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Dear Massimo…. A Postcard From Filey to Leeds – by Rob Atkinson


Dear Massimo

Weather beautiful, having a lovely time – wish you were here. In fact, I really wish you were here. There are a couple of questions that, given such a golden opportunity, I’d like to ask you. Things appear to be happening at Elland Road, just as this blog’s back is turned – a small matter of a silver wedding anniversary to celebrate. You know the way it is. How is the family, by the way? Anyway, as I was saying, change appears to be afoot down LS11 – and some of us out here are less than sure about the way things are going.

Personally, I’ve only had my eye off the ball for twenty-four hours or so – yet in that time, it transpires that the club is yet again unable to pay the playing staff. On the other hand, somebody appears to have found sufficient loose change – perhaps down the back of one of those banqueting suite sofas – to compass the demise of the manager. Whatever we out here may think of Brian’s predictable fate – and you’ll be aware, Massimo, that there are at least two schools of thought on that one – can the club really afford to be reaching settlements when the blokes at the sharp end aren’t getting their wages? We’ve heard the usual phrases – gentlemen’s agreement, mutual consent – but let’s face it, there’s always a few bob involved. One and a half million quid is what I’d heard. I know Brian’s a gent – a rare thing at Leeds United – but there’s a limit.

As far as this blog is concerned, no fuss will be made about the managerial change we could all see coming. New brooms tend to sweep clean, and no takeover is without its casualties. Being grown-up, sensible types, we know this. But given that mature and pragmatic outlook, what we crave above all is clarity – a few outbursts of frankness and information-sharing. If we know what’s going on, we tend to be happier and a bit more tractable. This is a significant consideration at that season-ticket selling time of the year.

The matter of our departed manager Brian is a case in point – but it’s not the only example of confusion arising out of mixed messages. We’d heard variously that you wanted to work with Brian, that you didn’t need a manager, that you couldn’t understand why the manager was at his poorly mum’s bedside rather than at his desk, and that you were astounded he hadn’t resigned. We have the likes of Lorimer and Gray to try and explain the meaning of this and other mixed bags – but you might concede that it’s not easy to pick the bones out of it all.

Would that it were only the managerial situation that’s causing such a mass scratching of heads – but things are confusing and bewildering in a wider sense, too. There’s the stadium and the now chained and padlocked training ground. It seems a long time now since you were speaking breezily of assuming control one day, and then nipping down the nearest ATM to withdraw enough cash to buy Elland Road the next. All of that early determination to act swiftly and decisively appears to have dissipated. We can well believe that you’ve found the odd skeleton in the closet – a mass grave and a veritable boneyard would not surprise us, given the immense dodginess of your immediate predecessors, to say nothing of the one before – or the chap currently in police custody in Dubai. We fans were ready for bleak news about the mess at Leeds United. What we’re really after is a revised statement of intentions in the light of the bodies you’ve dug up so far. For example, last I heard on Elland Road was the hope that it might come back under club ownership by November. Is that still the plan? It wouldn’t be surprising if it was becoming unlikely. But it’d be good to know.

Transfer policy is another thing. Mixed messages again there. Various younger Cellinos have been active on social media, outlining recruitment plans that appear to include Serie A players, an English left-back, and so on. The news from higher up is more confusing. Next season might well be one of fire-fighting and consolidation, we are told. But the club captain’s ambitions run more to a promotion challenge – and that’s quite reasonable, really. As a footballer, time is not on his side.

We are a little worried and unsettled out here, Massimo. Actually, that is to understate the case by quite a bit. Some clarity is badly needed – some good news would be welcome, too. In the absence of those two desirable factors, nerves are being shredded out here and fingernails nibbled. That’s hardly conducive to the making of financial commitments such as the purchase of highly-expensive season tickets – even if the club’s banking situation were sufficiently up and running to receive such payments. And we’re getting idiots from the likes of West Ham and no-mark clubs like that taking the mick, for God’s sake – how humiliating can it get?? We’re wondering, some of us, if it’s Fred Karno’s Army we’re following – rather than Super Leeds.

Sorry to be a nag – I know you’re busy. But all this gloominess and uncertainty is fair putting me off my cockles and mussels. So if there’s any chance of some positive tidings…? Thanks ever so.

Meanwhile, the weather continues fine on the East Coast’s golden sands. Off to Whitby today. Will write again soon. All the best!!


