Friday, 30 May 2014

Massimo Cellino explains Brian McDermott's departure from Leeds

Leeds owner Massimo Cellino insists Brian McDermott leaves the club on good terms after they found "a gentleman's way" for the manager to leave.

The Championship side released a statement late on Friday night announcing that McDermott had left the club by mutual consent after little more than a year in charge.

Shortly afterwards, Cellino told me: "We did not want to go on pushing, pushing each other, and we found a gentleman's way to part.

"Brian leaves the club on good terms, he is a gentleman."

The 57-year-old says he doesn't have anyone lined up to replace McDermott - but he insists the next manager will not be Benito Carbone, who is the club's new technical consultant.

"I have always said that Carbone will be in charge of the Under-21s next season and that doesn't change now," he said.

Cellino arrived in London on Friday, having spent the last week in Miami for his daughter's graduation.

He will return to Leeds this weekend, before the club's players and remaining coaching staff arrive for a pre-season meeting on Monday.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Benito Carbone gives the lowdown on his role in Leeds United's new regime

Benito Carbone was frequently described as a mercenary during his six years as a player in England.

All in all, the diminutive Italian forward played for 18 clubs during a lucrative career that featured spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Bradford City.

So it's something of a surprise to hear the 42-year-old explain he is working for free at Leeds United.

"At the moment, I have got no contract and am not taking one pound," explains the immaculately turned out Italian.

"But that is no problem, because I want to prove I can do my best for this club and for the chairman.

"I am not bothered about money now. You need to show how good you are at your job. When the chairman decides to give me a contract, I’m here."

So what exactly is his job?

Carbone certainly set tongues wagging when he attended Leeds' Championship game against Birmingham on April 26th, wearing an official club jacket.

People presumed he must have been about to take over as manager from Brian McDermott. After all, he already had experience as a manager, after spells in the lower leagues in Italy with Patvia, Pavia, Varese and St Christophe.

Yet the former forward, who is 5ft 5 and doesn't look a pound heavier than in his playing days, insists the manager's job was never even on the table for him.

Manager's job

"My job title is technical consultant for the first team and especially the academy," he explains in clear English.

"The priority for me is the academy, because we need to build a new structure for next season.

"When I retired in 2010 I was manager for three years in Italy, but I never talked to Mr Cellino about my first manager's job, never ever.

"We still have Brian, the manager, and the assistant coach Nigel (Gibbs). I never speak to the chairman about the first team job.

"He said 'help me now, outside the pitch', and that’s my job."

He admits he does aspire to become a manager one day though, which perhaps explains why he was eager to come to Leeds and work for nothing.

"My priority is one day to be manager," he says. "I don’t know where, if it is the first team in Leeds or if I have the opportunity to start with the under 21s.

"At the moment this is my role and I am very happy to do it. Maybe in 20, 25 days I change something and go to do something else. I am very happy to do that.

"The chairman wants to keep an English manager, like Brian. We still have the manager now, so we don’t talk about a new manager.

"The priority is to sort the problems inside the club and the academy. We don’t talk about the first team, because that is ok."

Cellino has spoken about Carbone with such warmth and affection that you could be forgiven for thinking they have known each other for years.

Yet, in truth, the pair didn't know each other even two months ago. Carbone takes up the story of how they came to work together.

"My former agent, Giovanni Branchini, is like my father. I worked with him from the age of 12, 13, up to 35.

"He is friends with Mr Cellino, who asked him who could come to Leeds to help him. He suggested me.

"I had never met Mr Cellino before I came here. I thought maybe in two days he will kick me out again! Fortunately, it was not like that.

"He liked me a lot and gave me a lot of responsibility from the first day. For me, it’s the best thing that has happened in the last one and a half two years.

The 'real Cellino'

"For me, it is fantastic to work with him. I want to grow and with him you grow, because he understands about football and really understands about everything."

The respect and affection is clearly mutual. Carbone always refers to Leeds' colourful new owner as 'Mr Cellino' or 'the president' and describes him as a mentor.

"I first met him in his office and after that meeting, everything was clear," Carbone remembers.

"He is a good man who has experience about football and really understands it. He also has a big, big heart.

"He gives you a chance to really do a job for the club. The first thing he said to me was ‘you don’t need to work for Massimo Cellino, you need to work for Leeds United’.

"He really understands that this is a big, big club and he wants to do his best. With this chairman, we can bring this club again to a high level, in one, two, three years' time.

"He is a clever person. I’ve seen him work for two or three weeks and he is incredible. He impressed me. He starts in the morning and finishes maybe at six or seven the next morning.

"Even when he is not hear we speak on the phone once or twice a day. For sure we will be back again on a big, big level.

"He tries to sort every problem and, believe me, at this club there are a lot of problems."

That's certainly something of an understatement.

About 85 staff at the club are expected to be made redundant; Cellino and McDermott have barely spoken since the Italian took over last month; players claim they found out they were being released via the media and social media; and former managing director David Haigh - who was originally earmarked for the chief executive's role - has been in jail in Dubai.

However, Carbone urges the fans to keep the faith and insists the club is now on the right track.

"It is not chaos - maybe before (Cellino arrived) it was chaos," he says. "When the chairman started, he was trying to build the family.

"That is why we need to understand who are the right people to work for this club.

"We try to sort every single problem before the season starts because we want to leave the players and coaches free. When the season starts we must think to play football."

He argues that redundancies simply have to be made.

"There is debit everywhere and Mr Cellino pays every single day from his pocket," Carbone says.

"If you have 100 people and just 20 work and the others watch, then you don’t need the other 80. We need everybody on the same direction, the same objective.

Academy changes

"That is the best way to build a family - to work together to the same objective. There were a lot of people saying ‘this is my area, not your area, so you can’t work here’.

