing with better-financed, more realistically-run operations. These men carry the can for the owner’s inadequacies, craziness, parsimony and tendency to be economical with the truth. It’s a thankless task, as Uwe Rosler – with his ominous recent vote of confidence/final warning – may soon find out. But the fans don’t have to accept that the coach is where the buck stops and where the blame resides. Not any more than the courts in Italy or elsewhere have to accept a man’s repeated insistence on his innocence – as more and more charges of tax evasion and other vices pile up.
One way or the other, whether it’s the courts or the fans who finally suss him out, surely even Massimo Cellino cannot continue with his steadfast avoidance of the truth, his plausible blandishments and promises – not in the long term. Not when he’s also taking unpopular decisions such as limiting away tickets on the back of a spat with Sky TV. Not when he appears stubbornly determined to lose Sam Byram for peanuts, having publicly hung the lad out to dry, unable to defend his corner. Not when he’s back in the public gaze since Adam Pearson‘s much-lamented departure, making more crazy statements and more rash promises – most of which, you can well believe, will end up as hollow and worthless as his promise of April last.
A beautiful season? With successive defeats, a winless run at Elland Road stretching back to March and a headlong downward spiral in what is not exactly a vintage Championship league table, it’s not beautiful at all. It’s an ugly pig of a season, a Luke Chadwick or a Gideon Osborne of a season, even a Katie Hopkins of a season. Any common or garden fan can certainly see that, it’s as obvious as weather through a window. And, little by little, the more we keep getting told that everything in the garden is rosy, when we can absolutely see the weeds and the brambles choking the place to death – surely even the die-hard Cellino supporters must be beginning to wonder exactly where Leeds United are heading next, under his bizarre and deceitful direction.
Bottom line, ladies, gentlemen and fellow Whites? We should have listened to Johnny Giles.