Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Steve Head sacked after a few days by Cellino

I've been a bit confused about the case of Steve Head, as I'm sure you have.

Different agents told me they had held talks with Head in his capacity as the new head of recruitment for Leeds United.

Head - who had a similar role with Norwich City and who is highly regarded in the game following spells with Fulham and even England - was brought to the club by new executive director Adam Pearson.

He signed a contract on Friday and Pearson was delighted to have got him on board, another piece in the jigsaw he is assembling at Elland Road.

All that was now required was the signature of Massimo Cellino. And perhaps you can guess where this is going.

On Tuesday, Cellino asked where Head was, only to be informed he had gone on holiday, a holiday which had been booked several months earlier, before Leeds United were ever on the scene.

The Italian was furious, saying he should be working for Leeds United, not on holiday. And he tore the contract up.

So that was that. Head basically lasted five days in the job, if you can call it that.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Another day at Leeds United: Cook, leaked lists and bung allegations

Forget the General Election - Thursday was another calamitous and chaotic evening at Elland Road.

First came news of a 'summer transfer list' Neil Redfearn had submitted to Massimo Cellino.

What immediately struck me was that these were exactly the types of players Cellino would NOT want. They were almost exclusively veterans likely to command big wages.

The Italian has spent the last year getting RID of exactly that type of player at Elland Road and has always been clear he wants to focus on young players of promise.

Two of the bright spots of the last year - perhaps the only bright spots - have been a reduction in the overall wage bill and the emergence of a young core to the team, largely facilitated by the exodus of old timers.

So the list, including Charlie Adam, Joey Barton, Jason Shackell, Tom Ince and Matt Phillips was so unlikely to be sanctioned by Cellino that it made you wonder who had released it and why.

After some investigating, I found out that some of the names were on a list given by Redfearn to Cellino in January, and others weren't.

On another note (or list), Cellino has spoken privately about Redfearn giving him the names of players he wanted to offload earlier in the season. The Italian said he was shocked by the names, which he refused to disclose.

Anyway, this was all merely an aperitif, because the main action of the evening was still to come.

First of all, the BBC's Adam Pope reported receiving a text from Cellino at 9.14pm, telling him "we have just signed the Cook contract".

It turned out there was the still not inconsiderable hurdle of Lewis Cook himself having to sign the contract to overcome. And the contract extension was for just one more year, not the three that Cellino had previously promised.

And the thought arose: is there any other club that would release news of a contract renewal for a key player (which had not yet been signed by the player himself) via a text from the owner to a reporter? I can't think of one if there is.

An hour later, there was another story, making it apparent that Cellino's text was a desperate attempt to release good news to overshadow the bad. Fat chance of that though, because the bad news was nuclear.

It came via the well-respected football journalist David Anderson, from the Daily Mirror.

Anderson reported that not only was Cellino being investigated by the Football Association for alleged third-party ownership of the player Adryan, which we knew about, but also for an alleged six-figure transfer bung paid during the sale of striker Ross McCormack to Fulham last summer.

Anderson said he had seen documents which appeared to show that Cellino had signed off a payment of £185,000 to football agent Derek Day, collected on behalf of McCormack's adviser, Barry Hughes.

When asked for a response, Cellino replied: "Everything I done. For me was clear I had the club consultant and my accountants. I don't know many people in England, if I did something wrong I didn't do it on purpose."

It was hardly a denial and it really doesn't bode well for the club. As we all know, saying you didn't do something on purpose isn't a defence to most offences.

And again: would any other club release a response to such a serious allegation via a text from the owner, which was barely even legible? Wouldn't other clubs produce a considered response via official channels?

As I write this update, at 10.20am on Friday morning, there has been no further response from the club. Perhaps that isn't surprising, because they don't have a chief executive or a head of communications.

Graham Bean, who was acting as a consultant for the club at the time of both the McCormack and Adryan transfers, was reported by the Mirror as saying: "Mr Cellino was the club signatory at all times and he agreed all payments relating to Ross McCormack's transfer."

