Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Final word on Warnock's PFA complaint (hopefully) and what Cellino will do while he's banned

This might not seem the most relevant matter at the moment, but I thought I'd tie up a loose end.

A few months ago I wrote that Stephen Warnock had complained to the PFA about being frozen out of the Leeds United team.

Warnock denied this and there was a bit of confusion, as the player is represented by the PFA as an agent (they offer this service and I'm always surprised that more players don't take it up).

Anyway, yesterday Cellino said that Warnock HAD indeed complained to the PFA.

There had been well-documented friction between the pair for a while.

The straw that broke the camel's back came after the Watford game, when Warnock wanted to make his own way back to Liverpool with a friend, rather than getting on the team bus.

Cellino says he wasn't happy with this at all, after a thumping defeat, and ordered the player back on the bus.

Subsequently Warnock - who had already been to see the president with his agent to ask whether he was being left out of the team because the Italian didn't like him - asked the PFA whether the owner was allowed to make him go on the bus.

This eventually blew over and Warnock even went on to take the captain's armband, but there was friction between the pair for some time afterwards.

Cellino says he places great store on team harmony and togetherness. Indeed he pays for the players to stay in a hotel - at a cost of £20,000 so far this season, he says - before every home game, which is quite unusual.

And what will he do while he's banned?

"How will I spend the next two months? Going to games all over the country, watching players," he said.

"When I came in I didn't know enough of the players in England. I was lucky to see a good player like (Liam) Cooper in a pre-season friendly, but I didn't know enough of them.

"I like to see players with my own eyes before I sign them. I don't rely on agents. You see how many good players I will find."

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Stephen Warnock gives his lowdown on Leeds exit

After two years, five different managers and two owners, Stephen Warnock's Leeds United career is over.

As I reported on Monday, he's moving to Derby on an 18-month contract.

Reading did come in with a late inquiry and mooted a two-year deal, but Warnock was set on the Championship pace-setters.

I did think the writing was on the wall for the former England full-back from the start of the season.

He's 33, was one of the club's highest earners and was not afraid to speak his mind or stand his ground (not a bad thing in my opinion).

Massimo Cellino wanted him - and the rest of the squad - to move to Leeds, but Warnock refused to relocate his family from Liverpool.

There was also that well-documented story of Cellino phoning the Leeds dugout and demanding Warnock be substituted against Watford. Manager Dave Hockaday refused and word subsequently got back to the player.

So when he scored in the next League game against Bolton, he celebrated as if using a telephone.

Cellino was not best pleased and the player ended up being dropped for two games subsequently and the matter even ended up going to the PFA (whether formally or informally).

So a parting of the ways was always inevitable in my opinion.

And it's a compliment to Warnock that promotion-chasing Derby, managed by former England coach Steve McClaren, were only too happy to take the player.

When I spoke to Cellino on Monday, he said: "He (Warnock) is older, lives in Liverpool and refused to move to Leeds — and is often complaining. So I am happy for him."

I called Warnock this afternoon, after news of his move to Derby had broken, and he refused to get involved in any tit for tat.

"To be honest, what he (Cellino) said didn’t bother me - that’s up to him," he said.

"I don’t want to get into a slanging match. As far as I’m concerned, I have to look forward.

"People understand what has gone on at Leeds and I know what happened. I’m going to keep that to myself."

He also thanked the Leeds support - despite a sometimes difficult relationship with them during his time at Elland Road.

"I'd like to thank the fans for the support they've given me," he said.

"It's fair to say that it took a while for them to warm to me and it was difficult at first, but I think we had a decent relationship as time went on.

"And I was definitely pleased with my form and performances this season.

"I think what's happened is pretty well documented now - my contract was expiring and the owner didn't want to offer me a new one.

"That's the way it goes in football sometimes.

"It's always sad to leave a great club like Leeds, but sometimes you have to do what's best for your career - especially when you're coming closer to the end. I wish the club well.

"I'm joining a very good team that plays good football, so I'm excited."

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Cellino blames Football League for Leeds' faltering form

This does seem to be a tipping point in the reign of Leeds owner Massimo Cellino.

While even a couple of months ago there seemed to be widespread support for the Italian (because the team was showing signs of improvement, because he did eccentric things like joining the away fans at Brentford, and because he was deemed to have been unfairly treated by the Football League), now there is a lot of doubt and hostility.

With the team on a desperate run of form and just a point off the relegation zone, fans are desperately grasping for any signs of encouragement.

And, at the moment, they are finding that difficult.

Neil Redfearn publicly came out and said he was keen to sign former fans' favourite Luciano Becchio last week, only for Cellino to dash his hopes once he returned from Miami.

