Monday, 20 April 2015

Cellino speaks: On the sicknote six and other matters

Massimo Cellino called me during the game against Charlton, early in the first half.

Leeds were 1-0 up thanks to that rarest of occurrences - a Steve Morison goal.

“Can you believe it! A goal from Morison, fucking hell!” he laughed.

The Italian was ebullient, even though his son Eduardo had just informed him some of the travelling fans were chanting ‘Cellino out!’

He claimed this didn’t bother him, although I wasn’t entirely sure I believed him.

“I am used to it,” he said.

“I remember one game at Stadio San Paolo in Italy, when Cagliari were playing Napoli.

“There were 60,000 fans spitting at me and chanting ‘Massimo Cellino motherfucker’.

“I have experienced it, it’s ok.”

Having thousands of your OWN fans chanting this is a different matter of course. But anyway.

Cellino explained he had a long-standing, mutual animosity with the Napoli supporters.

When his side were struggling at the wrong end of Serie A one season, the Napoli supporters had sung the equivalent of “you’re going down” at his players and fans. This irked him.

So when Cagliari snatched an injury-time equaliser and then a winner against Napoli the following season, he celebrated effusively – and right in front of them.

Not only that, but cameras captured him mouthing “pieces of shit” in their direction.

This didn’t go down at all well, as you might expect, hence those clear and succinct chants of “Massimo Cellino motherfucker”.

This was Cellino’s retelling of the story and it seemed to encapsulate the man quite well: bearing a grudge, courting controversy, causing trouble.

The 58-year-old said he had asked the Football League’s permission to attend Leeds’ final home game of the season, against Rotherham.

The game takes place a day before his ban ends. And, unbeknown to him at the time, his own fans are planning a mass protest against him.

But, as I said, he claims not to be worried about such matters.

“If the fans want to kick someone, kick me,” he said.

He was rather more upset that his daughter, Eleonora, had been targeted on social media.

Which brings us onto the latest bizarre twist in the battle between the club’s board and manager Neil Redfearn.

I call it a battle, but it seems to be one-way and I’ve never been entirely sure what the ultimate objective is.

And when I talk about the club’s board, does this actually just mean Cellino?

Has he been involved in the running of the club during his ban?

I don’t know for sure, but others will, including Redfearn, Steve Thompson and Matt Child.

With two of them already having departed and one on the brink of going, there could well be more to come on this story, with the Football League potentially involved.

Cellino has always insisted he has respected the ban and left the running of the club to others while he's been away.

He said he had not heard about the six injured players until Friday evening but admitted it looked “weird”.

He asked why Redfearn hadn’t told chairman Andrew Umbers about the injuries and questioned why the issue couldn’t have been sorted out internally.

Umbers subsequently said the medical staff had made him aware of the news.

When this inconsistency was pointed out to him by Phil Hay, Umbers said Cellino wasn’t au fait with the day-to-day running of the club because of his ban.

I told Cellino that a lot of fans suspected he had instructed the players to strike, in order to undermine Redfearn, but he strenuously denied this.

“I am not a coward and I’m not the sort of guy who tells his players to go on strike,” he said.

“I never use the people I love to protect me.

“If I want to do something, I have the balls to come out and do it myself.

“I only found out about these players pulling out on Friday evening. I can’t get involved with the club because of my ban.”

But one thing is for sure – the players wouldn’t have pulled out if they thought Redfearn had the backing of Cellino.

At the very least, they believed they could act with impunity in defying their manager.

Because, as of Saturday, people inside the club were privately arguing that Antenucci and Silvestri were genuinely injured, but no-one I spoke to attempted to argue that Del Fabro, Doukara, Cani and Bellusci were.

And, unprompted, Cellino said: “Perhaps they [the players] think they are doing something nice for me. But they are wrong.” And he described what had happened as “embarrassing”.

Yet still, on Sunday evening, as Lewis Cook was recognised as the young apprentice of the year by the Football League, Leeds released a statement reiterating that all six had been genuinely injured on Thursday. Or was it Friday?

Perhaps, as Umbers said, this is a sign that Cellino isn’t involved in the running of the club, that he’s looking in from the outside.

So what about the long term?

Cellino has previously told me the club is not for sale but that “everything has its price”.

He says plenty of parties have shown an interest, and that Red Bull asked to see the books – to which they were informed the club was not for sale - but there have been no firm offers.

And the eccentric Italian says he is planning for next season.

“I don’t have much time, I want to see the team in the Premier League,” he said.

“I have to change a lot of things, keep the best players and bring in four new ones, the right ones.

“The fans are going to enjoy next season so much, it will be a beautiful season, I promise to them.”

Where once proclamations like this seemed invigorating, prompting fans to think ‘maybe this crazy man can do what he says and take us back where we belong’, now I suspect they fall flat.

Too much has happened to make most fans believe in him any more.

After all, the team was doing well, winning a lot of games, and with a nucleus of young players under a homegrown manager.

Then it was all brought crashing down. Sabotaged even.

Why was Thompson suspended and why hasn’t he been replaced?

Who ultimately made that decision?

Why did six foreign players, all signed by Cellino, pull out on the eve of a game, to the complete bewilderment of the manager?

What is the reasoning for these decisions and why is it always inconsistent and untimely, depending on the time of day and the person giving the explanations?

Even Cellino himself admitted it all looked 'weird'.

Too right.

So the fans can be excused for grimacing when they read promises about next season.

And what of Redfearn? It seems unlikely he will still be the head coach next term.

Cellino said: “My dream was always to think of Neil Redfearn.

“People forget, when I first came in, after just 24 hours, I put him on the bench. I liked him and believed in him straight away.

“Then I put him in charge of the team. I loved him and we talked every day.

“And he helped me a lot, of course. And I appreciate that. And I thank god that we stayed in the Championship.

“But when I come back, I have to make a choice. I have to decide what is best for the club.”

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