Cellino – can he “get” what it is to be Leeds?
With the clock ticking down towards Saturday and another of those meaningless irrelevances that crop up now and again in the Leeds United calendar – yes, folks, I’m talking about a football match – some vital issues are becoming ever clearer as some of the murk disperses from the Elland Road neighbourhood.
The first and most significant of these is that Massimo Cellino is most likely going to be our new owner – and maybe sooner rather than later. That story has moved on from a state of siege last Friday night, when the Italian was barricaded inside the stadium, his getaway cars chased over the horizon by vexed United supporters, to something which is developing from resigned acceptance into something approaching guarded optimism. It will be important for us all, going forward, that this process should continue and that some mutual trust should manifest itself.
The second important factor which is becoming ever clearer is the parlous state of Leeds United as it has been trundling along over the past year or so since GFH ousted Bates. It looks more and more as though the club has been haemorrhaging money at a rate that would prove fatal in the relatively near future. Against the alarming nature of this unwelcome truth, little matters like winding up petitions and managerial insecurity rather pale into the background. Leeds United need an urgent and massive transfusion of cold, hard cash – and they need it now, if not sooner.
All of this should lead us towards regarding the various parties to the current messy situation in a new and more realistic light. GFH have been talking about working towards a sustainable future with solid investment designed to restore the club to its natural place towards the top of the English game. It’s quite clear now that – without a major windfall – such talk was simply moonshine, a deceptive smokescreen designed to manage fans’ expectations and lull us through a succession of disappointing transfer windows. So much for GFH.
Cellino was initially regarded with something rather worse than suspicion and cynicism. He’s a crook, people fulminated. He’s the worst thing that could happen to our club. He will destroy us; we don’t want his dirty money. But as things have started to become clearer, it’s becoming steadily more obvious that the one thing we cannot do without is Cellino’s lucre, filthy or otherwise. And this is regardless of whether or not he intends to splash as much cash on players as the FFP rules will allow. Leeds United is skint, and needs to be fully-capitalised; we need that security of money to buffer us against whatever the future might bring. So, since last Friday, Cellino is being seen more as a source of salvation than our arch-Nemesis. That’s progress for you.
The fact of the matter is that this is probably going to happen. From that factual foundation, new attitudes have to form and all parties still engaged in and dedicated to the welfare of Leeds United AFC have to bend their efforts to that end. This is no time to embrace negativity – there are agencies aplenty out there who are more than eager to do that without us jumping on board. What is required here is a leap of faith – but it has to come from both sides so that we meet somewhere in the middle and find a way of taking matters forward.
From the fans’ point of view, this surely means an initial acceptance that Cellino is coming into Leeds United with the intention of succeeding. On the face of it, it’s sensible to ask: “why would we suspect otherwise?” Against the background of media uproar, with every anti-Leeds hack predicting dire outcomes, doom and gloom – where is the logic behind any assumption that Massimo Cellino is here to do us harm? Even if his first move as confirmed owner were to sack Brian McDermott – something I do not want to see – then it would hardly be an unusual move on the part of a new owner. It would not, of itself, be a malevolent or a diabolical act – as some would seem eager to portray it. Initially, at least, we have to assume that the man – who has almost sold his first love, Cagliari, to concentrate on Leeds United – is here to succeed.
But the fact is that there is a leap of faith required from Cellino as well. Looking at the Brian McDermott situation again – what is the major element in his appeal to the Leeds United fans? Is it the results, the tactics, the transfer market record? Not really – in all three areas, the record has been nothing special – mediocre at best. Then again, Brian has been working with one hand tied behind his back, lacking any real financial support. But the real appeal of McDermott is easy to identify: he “gets” Leeds United, and he “gets” the fans. That has been the golden thread running through the slightly threadbare fabric of his tenure at Elland Road. Just about everything he has said since moving into the managerial hot seat has struck exactly the right note with the club’s support. I cannot think of a manager in the recent past – with the possible exception of Simon Grayson – who has been so demonstrably on the fans’ wavelength, so clearly in tune with the fans’ concerns. Brian McDermott listens to our problems, feels our pain and talks our language. For God’s sake, he even stands us drinks with his last fifty Euros. That is why, for the most part, Brian is loved.
Now Cellino is most probably coming in, and he comes in as a foreigner, an alien, steeped in a culture which could hardly be more different from that in which exists English football. He must know that he will have to learn, and learn fast. It may even be that such a learning process is already under way. That Friday night barricaded inside Elland Road, while the whirlwind of the fans’ rage rattled the window-panes, must surely have had some impact. Whatever Cellino is, we can safely assume that he is no fool. It’s unlikely that he will have expected such a very demonstrative display from such a very vocal group of Leeds supporters. But it’s equally unlikely that he’ll have been daft enough to dismiss it as irrelevant.
What we need and want is an owner who is not just “minted” – and fired with an ambition to restore our club to the top of the game. What we need and want is an owner who “gets” Leeds United, and its fans, in a manner similar to that which has enabled Brian McDermott – who as a southerner is hardly that much less of a foreigner or alien himself in the People’s Republic of West Yorkshire – to build up such a rapport with such a notoriously truculent and suspicious group of fans.
Cellino has already said a few words to indicate that he appreciates the Leeds fans are no ordinary bunch of tifosi – that he recognises that we are a militant and fanatical group of committed loyalists who will try to move mountains in the interests of their beloved club. He will not have been fazed by the demonstration of last Friday night; indeed he actually appears to have the cool poise to have been more impressed and moved, rather than rattled or shaken. That itself bodes well for the future, and boy do we need some good omens right now.
The bottom line is that things could not have proceeded much longer the way they were. Add to that the apparent lack of any other feasible alternative, and it’s not rocket science to predict that Cellino – subject always to the Football League getting off their collective arse and ratifying the deal – is by far the most likely way out of the immediate hole in which – thanks to the ineptitude of our last several owners and guardians – we now find ourselves. So it looks like an Italian Job, and it’s up to all parties to try to make the best of it and move forward as harmoniously as possible.
A leap of faith. It’s what you do when the future is uncertain but you’re faced with Hobson’s Choice. It’s a situation which renders mistrust and cynicism more than ordinarily counter-productive. It’s the very kernel of what Marching On Together should be all about. So – if and when it’s confirmed – let’s do just that. Let’s give it a chance and see what happens.
After all – “Siamo tutti Leeds – non siamo?”