Seasoned observers of Massimo Cellino‘s somewhat tenuous relationship with the truth will find it hard to derive much – if any – reassurance from the Italian’s claim that midfield prodigy Lewis Cook is not for sale. Sadly, the rule of thumb where il Duce is concerned appears to be that old saw “believe nothing until it has been officially denied”. At Yorkshire’s Number One club, this could more conveniently be described as “The McCormack Protocol”.
This is, of course, no way to run a football club – or any other organisation which holds the happiness and contentment of thousands of followers in its hands. It’s downright unprincipled. Such cynicism is really more the preserve of politicians and other such undesirables, operating in an arena where it is tacitly understood that misdirection and deception are simply the tools of the trade. But Cellino has brought to Elland Road standards of veracity that would make a Westminster spin doctor wince; his track record as the owner of Leeds United is littered with broken promises, slippery evasions and downright lies.
The examples of forked-tongue complex are not difficult to cite, neither are they capable of much misinterpretation. From the vow to repurchase the stadium and the training ground on Day One of his tenure, to his serial failures to stand by coach after coach, as promised, “Cellinocchio” has seen his nose growing longer with each undeniable failure to deliver on that out-dated commodity: the truth. It’s been a tawdry couple of years down LS11 way.
Now we’re just a few days into January or, as most fans think of it, the mid-season transfer window. But for Leeds fans, this time of the year has long been “Crown Jewels Sale Time”. Right now, the Leeds United treasury is crammed with diamonds, greedily coveted by predatory clubs operating at a higher level – and well aware of the short-termism that characterises United’s retention policy.
January, crucially, is always the acid test of Leeds’ resolve to hang onto its prize assets – and it’s a test the club usually fails, leaving the fans misty-eyed at the loss of yet more potentially winning talent. Of the current crop, Sam Byram represents low-hanging fruit almost bound to be plucked before the month is out. Leeds fans have reluctantly come around to his impending loss as a result of the club’s failure to come up with an appropriate contract. The likes of Cook, Alex Mowatt and Charlie Taylor, though, would be seen as a premature cashing-in on youngsters still tied to the club and evidently content, for the moment at least.
Young Cook is the name on everyone’s lips at the moment, with firm interest registered by Premier League giants Bournemouth and a figure not unadjacent to £10m mooted. There’s rich irony there, not that any Leeds fans will relish it. Almost seven years before our Lewis was born, Leeds were beating the south coast outfit to win the second-tier championship and head on and up towards ultimate glory two years later. The same match saw the Cherries plummet into the third division, destined for a crisis that would threaten their very existence. How times change, how roles reverse. Perhaps in time our relative positions might switch back again, but that’s cold comfort in a here and now which sees Bournemouth as the shark to our small-fry status.
Given our less than completely trustworthy owner’s recent statement, it would be no surprise to see Cook go – but it would be a tragedy – and it would be further confirmation of crazy priorities at Leeds. It may be, of course, that all of this Lewis Cook brouhaha has been cynically engineered to sweeten the bitter pill of Byram’s departure and subsequent inadequate replacement. With a notoriously slithery operator like Cellino, little is too Machiavellian to rule out. But the simpler and more worrying possibility is that he’s simply lying. Again.
As the sharks circle and the vultures flap overhead in the next few weeks, we will learn quite a bit more about our current situation under a man who has proved time and again that he’s unfit to run a club like Leeds United. And whatever happens, whatever lies and broken promises are exposed – you can be sure that the blame will be apportioned anywhere other than the office of one M. Cellino.