Darko: hello, goodbye
A lot of Leeds fans will have woken up very happy this Sunday morning, following the shock sacking of Darko Milanic after defeat by Wolves yesterday. Perhaps they’re right to be; perhaps Neil Redfearn is indeed the Messiah and will in due course restore us to the promised land, serving up sumptuous feasts contrived of paltry loaves and fishes along the way, all washed down with copious draughts of wine produced supernaturally from water. It’s to be hoped so, for it appears that only a miracle or two will extend any Leeds United Head Coach’s tenure beyond an initial settling-in period.
Those happy Leeds fans who believe in and are confidently awaiting this miracle, though, should perhaps give their heads a shake. They should ask themselves about the wisdom of the owner in overseeing the dismissal of three hot-seat occupants in a season barely over a quarter of the way through. They should wonder about the ability of the club to attract high calibre candidates in the future, should this season’s second coming of Redders not prove to be that of a Saviour. In short, they should ask of themselves: “Is this really what we wanted?”
This blog is and has been a firm supporter of Massimo Cellino and all of his works behind the scenes at LS11 since he assumed control of Leeds United just a few months ago. Articles have been written praising his single-handed turning around of a moribund hulk, and the input he has had into the recruitment of several extremely promising signings, the potential of which we have all seen. But this blog begs leave to doubt whether Massimo’s genius extends to the recruitment and retention of a high-end coach – the kind of guy who is going to define the direction of the team and squad; the sort of achiever who can take a serial under-performer like Leeds and drag it back into the big-time.
Cellino is the man who makes the decisions; what he needs above all is the ability to back his own judgement, He needs to display some cool and some sang-froid – the propensity to avoid panic when the first signs emerge of the current plan going tits-up. It is this faith in his own judgement, this ability to control panic and suppress knee-jerk reactions, which currently appear to be missing from the Massimo make-up. That does not bode well. How many more times this season are we going to hear “I made a mistake with this guy – sorry, my friends…” – and how many more times are the fans going to sanction such boom and bust recruitment tactics?
The fans – a vociferous if not particularly large proportion of them, anyway – have to take their share of the blame for this latest farcical development. It has been alarming to see how so many of those fans, especially those highly active on social media, appear to have bought into the serial hire and fire policy that has appeared to characterise Cellino’s ownership of Cagliari and now Leeds. In many ways, Darko Milanic was onto a loser right from the start of his engagement, simply because so many supporters wanted Redfearn to get the gig, after his brief but productive interregnum. When Redfearn was overlooked, or unwilling (depending upon which version of events you believe) – the Redders supporters were disappointed and thus not disposed to give Darko much of a chance. That might be understandable – but to call (as they did) for the head of a new Head Coach a mere two or three games into the job, especially after the previous “permanent” appointment bit the dust only a few games into the season, surely smacks of the most arrant folly.
Even more worrying is the alarming possibility that Cellino is making the mistake of listening too hard to the fans in areas where the head should rule the heart. If the Italian is capable of being swayed by what might be called mob rule, then we stand a real risk of the lunatics taking over the asylum. What we can’t afford at any price is for the fans uncritically to take on board the excesses of Cellino, or for Cellino to be unduly influenced by the more extreme and hard-of-thinking section of the fans.
Redfearn cannot be exempt from criticism in this sorry mess either. To say he was coy over his wishes for the top job on a permanent basis is somewhat to understate the case. He waxed lyrical about his love for the development role, but then – when he didn’t get the head coach job – a faint tinge of sulkiness seemed to descend upon him; he was unwilling to be involved with the first team and, as far as I can see, he is open to a charge of failing to support and assist the new man. Now, it appears he will get his chance to be top dog under the Presidential shadow. Woe betide him if he fails to take it, and Leeds United must stand in very real peril of losing altogether a man in Neil Redfearn whose influence at the club has been one of the fairly few positive themes in the past year or so.