Leeds MUST Match Skipper McCormack’s Ambition – by Rob Atkinson

Ross the Boss

Ross the Boss

Conflicting, contradictory noises have been emerging from Elland Road this last week or so, ahead of what we must hope will be a busy and productive summer of change for Leeds United.  Some days provide cause for optimism – a “new Leeds” is spoken of, and one of the junior Cellinos makes himself busy on Twitter with all sorts of enticing hints and half-promises.  The boss, meanwhile – Massimo Himself – is occupying his time by metaphorically rending his garments, tearing his hair and gnashing his teeth at the chaos he has found since entering the sacred portals of the spiffy new East Stand façade.  We understand from the latest pronouncements that the club is haemorrhaging a cool £100k a day in operating costs, with losses of around £1m a month.  The closure of the training centre, Thorp Arch, until pre-season training begins is, perhaps, understandable in those parlous circumstances.  But what wider message does it send out?

Massimo the Concerned

Massimo the Concerned

Cellino had spoken earlier of a season ahead which will primarily be about ensuring that the boat is fit to float, with any ambitions of sailing to the Promised Land of the FA Premier League to be deferred until 2015/16.  Again, there are at least two ways of looking at this.  It might be seen as sober pragmatism from a man horrified at the scale of what he has taken on, hamstrung by the restrictions of so-called “Financial Fair Play” regulations and determined to get his priorities right.

And yet a professional football club runs on aspiration and ambition – especially one with the size, history and expectations of Leeds United.  This is adequately reflected by the very public stance of the club’s skipper, Ross McCormack – who is firmly of the opinion that Leeds has to be up there at the sharp end next season, competing for elevation to the top flight at the earliest opportunity.  His message is: I’m willing to stay and fight – as long as the club as a whole will be fighting alongside me. This attitude is understandable in a professional footballer approaching that watershed age of thirty.  Ross is saying that he cannot afford to hang around waiting for ambition to kick in – he needs to consider what’s left of his career and, as a Scottish international and a family man, where and at what level he wants to be playing his football.

For once, it’s possible to be less than cynical about a footballer’s motivations. We know that most of them are preoccupied with the bottom line; the net amount on their payslips.  But McCormack has shown an unswerving devotion to the Leeds cause – apart maybe from an attack of doubt on that confusing night when McDermott was sacked and Sky TV mounted an unprecedented and disgraceful campaign to flog him off to any and every interested party.  McCormack though has never made any secret of the fact that he is happy and settled at Elland Road – but he wants success, and in that he is fully in step with the voraciously hungry and cruelly deprived fans.  It’s possible to divine also that Captain Ross is less than impressed by the closure of Thorp Arch; one barbed tweet asked plaintively for training facilities ahead of his next Scotland call-up, with a pointed reference to the locked and gated Leeds training ground.

Clearly, then, there is the potential for some conflict of interests in the summer ahead.  If it were down to the fans, there is little doubt as to who would be accorded overwhelming support.  McCormack is all for ambition and investment, with a concerted push for promotion at the top of his agenda.  It is abundantly clear that, if Leeds United fail to deliver a strong challenge next season, McCormack will consider his position at the end of it.  He would have little choice and none should really criticise him.  Time and tide waits for no man and, especially, for no footballer.  The Leeds United support will feel that McCormack speaks for them, and they will be solidly behind him in the urgent desire for a squad that can deliver next time around.

Cellino’s horror-struck attitude may not, after all, be a total impediment to the emergence of this required ambition from United next season – but clearly we are going to have to wait and see what moves are made in the transfer market before we can judge exactly what the on-field aims are for 2014-15.  Rumours abound about who will stay and who will go – indeed, as I write, manager Brian McDermott himself is heavily backed to take the reins at The Hawthorns for West Brom’s next relegation battle.  There’s no doubt that a hell of a mess needs clearing up at Elland Road, despite the plaintive denials of 10% shareholders and 100% parasites GFH.  Whether the club can emerge from this difficult summer as a fighting-fit unit next season must be open to severe doubt.

At some point, there is going to have to be some accord between the leading players in this Elland Road drama/farce.  Those leading players should include the Cellinos, the manager – whoever that might be – and leading footballer Ross McCormack.  The minimum requirement, as things start to get sorted out, is that all of these principal characters should – as far as possible – be singing from the same hymn-sheet.  If that’s not possible, then it’s hardly the work of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that trouble lies ahead.

As for the fans – we’ve had enough of trouble.  We’ve had enough of seeing the name of Leeds United making headlines for every reason under the sun – except for positive football reasons.  One straw to clutch at is the recent exchange of courtesies and opinions between Gary Cooper, representing LUST, and Massimo Cellino – who was able to provide assurances of “sensible” investment to improve the squad.  It sounds as though there is now a line of communication open between Mr Cooper and Signor Cellino, and that’s surely something to be glad and relieved about.  LUST have always seemed to me to have the potential to be honest brokers.

