Cellino ‘era’ seemingly comes to an end
Leeds United’s fall from grace has been protracted and painful. Its reputation as one of England’s footballing giants gave way to one defined by boardroom bickering, financial mismanagement and chronic underachievement on the pitch. However, even by their standards, this season has been especially bizarre and, at times, farcical. The person largely responsible for this sorry state of affairs is Italian madman Massimo Cellino. As speculation intensified that he could become the team’s new Chairman, confusion reigned over the future of Head Coach Brian McDermott. It was initially thought that he had been sacked, and McDermott himself believed that he had been given his marching orders.
However, the next day it was confirmed that he was still Head Coach. In the meantime, Cellino was still finalising the takeover of the club, which would lead to Cellino’s family consortium, Eleanora Sports Ltd, gaining a majority share, taking that title from GFH. However, on 24 March 2014, the Football League delivered a hammer blow, declaring that they did not trust him to run a football club properly, due to his previous criminal convictions. Undeterred, the Italian appealed the decision and on 5 April, he got the decision overturned. Despite assurances in February that McDermott would stay, his position always looked uncertain. Cellino questioned the former Reading man’s need to take a holiday at the end of the season. He was duly dismissed, and replaced by Dave Hockaday, whose only previous managerial stint was a four-year spell at Conference side Forest Green Rovers.
It was soon evident what kind of Chairman Cellino would be. Having managed only six competitive games, Hockaday was sacked, with the nail in the coffin being an ignominious exit from the League Cup at the hands of West Yorkshire rivals Bradford City. Caretaker boss Neil Redfearn brought about a sharp upturn in results, as they gleaned ten points from their subsequent four Championship matches. Cellino, for some bizarre reason, thought that this run of results was not sufficiently impressive to give him the job on a full-time basis. Darko Milaniĉ was appointed in late September, but, after a tremendously impressive record of no wins in six matches, he was dismissed as well. The owner finally saw the light and placed Redfearn in permanent charge, and since then things haven’t gone all that badly, with the Whites up to 14th, and bringing through a good crop of young players.
Despite this, off-the-field struggles have unfortunately taken centre stage. Cellino was disqualified by the Football League at the beginning of December and asked to step down from the club, after a court in his homeland found him guilty of tax evasion. He lodged an appeal, but on 19 January this was rejected. At the time, it was deemed that this ban would be lifted on 10 April, but the multi-millionaire appears to have had enough. If they can find a suitable owner, the current squad are well capable of mounting a play-off charge. ‘If’ however is the operative word.