Sacking a head coach is a very serious step indeed, and we’ve now seen three such decisions taken since the last ball of last season was kicked – and still two months to go till Christmas. Who will be in charge then? Can any of us hazard a fair guess? We must hope it will be Redfearn, but who could say with any certainty – and what is being said out there in football land about the attractiveness or otherwise of the Leeds United post?
The dismissal of your manager is not guaranteed to pay dividends anyway. Yesterday at Leeds, the football in the first half was extremely easy on the eye, and United dominated a decent Wolves outfit. Then it all went wrong, and the next thing we knew Darko had his cards. Meanwhile, in Birmingham, the City team that had seen their manager sacked in midweek surrendered abjectly at home to Bournemouth, losing 0-8. The upheaval of one managerial sacking was clearly enough to absolutely destroy that team. How will the Leeds squad react to their fourth change at the helm, and only fourteen games gone?
Let’s not run away with the idea that Leeds United’s current plight is simply down to Darko Milanic, or even a shared responsibility between that gentleman and the hapless Dave Hockaday. The problem runs deeper and the blame must be ascribed on a much wider basis. Owner, staff and fans must hold up their hands and admit failure in their distinct and vital roles. The owner needs to hold his nerve now, have faith in his (latest) chosen man and refuse to succumb to panic and outside pressures other than in the most dire circumstances.
Given continuity and some steadiness about the place, the squad is easily good enough to hold its own in this division, and that’s what it’s all about for the current season. Consolidate and build as positively as possible for a real challenge next time around. The fans, collectively, have to refrain from carping at every little setback and making childish demands for heads to roll. Supporters should support – a significant proportion of Leeds United’s fanbase, especially online, appear to be completely unaware of that.
Disappointed after the home defeat to Wolves, I only learned of the sacking of Milanic when I received a text from a Radio Aire reporter asking me for a reaction. Gobsmacked, stunned – and above all worried – aptly summed it up. I’m extremely worried about the immediate and longer-term future and I’m pessimistic about the prospects of any coherent plan being given the time and opportunity to develop. How could I be otherwise, given the events of this season so far?
Change can be good, it can be bad, it can be disastrous. It should not be embraced for its own sake, neither should it be brought about too frequently, at the first sign of trouble. Some calmness is needed now – and a bit of faith in the people who are being left to pick up the pieces of a fragmented season so far.
I remain a Cellino fan and this blog will continue to support him in his ongoing fight to get on with the job of reviving Leeds United in the face of petulant opposition from the buffoons of the Football League. I’m actually a fan of Neil Redfearn too, though I feel he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory during the brief reign of Darko Milanic. An examination of Neil’s four games in charge this season will reveal that he got a bit lucky on a couple of occasions; we should have been buried alive by half time at Bournemouth and a couple of other displays lacked inspiration. If he can consistently hit the heights we attained against Huddersfield, then we’ll be cooking with gas. But there has to be some doubt that things will go that well.
Thanks to the strictures of the transfer window, the one thing that will remain a constant until the new year at least is the make-up of the squad. And I believe that there is enough quality at Elland Road for a formidable team to emerge out of the ingredients we currently have to play with. If that happens, and if the club is much more comfortably placed after Christmas, then Neil Redfearn will deservedly take plenty of credit for that. I hope it is the case – and I hope that there is less of an opportunity by then for a hostile press to pick away at the club as they inevitably will after this latest debacle. The likes of Robbie Savage and Phil Neville at the chimp end of the scale, together with Jeff Stelling, Gary Lineker and others further up towards the intellectual end, will all be queuing up to say “I told you so” in the next few days and weeks. The sad thing is, we’ve played right into their hands – and I do mean all of us.
Some people have managed completely to forget about the meaning of that “Marching on together” theme song we’re so justly proud of. Cellino, the maverick, can be excused for not having the club’s culture ingrained in him to that extent. The fans can have no such excuse – and it is down to us now to support the club through thick and thin – and to support the team and the management, instead of hollering for change at the first sign of an ill wind. The team and the fans represent the most likely influences for calm steadiness and some much-needed continuity as we try to go forward. Let’s all remember what “support” means – and let’s get on with delivering it.