Yesterday, when I said this club lurches from calamity to calamity on a weekly basis, people pointed out that I was wrong - that in fact this happens on at least a daily basis.

And I think they were right.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Cellino returns

We're now more than a year into Massimo Cellino's reign at Leeds United, and it's hard to make a case that the club is in a better place than when he arrived.

When I spoke to the Italian on Sunday, on the day his ban expired, he told me: "Compared to last summer, it is completely different. In terms of the cost, the number of players. From that I am quite happy."

Yet he sounded a little forlorn and also admitted to being worried about going into Elland Road the following day: because of what he might encounter and because of the amount of work he would have to do.

Yesterday we found out that workload had increased even more - the Football Association is investigating the transfer of Brazilian Adryan last summer and a possible issue of third-party ownership.

Cellino said he was meeting FA officials about the issue today (Thursday) but insisted there was no case for him to answer and that everything had been above board.

Most would agree that the little playmaker hasn't been worth the trouble, struggling to adjust to the demands of the English game and barely featuring since Christmas.

Add this to the Cameron Stewart case; to the legal cases still looming over Cellino in Italy; to the fact he hasn't bought the ground or training ground, as promised; that the club is desperately short of both coaching and administrative staff; to the fact pre-season still hasn't been organised; to the fact there isn't a head coach in place for next season - and you get the picture of a club in disarray.

Cellino said he was disappointed about the way things had been run during his three-month absence.

“Nothing has been sorted out and instead there is just shit," he told me.

“When I left, everyone was looking after their own skin rather than what was good for the club.

“Everything needs sorting out for next season – the sponsors, ground, lights, even pre-season.

“They told me we were booked for the pre-season. Then I find out the Liverpool under-17s are booked at the same place and there is only one training pitch. Amateurs.

“We also need a head of press, a head of the academy, a sporting director, a club secretary.

“This is unbelievable and quite scary. Andrew Umbers is a nice man, but this is hopeless.”

Cellino will now become chairman/ president, with Umbers stepping down as chairman but remaining on the board. This is a little bit of a comedown, because he had told people the chairmanship was his permanently.

At least with the Italian back in situ, we can expect more information about the way the club is being run, whether people like it, or choose to believe it.

In his absence, there was an unfortunate attempt to spin.

We were told that the 'sicknote six' had all been injured and that the board had been kept fully aware of the situation. There were holes in this explanation and it undermined head coach Neil Redfearn.

We were told that the head coach had never actually been told he couldn't pick Mirco Antenucci and that he was free to select who he wanted. Again, this was flawed.

And an email was sent to staff warning them of the consequences should they leak information. At the end of the day, this was just hurting the fans, who are far better informed than the hierarchy might give them credit for.

Cellino actually argued everyone focusses on Umbers too much though, because his role had essentially been as a figurehead in his absence and that he didn't wield the authority or importance people bestowed upon him.

So what about Redfearn? The question on everyone's lips.

“I am in love with Neil and I don’t want to talk to anyone else about the job,” Cellino said.

“I have always believed in him and I gave him his big chance.

“I made sure he had a clause guaranteeing he would pick the team because I don’t want a coach I control.

“If my coach is working in the right direction I will treat him better than anyone else in the world.

“I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and I don’t want to have this.

“But I need to decide whether Neil is best for the club and can lead us back to the Premier League."

It looks like sporting director Nicola Salerno will go, because Cellino wants to focus on English players.

And, interestingly, an olive branch has been held out to former assistant Steve Thompson, who was suspended without explanation last month.

Both Cellino and Umbers have phoned him and he was invited to the club's end of season awards dinner last weekend.

Perhaps understandably, Thompson declined the invitation. The League Manager's Association is advising him about his suspension and he's not happy about the way he was treated. Expect to hear more on that.

But you won't need me to tell you that. This does seem to be a club that lurches from crisis to crisis, mishap to mishap, almost on a weekly basis.