Whether the ambition and investment that can be spared for next season will be enough to see Leeds make enough of a show to satisfy the burning desire and ambition of Ross McCormack – that’s another matter.  But the skipper has vehemently made his point and has placed on the table the not inconsiderable stake of his immense footballing talent, goalscoring record and leadership ability. In many ways this “skipper’s stand” is the single most positive thing about Leeds United here and now.  If there’s one thing above all the Elland Road crowd has always loved and taken to its collective heart, it’s a trier, a battler, someone whose every fibre is straining for success and the pride of wearing the shirt and the badge.  When an individual like that puts his cards on the table as Ross has, he’s well on the way to legend status – no small matter in the context of Leeds United’s star-studded history.

One last, positive note.  In another of his regular tweets, and in among the usual rumours that he’ll be leaving for Cardiff, West Ham, Newcastle etc etc – McCormack has given us a cheery “see you pre-season!”  That’s a half-decent straw to be clutching at amid the current doom and confusion.  Let’s just hope it comes true – and that we can March On Together from there.

Alan Smith: Saint or Sinner? The Smudger Debate – by Rob Atkinson


Smudger – one of our own?

It’s over nine years now since Alan Smith, the Rothwell lad with Leeds United in his DNA (although there are rumours that he was a Liverpool fan as a cherubic little boy), broke with an on-the-record vow and signed for Them.  From THERE.  It was impossible to believe, but it was true.  Smudger had sold his soul to the Devil.  Our Alan was a scummer.

Ever since then, the debate has raged off and on.  Is Smithy more sinned against than sinning?  What were his choices back in 2004?  Is he still our golden boy, famous for scoring with his first touch in front of the Anfield Kop, for putting Anderlecht’s formidable home record to the sword, for that Cruyff turn when he scored against Southampton at home?  Or is he the living embodiment of Judas Iscariot, selling himself and prostituting his talent for a few (million) pieces of silver?

There is evidence on both sides of the argument, and plenty of ill-informed, scurrilous comment as well.   No less an impeccable source than Peter Lorimer tells us that Smudge had little choice in the matter; that Man U was the only offer on the table that suited our dire financial predicament; that the lad even waived a rather large payment so that the Club could gain maximum advantage from the deal.  My own crib at the time was a TV interview immediately after relegation when Smith confirmed he’d be leaving as he was “not a first division player”.  Well excuse me, son – I brooded – but you are.  You’ve just earned that status by being part of a team that got relegated.  But it was all a long time ago.

So I thought I’d ask people to vote for how they see our former striker (38 goals in 172 appearances).  Is he a goodie or a baddie?  Saint or Sinner?  Is he Leeds, or is he not? Please give your view below.  We might as well do this now; the lad is way past his best and let’s face it – after all the years of rumours and sightings – he’s not coming back.  So let’s nail this one now.

Comments are equally welcome.  If you MUST insist on a democratic right to vote, even if you’re a Man U fan – then at least have the decency to admit it.  I could of course protect the integrity of the process by filtering out I.P. addresses in Devon – but what the hell.

Brian McDermott’s “100% Commitment to Leeds” Puts the Onus on GFH to Back Their Man – by Rob Atkinson

Brian - Aiming High at Leeds United

Brian – Aiming High at Leeds United

This week’s speculation, in the wake of Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s sacking, that Leeds United boss Brian McDermott might be the anointed replacement, could so easily have turned into a lengthy “will he, won’t he” saga. Quite possibly, this might have ended in more grief and disillusionment for Leeds and its fans, who have been through this sort of thing before. What actually happened was that Brian used the earliest possible opportunity, his pre-match press conference ahead of the Bolton fixture this weekend, to confirm his 100% commitment to the Leeds United cause, his appreciation of the relationship he enjoys with the fans and his acute awareness and pride that he’s in charge of one of English football’s true giants. Carlsberg don’t do affirmations of faith, but if they did….

There is absolutely no reason to doubt one iota of McDermott’s sincerity in anything he said at that press conference. He went beyond the strict dictates of frankness by acknowledging that yes, he would love one day to be Ireland manager. He has always, he admitted, regretted his decision to align himself with England as a player. His family connections to the Emerald Isle are strong; you get the distinct impression that, if he were not already committed heart and soul to the restoration of Leeds to the game’s Top table, Brian McDermott would be quite willing, eager and even able to swim the Irish Sea in order to secure the honour of being Republic manager. But Brian is so committed; indeed, heart and soul would seem to be a masterly understatement of the depth of that commitment. This confirmation that he’s at Elland Road to do a job, along with his earlier, only half-joking, thanks to Reading FC for sacking him and thus affording him the chance to reign at Leeds, sends out a massively positive message to all with a love of Yorkshire’s sole giant. At last we have a man who talks the talk, seems equipped to walk the walk, and will not be deflected even by the call of his lifelong ambition. It was a banquet of a press conference for Leeds fans, a veritable feast of reassurance.