"No, it is not good. We are a family. You help me and I help you and we work together."

Was it right for players to be told of their released after they had read about it though?

"After the last game (of the season), the manager organised straight away to go on holiday with the team," Carbone says.

"Then we had time until Friday to give to the Football League the (retained) list. If we don’t give to them then they fine us.

"If we don’t talk with the manager then we need to take the responsibility. It’s really quick, a short time."

The academy will also have to be reformed because it is haemorrhaging money, says the former Inter Milan and Napoli star.

The academy currently caters for groups from under-nine upwards, but they might have to start at under-15s and even sacrifice the club's category two status in the short term in order to save money.

"The chairman had the same structure in Cagliari - starting from under nines," Carbone explains.

"But the cost was maybe 75% less (than it is at Leeds). That is why the club every single season had big problems and finished the season with no money or risk to close everything."

Cellino has ordered McDermott, his coaches and all the players back to Elland Road on Monday - and Carbone believes that will mark the start of a new era for the club.

"The chairman wants to talk face to face with every player and understand whether they want to stay here," he says.

"With the manager, we will organise everything for next season.

"I think the players will stay here maybe two or three days and then maybe go back on holiday for another two, three weeks, and be ready to go on pre-season.

"We have the idea to go on pre season somewhere in Italy. I don’t know where exactly at the moment."

Carbone is currently living in a city-centre apartment in Leeds, but might bring his wife and two sons, who are agers 16 and 18, over in due course.

His younger boy in particular is a very good footballer, and currently plays in Inter Milan's academy.

Carbone admits: "He is not bad - good quality, a midfielder", and he chuckles when I suggest he could come and play for Leeds, saying "that is a good idea".

So what are the expectations for next season? Cellino has suggested it could be too early to gain promotion, with that being more likely in 2015/16.

"With many things we have a chance to do better, because every single season we have to do better," Carbone says.

"New players, new ideas, new philosophy. Strong, compact, every single one to the same direction, from the secretary to the chairman, to the coaches, to me.

"For sure we can then do better next season and I am excited."

Friday, 23 May 2014

Spurs draw up three-man shortlist for manager's job

Tottenham have drawn up a three-man shortlist for their vacant manager's job.

A senior figure at the club told me Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax's Frank De Boer are on the list.

Spurs are confident they could lure either man to White Hart Lane.

The identity of the third manager is being kept tightly under wraps, although he is a big name currently working at a major club and Spurs are less sure about whether they could land him.

The club want someone who could work closely with sporting director Franco Baldini and bring the best out of a talented squad.

Spurs were unhappy that De Boer spoke publicly about being approached in January, which is why he has been very coy about the job recently.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Haigh arrested, GFH coy, and Cellino goes through the books at Leeds United

Another busy week at Leeds United, plenty of headlines and a lot of unanswered questions.

I first heard on Monday that former MD David Haigh had been arrested in the Middle East and was being detained. Initially, I was told he was in jail in Bahrain, then Dubai.

Despite a lot of phone calls - to the British Embassy, the Ministry of the Interior, GFH (more on that in a bit) and others, I couldn't stand the story up.

It finally came out on Wednesday, via Haigh's UK-based PR man, Ian Monk.

It turned out Haigh had travelled to Dubai to discuss a job offer from GFH, and was then arrested upon arriving at their offices.

He was suspected of "financial irregularities" and has been held in custody for four nights and counting.

A report in Gulf News on Thursday, quoted a lawyer from GFH as saying: “We lodged a lawsuit against the suspect for alleged embezzlement, swindling and breach of trust at Bur Dubai Police Station.

“Currently the suspect is in provisional detention and being questioned over primary charges of embezzling millions of dirhams.”

Haigh denies the claims against him and in a statement, his spokesman, Monk, said: “Although he is horrified to find himself in this position, he is answering fully every allegation made against him in the knowledge that he is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.

“In co-operating fully with the Dubai authorities, for whom he has complete respect, David is clear that he has no case to answer.

“He has every confidence that the authorities will see clearly the motives which lie behind these allegations and will act accordingly in bringing no charges against him.

“In the meantime he would like to thank the many people who are supporting him.”

Meanwhile, back in Leeds, Massimo Cellino's long-time accountant and fellow Eleonora Sports director, Daniel Arty, has been leading a forensic examination of the club's finances.

And he is apparently uncovering a lot of irregularities. Firstly, Cellino says several back-dated staff contracts have been discovered.

This explains why head of scouting Luke Dowling, among others, has been moved aside.

Secondly, Cellino says the club's income was misrepresented when he was negotiating to buy the club - by a significant amount.

What happens next, I don't quite know. Will the discoveries in the accounts and the arrest of Haigh affect the winding up order he issued with Sports Capital, which was contested by Cellino?

And how will the tie-up between Cellino (who owns 75% of the club) and GFH (25%) and the money he is scheduled to pay them be affected?

I spoke to Salem Patel, head of investment management at GFH, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

It's fair to say he was reluctant to speak. He wouldn't comment on the rumour that Haigh had been arrested, saying "I am not authorised to speak on behalf of GFH".

He was in Dubai and explained he hadn't been back to Leeds for several weeks and had no plans to go back there.

On Wednesday, after news of Haigh's arrest was made public, I called Patel again and asked whether he was worried about being arrested himself and whether the sale of the majority stake in Leeds had been conducted correctly.

He said, rather indignantly: "I am 100% sure I will not be arrested and am 100% sure that everything was done correctly in the sale of Leeds."

He refused to discuss why Haigh had been arrested, what the circumstances were around his arrest or what the "financial irregularities" were.

Meanwhile, Cellino will travel back to Miami on Friday to attend his daughter's graduation, before returning to Leeds on June 2nd, which is also when the players, manager and coaching staff are due to return.