It’s safe to say that 2014 won’t be remembered fondly by the majority of Leeds United fans. After the dismissal of three managers (including the fiasco with Brian McDermott), Massimo Cellino twice being disqualified from ownership of the club, a complete overhaul of the playing squad and some dreadful performances on the pitch, the Elland Road faithful would have been yearning for the New Year. Perhaps 2015 was the year when things would start to go right again for arguably the biggest sleeping giant in English football?
Judging by the events of the past three weeks, it isn’t looking likely. With Neil Redfearn now Head Coach on a full-time basis, performances on the field have gradually improved, and Tuesday’s impressive win over league leaders Bournemouth demonstrated the side’s real quality. But the club finds itself perilously close to the relegation zone, although this is arguably a lot to do with the off-field drama of the past few months.
With a large squad to pick from, it has taken Redfearn a while to find his favourite XI, but with academy products Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Lewis Cook all glittering in recent weeks there have been encouraging signs that the team should be able to avoid the drop back into League One. The sale of captain and arguably the season’s best performer Stephen Warnock teamed with the club being hit with a transfer embargo in December doesn’t help though, while Monday’s news that Cellino had lost his appeal against disqualification confirmed that Leeds’ problems lie further than just their league position.
Cellino is officially barred from running the football club or ‘acting as a relevant person’ until April and many questions have been raised about what this now means for the three-times English champions. Leeds legend Peter Lorimer has expressed his concern about what effect the Italian’s absence will have on the team, although with the supposedly imminent signings of Palermo pair Sol Bamba and Granddi Ngoyi working around the conditions of the transfer embargo, it appears that the club will continue to be run the same way while he is gone.
The big question lies with the long-term future of Leeds United. Cellino faces other convictions back in Italy later this year and the worry is that any guilty charge will result in further disqualification. The Italian has been at Elland Road for nine months now and has faced problems from the word go, but he insists that he will return to the club and that doubts over his long-term future are ‘stupid’.
It would take a brave man to predict the fortunes of a club that seems to be constantly hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. While 2015 is unlikely to be a quiet year for Leeds United, the supporters will hope that Neil Redfearn can at least keep the players’ minds focused on matters on the pitch.