Possibly the most startling thing so far about the reign of Massimo Cellino at Leeds United, is that he enjoys the continued faith and support of a vociferous minority of United fans who still insist that the Italian has “saved” the club. That this misguided loyalty is based almost entirely on smoke and mirrors is clear enough to the rest of us, and indeed we are inclined to marvel at the hopeless naivety of a group which seems willing – indeed, remorselessly determined – to overlook so much on the debit side of il Duce‘s ledger. It is for this reason that the majority of Leeds fans, those eager to see Cellino go, are wont to refer to the minority inexplicably keen to keep him in charge as “Flat Earthers“.
A few salient facts and quotes should be enough to justify the question in the headline of this piece: why would any true United fan want to keep this mendacious chancer in the owner’s chair? For instance, there’s this glowing endorsement of then Head Coach Neil Redfearn on May 7th last year: “I am in love with Neil and I don’t want to talk to anyone else about the job. I have always believed in him and I gave him his big chance”. Ten days on, and Cellino’s ardour had cooled dramatically: “Neil Redfearn does the (Leeds fans’) salute. He challenged me. If you are good I can accept the challenge. But not if you are a bad coach. He has to respect the chairman. He has to respect the club. He’s like a baby. He’s been badly advised and used by someone. He is not a bad person but he has a weak personality”.
Dear me. Where to start? For one thing, any true Leeds fan would confirm that doing the Leeds Salute is perhaps the best single way of showing respect for the club. As for respect for the chairman, or President, or Captain on the Bridge, or whatever he chooses to call himself on any given day – well, that has to be earned. And Cellino did precious little in the course of that outburst, or at any other time in his tenure, to earn anyone’s respect – let alone that of a grizzled old football pro like Redfearn. To refer to a current employee as a baby, and a weak personality, shows Cellino in the worst possible light and certainly does not merit respect. Not from the most deluded fan. And to view the Leeds salute as a challenge to himself personally serves to expose the egocentric, narcissistic personality of the Italian. It’s all about Massimo, you see. Woe betide any mere employee who shall presume to usurp his imagined place in the fans’ affections. Houston – the Ego has landed.
In between those two wildly varying quotes from Cellino, in that ten day gap during which he fell out of love with Redfearn (and Neil went from being believed in to being a baby with a weak personality) il Duce had indulged in a 70 minute car-crash of a press conference to mark the return to Elland Road of newly-appointed Executive Director Adam Pearson. That cringe-fest of a press event also featured the mockery of Redfearn’s Leeds Salute and, additionally, of its use by United fans. Normally, any such lack of respect for such an institution of the club as our trademark salute would be enough to have the offender marked for severe disapproval and censure by a constituency of at least 20,000. Given such alarmingly unbalanced and erratic behaviour, pockmarked with instances of what amount to virtual treason – how the hell does Cellino retain any support at all? Is it merely pigheaded stubbornness – or has it descended to outright stupidity?
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the disaster which has been Cellino’s tenure at the club is the following list. It is a list of senior staff who have been fired by the owner, or who have otherwise departed during what is still a fairly short reign. But it’s not a short list:
Brian McDermott, Nigel Gibbs, Richard Naylor, Leigh Bromby, Andy Leaning, Paul Dews, Benito Carbone, Graham Bean, David Hockaday, Junior Lewis, Darko Milanic, Novika Nikcevic, Matt Child, Steve Thompson, Nicola Salerno, Neil Redfearn, Steve Holmes, Steve Head, Martyn Glover, Lucy Ward, Matt Peers, Adam Pearson, Uwe Rosler, Julian Darby, Rob Kelly, Paul Hart.
Some of those names will be unlamented by many Leeds fans. Others – Steve Thompson, Adam Pearson and recent departure Paul Hart, to name but three – represent a real loss and a further stage in the downward spiral of team performance. But the sheer number of departures surely has to reflect on the wisdom and judgement of the man at the top. That would apply to any organisation of this size and profile. There is also the question of the cumulative cost to the club of severance, compensation, gagging orders, etc. etc. It’s a damning litany of failure and – in the opinion of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything – it damns Cellino far more effectively than could any of the imaginary demons that seem to haunt this strange and superstitious man.
As I mentioned earlier, the one thing that characterises the pro-Cellino minority – apart from their apparent lack of any judgement, or pride in what Leeds United used to stand for – is the vocal and outspoken tone of their dogged support for their deeply flawed “hero”. I’ve seen evidence of this whenever I’ve written an article that is seen to be critical of the owner. And yet I would welcome their input on this latest piece as I am genuinely, profoundly puzzled as to why – why?? – and how they feel able to retain faith in a man capable of the kind of crazy, schizo behaviour referred to above. And, remember, that was no exhaustive list of the man’s nuttiness. There has been much, much more, all of it well documented. So tell me, guys – why?
It would be interesting and instructive to hear some points of view, particularly as this whole “praise, damn, knife in the back then sack” cycle appears to be on the point of repeating itself for a second time since the demise of Redfearn. Don’t just rant on Facebook – stand up and be counted. But – keep it clean and decent, though. Please. It’d make a pleasant change, after so much vicious abuse in the past, to hear from a Flat Earther who doesn’t actually sound like one.