You can’t blame these football men – one after another of them – for giving it a go at Massimo Cellino‘s Leeds United. They’re not blind and they’re not daft; they can see the awful mortality rate as manager after manager (I’ve given up on that head coach rubbish) falls victim to Cellino’s ongoing conviction that, however bad it gets, it’s always someone else’s fault. Each new Leeds United manager must come into the job with eyes wide open, knowing all too well that the odds are stacked heavily against them.
But still – it is Leeds United, a name known everywhere, a club of massive history and tradition. These football men are confident and simply crammed with self-belief, and they all want to be the game-changer. They’d be in a different caper if that were not so. Each of them earnestly believes he can be the one to turn around the fortunes of a moribund football club. That’s the dangling carrot – that tantalising chance of earning fame and immortality in the eyes of football’s most loyal, most fanatical and yet most demanding fans. Because, whoever does restore Leeds to something like its former glory will become a legend throughout the Whites-supporting universe. It’s a chance, so it seems, to make an indelible mark on football history. No – you really can’t blame these men for trying.
But the problem is that they reckon without the self-defeating craziness of Cellino, the kind of maverick unpredictability that will ensure no rational approach can be guaranteed to work. And, so it seems to many of us, they reckon without the effect of this rotten Cellino regime on the players themselves and their confidence – as well as their morale and motivation, their hopes for stability and continuity. The last few weeks have been like a snapshot of this whole problem – the Cellino roller-coaster in microcosm. Things are bad initially, and Cellino says he’s off, he’s had enough. Results then pick up, the mood about the place improves as talk escalates of Cellino selling the club to fans, to Steve Parkin, to anybody. But then Cellino reneges, and we really shouldn’t be surprised; it’s what he does. He’s not going to sell to the fans, he decides. And then, predictably for the cynics among us, he’s not selling at all, not in the short term at any rate. Apparently, there’s “no serious interest”. Yeah, right.
And, lo and behold, there is a depression once more over Elland Road. From two successive victories and two clean sheets when il Duce said he was off, we now have two successive defeats and two failures to score a goal since he changed his mind, or stopped lying, or however you interpret his screwball narrative. Is it too simplistic to make a connection between the turnaround in fortunes, and Cellino’s wildly-varying statements of intent? Those who still find themselves able to defend Cellinocchio might very well say so.
Well, I don’t think it is too simplistic; in fact, I think the nail has been hit on the head by anyone who makes that connection. Matters at the top of the club filter down to the players and the staff – that’s the case anywhere. The prospect of a less obviously loco form of ownership can be expected to perk things up on the field; equally, the dashing of those hopes, along with the realisation that it’s going to be crazy business as usual, will inevitably have its effect in terms of matters taking a downturn. That’s how it seems to have gone, lately.
So, where is the manager in all of this? Caught like a hapless nut in the jaws of a nutcracker, that’s where. Whatever his motivational abilities, however innovative and inspiring he might be on the training ground, it all counts for very little when the very fabric of the football club is rotting away due to the corrosive influence of a man who should never be allowed anywhere near any professional club – much less one of the stature of Leeds United. Whether the manager’s name is Steve Evans, Uwe Rösler, Neil Redfearn – or even Jose Mourinho, Pepe Guardiola or the sainted and incomparable Don Revie himself – the end will remain the same when you have an unfit person autocratically running things on a whim at the summit of the whole shebang. The wheels will inevitably fall off, the fans – being fans and emotionally involved – will vent at least part of their spleen on the visible target in the dugout, the manager thus targeted will feel himself to be a dead man walking, and the downward spiral will continue – with that malign presence in the boardroom seemingly fire-proof (unless the Football League do finally cook his goose for him).
Leeds United as it currently exists is not a fair test of a manager’s ability. In fact he can have all the ability in the world, but he might as well be King Canute trying to hold back the tide, for all the good that will do him – he’ll either have to walk or get washed away eventually. Sooner or later, as surely as night follows day, Cellino will get impatient, or bored, or simply even madder than he already is – and the whole grisly process will start again, with the credibility of a great club taking yet another fearful hit on its way down.
It’s not good enough, and we all know it. The rest of football can see it too, but, with it being Leeds, they’ll just be having a sly little snigger up their collective sleeve. If we are to get through these depressing, frustrating times, it’s unlikely to be with much real help from outside. It will be a matter of those with the best interests of Leeds United at heart – the fans and those positive elements within the club itself – sticking together and exerting such pressure as we are able, in order to bring about positive change. And again, fans being fans, that will be dreadfully hard to bring about. In the wake of today’s defeat at QPR, I’ve seen at least two moans or groans about Steve Evans, Chris Wood – even new loanee Liam Bridcutt – for every one murmur of complaint about the real culprit here, Cellino himself. And that’s really worrying – as the Italian bides his time before stating he’s going to hang around (FL permitting) after all.
If we’re ever going to be united enough to apply the necessary pressure that could bring about change, then we have to act united in the first instance – and a vital part of that is knowing your enemy. So, who is Leeds United’s enemy? It’s not Steve Evans, coming to terms with the impossibility of his job under the pressure of eking out results with a disconsolate squad. It’s not even the players who, after all, just want to perform and achieve for a proper football club that is going places. We all know, those of us who can see the blindingly obvious, who our enemy is. It’s that serial liar, that crazy, maverick, mercurial clown in the boardroom. It’s Massimo Cellino, quite plainly and clearly. So let’s not become distracted and start heaping needless pressure on innocent bystanders.
I look forward to the next Leeds United manager who will be allowed to do the job he’s been engaged to do. It seems unlikely at this juncture that his name will be Steve Evans, for whom the vultures are already gathering, more’s the pity. But we should all be clear on one thing – whoever might occupy the manager’s seat at Elland Road, he’s going to be on a loser as long as that nutter owns the club. Until Cellino goes, all we have to look forward to is more of the same – whoever’s notionally picking the team. Which is a tragic thought and, believe me, I’d love to be proved wrong. I’ve been wrong many times before, not least when I championed Cellino at the start of his reign. It goes with the territory of commenting on this bizarre club we all love so much.
But even given that flawed track record of mine – I gravely doubt, to my infinite regret, that I’m wrong about this.