As our promised “beautiful season” drags its weary way to a mid-table close, amid a welter of unexpectedly good results, the burning issue now at hand is what we will be told when loco owner Massimo Cellino scratches that itch and sacks yet another manager.
The revolving door at Elland Road will surely also need replacing soon. It must be on its last legs after the unprecedented number of staff arrivals and departures over the last few years, as Cellino continues to feed his voracious ego. The only truly secure position at Leeds United appears to be that of Il Duce himself – and that’s only by the grace of the unusually tolerant football authorities. They have Cellino taped for what he is and yet, unaccountably, they fail to act. By his own admission, Cellino has been a dire failure at Leeds. Get rid of me if we’re not back in the Premier League by 2016, he trumpeted on arrival. There was also some stuff about repurchasing Elland Road. None of it has happened, of course – yet still Cellino is here, hiring and firing like there’s no tomorrow.
That process seems certain to continue in the near future; Steve Evans has been doing a miraculous job in circumstances that would be unbearable for less determined and self-assured men. But nevertheless, he is likely to go soon; the writing has been on the wall for a while now. Cellino’s modus operandi is a wearily familiar one: undermine and publicly rebuke your victim-in-waiting, tell him to keep quiet while you hog the headlines yourself, aim to stir up the negative feelings and prejudices of the gutter end of the United support. This campaign is in full swing against Evans, but there’s one niggling problem. The dratted man has done better in post than any of his predecessors since promotion-winner Simon Grayson. How inconvenient for Cellino is that?
How, indeed, will Cellino set about justifying the imminent betrayal of yet another solid football pro? It’s undeniable that Evans has made something of a silk purse out of what was definitely a sow’s ear when he arrived. Yes, he’s vocal at times, and has a tendency to proclaim his successes and his favoured managerial techniques. But are these really bad things? With the axe hovering above our heads as it has been for Evans, wouldn’t any of us point out as often as possible that we’re actually doing a decent job? Lifelong Celtic fan Steve Evans could, it is said, stroll into Celtic Park and occupy the manager’s chair if he so desired. But he wants to stay at Leeds. Shouldn’t we admire and relate to that?
What’s more, shouldn’t Cellino display some passing regard for a man who has overseen what looks like being our best finish for a good long time? But that would be out of character for someone who is far more at home sniping and griping at those who are trying to do their jobs under his crazy stewardship. Even Cellino, though, probably recognises that this sacking will be even harder to explain away than the others. The results have been OK, some of the displays haven’t been too bad – and we cannot now finish lower than our recently-favoured final position of fifteenth or so. Still, it’s likely that Evans will be gone, a Scot fired because Cellino says he can’t get on with English managers. That’s Massimo logic for you.
What have we to look forward to, then? Cellino appears to have put his money where his mouth is with a “season ticket part refund” undertaking if and when we fail to make at least the play-offs next season. That’s a big gamble, and there have to be concerns about the financial state of the club going into season 2017/18 if season-ticket holders have to be refunded up to half the cost of next year’s outlay. Still, that’s a promise conveniently far away. And it’s not as if Cellino has felt bound by his word in the past – is it?
And so the lunatic merry-go-round carries on apace. The next few weeks should be very interesting, though probably not in a good way, as we wait to see which direction Cellino’s grasshopper mind will jump next. The only thing that seems certain, based on the Italian’s record so far, is that stability – a commodity badly needed at Elland Road – will be as elusive as ever when il Duce once again clears the decks on the foundering ship that is Leeds United.