Redfearn had also made veteran defender Stephen Warnock his skipper. Now the former England man is on his way out of Elland Road.

Are there incoming signings to allay fans' fears? Well there don't seem to be any imminent signings and Cellino told me "we have enough players already, maybe too many." He says he does hope to bring in "a couple" of new players though.

In a nutshell, Cellino doesn't think the team is "a shit team". He just believes they need stability, support and confidence.

The Italian believes they were playing ok until the Football League banned him under its fit and proper rules.

"Since I was disqualified from the league, we did not win a game," he told me.

"I am trying but it is not easy. Players don’t come because they think I am not staying in Leeds.

"I don’t think every club has got the same problems we have. It's not easy. We had agreed to sign some players but they don’t come because they don’t think I am staying. A French and Belgian player. Their agents told me that was the reason."

Cellino's appeal will be heard tomorrow (Thursday) and he says he intends to fight the ban.

"I think the situation will be messy," he said, a little ominously.

"I know who I am and I am not a dishonest guy. When I came to England, I saw it as the country of justice and fairness.

"But I am facing the same problems I did in Italy – misjustice. There are three stages of justice in Italy and until the last one, you are innocent.

"I just know I am spending a lot of time and money on lawyers. I should dedicate more time and money to the club.

"I know the only thing that keeps me here is the faith and trust of the fans. Otherwise I was already gone. How can I buy back Elland Road when every three months they come back with this problem?

"Do you believe that I bought in Italy an American boat to save $180,000 of VAT? My money situation is not that bad. For sure it is not that. That is a way to hurt me and show I am not a fit and proper person.

"There are two stages of justice left in Italy. In the records I am clear. And 75% are found not guilty after third stage.

"Dolce and Gabbana were found guilty of tax evasion and after three and a half years were cleared at the third degree. I want to work and look after the team.

"This doesn’t help me, the team, the fans, the coach. It doesn’t help. I am positive though and think we have a good team.

"This is a young team, maybe a little tired. It is a team that hasn’t had stability. My way of working with the team is maybe a little bit tough, very aggressive.

"If I had known this (the Football League ban) I would never have come to England. But I keep fighting because I can see the fans trust me.

"They need to have faith and trust in someone. I cannot just give up. I have to keep fighting."

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Alan Stubbs: Everton manager in waiting?

I don't think Roberto Martinez's job is under immediate pressure. For a start, he has one of the most patient bosses in English football, chairman Bill Kenwright. And he did exceptionally well last season.

However, there was unrest among a lot of fans during tonight's 1-1 FA Cup draw with West Ham at Goodison Park and only a last-gasp goal from Romelu Lukaku averted a fifth straight defeat.

And some fans are talking - some hypothetically, some not - about who they would like in if Martinez does depart.

How about an Everton legend; who has been a fan as man and boy; who has coached at the club before and holds a Uefa Pro Licence; who was interviewed for the job in 2013; and who is already impressing in his first stint in management?

Step forward Alan Stubbs. Yet I don't hear his name mentioned very often.

Granted, he's only half a season into his first job in management, at Hibernian, and he had a tough start to life in Scotland.

When he arrived the squad was threadbare, demoralised and there were literally no backroom staff.

And results were disappointing to start with, with city rivals Hearts taking a massive lead in the Scottish Championship, which they still hold.

Yet Stubbs revamped the backroom staff, introduced a sports science department and introduced an attractive style of football. And it finally seems to be working.

Hibs thumped Rangers 4-0 during the festive period and drew away at arch rivals Hearts. In fact they have been on an impressive run of form for the last couple of months.

I spoke to Stubbs, 43, a few weeks ago, and he admitted Everton was his dream job.

"One day it would be really good to go back there," he told me. "I’ve thought about it.

"Could it ruin relationships there and potentially tarnish my relationship with the fans? Because I am held in high esteem by them.

"But to say you have played for, and managed, the club you supported as a kid – the club you still support - that would be quite something. I’d be very proud of that."

Stubbs enjoyed cult status during two stints as an Everton player, from 2001-2005 and 2006-2008. Then, in 2008, he was asked, out of the blue, by David Moyes to join his coaching staff.

Moyes was - and is - a mentor to Stubbs, although he emphasises that he wants to remain his own man.

Stubbs was very happy leading the under-21s at Everton, but his ambition led him north of the border.

"The easy thing would have been to stay at Everton and be under-21 coach and have no pressure or worries," he admits.

"As a kid, my ambition was to be a professional footballer, and play for my own team, and I did that. Now my ambition is to manage at the highest level."

Could he reach that highest level with his boyhood club?