A fair-to-middling Championship player these days is going to set you back somewhere around £15,000 a week in wages. That estimate may even be on the conservative side (by that, I don’t mean a blatant lie, I mean somewhat under the actual level in reality). So, using extremely round and over-cautious figures, you’re probably looking at around 60 grand a month – just in wages.
And the thing is – a player can so easily let you down, by “not fitting in”, or “failing to adjust”. They’re delicate wee souls, these footballers. Expensive as they undeniably are, both upfront and in oncosts, they are by no means reliable. You can easily end up looking a mug, in committing to an upfront million or two, plus three-quarters of a million annually in wages – only for the player concerned to make zero impact on the first team, yet still go laughing all the way to the bank. Or limping, in the case of Chris Wood. There are a number of names for this syndrome, depending on the identity of the club it affects – here at Leeds United, we might choose from Botaka, Sloth or Wootton, perhaps. Any way you look at it, buying players is a deuced risky business, with a lot of money staked against potentially negligible return. If only there was a way of reversing that equation – paying peanuts and yet ending up looking quite good out of the deal. If only.
Leeds United‘s loco owner Massimo Cellino may, according to some reports today, have at least hoped he’d found such a reverse alternative. The gist of the report – which must be taken with extreme caution and a large bar of salt, due to its Daily Mail origins – is that Signor Cellino has hit on the novel wheeze of countering the well-deserved criticism he’s copped on social media by paying some clued-up I.T. type to unleash waves of optimism and positivity on the likes of Facebook. It’s even been suggested that a dedicated Facebook group, named Massimo Is God, or Cellino for Sainthood, or some such, has been set up with the express purpose of singing online hymns of praise to il Duce.
The person concerned, one Scott Gutteridge, has alleged that he was paid somewhere around £500 per month to spin this worldwide web of deceit – something he initially did in good faith to “exert a positive influence”, before belatedly realising that it was all “nothing more than propaganda with the wrongdoings being covered up by the club using the Facebook group to counter arguments”. Leeds United, Mr Gutteridge now concludes, is “a club rotten to the core”. One assumes that, if he ever was on the club payroll, he is now decidedly off it. Massimo might even feel that he’s a right to his money back.
The thing is, people really can be swayed by the incessant outpourings of certain vocal users of social media. That being the case, a nominal £500 a month might be seen as value for a man such as Cellino – who must occasionally think that the world is against him – in terms of the good press it can buy in relatively unregulated areas such as Facebook groups and so forth. Leeds fans are one of football’s larger and more active constituencies on the Internet. An attempt at transforming that healthy constituency into some latterday rotten borough could just reap more bounteous rewards than risky plunges into the transfer market. If you can get away with it, that is.
Let’s face it – at these rates, that sixty grand a month wage bill for Championship player Joe Average could get you somewhere around 120 bought and paid for propagandist/fan type people, all willing to spin away like little dervishes each month, in the interests of making Cellino seem palatable. What price these people put on their souls, if all this has any truth to it, is a matter for them. As a fairly vocal presence on the Interweb myself, my message to Cellino would be: you simply couldn’t afford me, my friend. Not that he’s ever asked, you understand.
Leeds United, as you might expect, has denied that there’s any truth in this story. The Daily Mail, for their part, insists it’s true – you might expect that, too, and with at least an equal measure of cynicism. Mr Gutteridge himself appears to be in the process of being taken to task on the matter in at least one highly respectable Leeds United Facebook group, but his responses are invisible to me for some reason. This means I’ve not been able to access any of his presumably pro-Cellino outpourings. Perhaps some of you, gentle readers, may have more luck.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the tragedy of it all is that you really can’t dismiss it out of hand. Despite the sensational unlikelihood of the allegations themselves, despite the fact that the story originates in the notoriously mendacious Daily Mail – despite all of that, you look at the claims and you think (a) Well, really – you just couldn’t make it up; and (b) Hang on, this is Cellino’s Leeds United. It could easily be true.
Let’s face it, you wouldn’t ever believe it of an Arsenal, or a Liverpool, or even, God help us, a Man U. But it’s Leeds United we’re talking about here, the Damned United, under that crazy, unscrupulous and fraudulent King of Corn. So, sadly, you can’t just laugh it off. The biggest tragedy of all here is that – whether the alleged payment concerned is £500 a month or even a lump sum of sixty pieces of silver – it really could all so easily be true.