But after the feast comes the reckoning – and Brian has not been slow to nail down the advantage his stated position has given him. This is not to say that, Rooney style, he’s seeking further to enhance his own remuneration on the back of turning down overtures from elsewhere. Instead, he’s been swift to speak out in the press and beseech the ongoing support of owners GFH. Brian’s version of putting the squeeze on is strictly altruistic, totally dedicated to securing the tools he needs to tackle the job in hand. He doesn’t want a cushier position, he just wants to be able to look at the possibilities – currently limited to the loan market – and shop around with an unerring eye for a player or two and the enhancement of his squad the only objective in mind.

GFH must be well aware of the extreme impracticality of keeping a want-away manager against his will. Contracts, in those situations, are about as much use as a penalty spot in the Man U 18-yard area. The fact of the matter is that, had McDermott wanted to head off to Ireland to take up any offer made to him, then he would almost certainly have been able to do so. It would simply have been a matter of haggling over compensation, a scenario that’s been played over time and time again as managers and players theoretically tied down to a deal basically proceed to do as they like. That Brian McDermott has chosen to stick to his current task, running the possible risk of losing any chance of fulfilling his heart’s desire in the future, speaks volumes for the man and for his honesty. GFH should be looking at the leader they’ve got at the helm, and asking themselves what possible excuse there could be for failing to stretch a point or two, for failing to make the effort to dig down the back of the settee and find a few bob to fund his recruitment drive. Principles like “shipping one out before you can bring one in” are all very well when you’re talking to an accountant, but not likely to cut much ice with the Leeds support, who see their manager nobly keeping his mind on the job – and who will want to see him given every chance of succeeding.

Brian McDermott has played this very, very well indeed – which is not to say he is being sly or exploitative. He’s simply made his mind up to succeed at Leeds, and has made his position clear: that he expects everybody to pull together in achieving that end. Strong as his position at Elland Road may have been a week ago, it is now very much stronger; the Leeds owners would do well to respect that, respect their manager’s professional judgement – and dig deep for victory.

McCormack Boosts Leeds by Signing New Four Year Deal

McCormack Commits to Leeds United

McCormack Commits to Leeds United

The news that all Leeds fans have been waiting for – with just that slight worry that it may never come – has finally been confirmed.  Ross McCormack is staying at Leeds, having put pen to paper on a new four-year deal to end speculation that his future might be elsewhere, possibly further north and shrouded in perpetual smog.

Whatever the disappointment fans of Middlesbrough FC might be feeling at these joyful tidings, the chief emotion among the Leeds faithful will be relief.  The conviction in certain sections of the press that we were about to lose our most potent striker had amounted to an almost evangelical belief, or at least to a fevered plane of wishful thinking.  There may be excuses for certain ill-written and obsessive fan-sites of other clubs getting over-excited about the prospect of more misery for Leeds fans, but the gentlemen of the Fourth Estate do themselves no favours when they, too, sink to the levels of various anti-Leeds factions around the country.  But then again, hating Leeds in print is a standby pastime for newspaper lads and lasses since time immemorial, and it least it proves that our chant of “We’re not famous anymore” is a living hymn to irony.

The news that McCormack is staying will not exactly echo around the various leagues, ringing with significance, in the way that Gareth Bale’s forthcoming departure from Spurs will.  And yet one fan-site editor of a West Ham persuasion had pinned his colours so firmly to the mast of “GFH will sell McCormack” that you wonder if he might now perform the literary equivalent of clapping a gun to his mouth and calling in the decorators.  It’s amazing how the varying fortunes of Leeds United can still provoke such extremes of emotion, even after a prolonged period of obscurity, and even among fans of clubs we have never considered worthy of even a mild dislike.

Make no mistake though – leaving aside all the negative connotations of those who will greet the McCormack news with dismay – this sends out yet another massively positive message, albeit somewhat delayed, as to the direction the new owners of the club are taking.  Onwards and upwards is the theme – forget the past, the future is bright and White.  McCormack would have had no shortage of suitors had he wished to leave LS11, and if the club had wished to sell, they could surely have realised a large fee in exchange for his services.  Something is going unusually right at Elland Road and the longer the season goes on, the better things seem to get.  This will remain the case even when the odd, inevitable reverse occurs – as long as the principles seemingly being applied by the owners at the moment continue to guide their actions.

IF – and it remains a significant if – Leeds can now move to plug the few gaps in their squad before this transfer window closes, then a competitive season at the right end of the table surely beckons, maybe along with a juicy cup run or two.  The wind of change has been blowing down Beeston way, and it’s putting some colour into Leeds fans’ cheeks as well as a spring into their steps.

It’s been a long, long journey from what we can now assume is the rock-bottom nadir of our great club’s proud history.  But there are undeniable signs that a renaissance is underway, and maybe – just maybe – that United are back.