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."

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