Tuesday, 1 March 2016

10 things Cellino should have done differently

Even for a club accustomed to pitfalls and calamities, this really does feel like a new low for Leeds United.

Beaten 4-0 at Brighton, with all the goals coming inside 38 minutes; the owner walking out at half time; then apparently instructing the club's staff not to speak to the press.

Pretty disrespectful when 1,500 had travelled hundreds of miles to the south coast on a Monday night.

There is irony in the fact the club is marooned in 17th - Cellino's demon number.

So this seems like a good time to ask where it's all gone wrong. And I think there is only one place you can look, because the owner has turned the club into a reflection of his own fragile, troubled and erratic personality.

He has always been honest about the fact he is a control freak who wants to do everything. The staff has been greatly reduced and only a select few have stayed for the course of his tenure - player liaison man Stix Lockwood and PA Debra Ware among them.

In place of these experienced staff are various hangers on - Terry George, Cellino's son Edoardo and his friends - Andrea (he of the Miami furniture shop) and someone called Kit who looks after the website.

On Twitter, people often counter that it's unfair to blame the Italian, because he inherited a lot of debt, his hands have been tied because of the relationship with GFH: basically that there's not a lot more he could have done.

So here are 10 things he could, and should, have done differently, which wouldn't have cost a penny:

1) Promises:

Someone, somewhere, said that happiness = reality - expectation. This is quite true. But on the April 2014 day that his ban was overturned, and he officially bought Leeds United, he did an interview with me for The Sun (I am grateful) in which he made a series of lavish promises: he would go to the bank that week to buy Elland Road; he would buy the Thorp Arch training ground and the club would be back in the Premier League by 2016/17. Otherwise he would have failed.

These promises were then backdated, until a point when they were just abandoned. He would have been better assessing the situation properly and being honest and realistic with the fans.

2) Sticking with a manager... any manager:

I recently did an interview with Brian McDermott, and he was very measured about Cellino. But he did admit that what stuck in the craw was that the owner sacked him (first time, anyway) before he'd even met him, let alone got to know him.

Perhaps McDermott wasn't pulling up any trees, but he's experienced, has integrity and is now doing well at Reading, who he's taken to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. It's hard to believe that things wouldn't be better at Leeds if he was still there.

He was on a decent salary, but it was the going rate for a strong Championship manager with Premier League experience. And has Cellino actually saved money by sacking him? He had to give him a pay-off and he's then gone through a succession of other managers.

As we know, Darko Milanic (until yesterday) and Uwe Rosler are still on the payroll at the club. None of the six bosses he's had has been given the time to properly implement their methods or philosophy, which brings us onto...

3) Leave the manager alone:

Being a manager under Cellino is like having a crazy, overbearing father who joins you at work every day.

He has pestered all of his managers about players, tactics and training. He's cooked the pre-match meal, he's gone in the dressing room at half time, he's insisted Evans go out for meals with him. It's stifling and counter-productive.

There came a point in Neil Redfearn's tenure, at Christmas 2014, when he decided 'if I'm going to get sacked, I might as well do things my way.'

So he brought in Steve Thompson as assistant, he started to select the team HE and not the owner wanted and he ditched the diamond formation Cellino insisted on. Things went well and there was a point in March when Leeds had the second best record in the Championship for 2015.

But the Italian was 'very, very hurt' that Redfearn wasn't involving him or giving him credit, and he publicly undermined him before failing to renew his contract. Could any manager effectively work under conditions like that, seriously?

4) Executives:

A frustration is that the Italian is capable of identifying talented staff. Matt Child was good and so too Adam Pearson. But he seems incapable of keeping them for any period of time.

Cellino admits one of his failings is that he wants to 'drive the bus', that he finds it almost impossible to delegate. This is having calamitous results. When Child was working in tandem with Redfearn, things looked bright. Ditto with Pearson and Rosler (off the pitch, anyway).

But they went after very short tenures and things, basically, went tits up.

5) Battles:

These are almost too numerable to mention, but here goes: Cellino v Football League, Sky, Graham Bean, Macron, Leeds Fans Utd, his lawyers, Cameron Stewart, Lucy Ward, Neil Redfearn, the fans, GFH.

And, of course, the one common denominator is him. These battles take a lot of time, energy and money. Cameron Stewart's contract was ripped up - and the club ended up having to pay him a season's salary and costs, all without the benefit of having him kick a ball in a Leeds shirt.

The battles also lead to the same conclusion - that other people are being blamed, when the blame actually lies closer to home. As we all know (and it's easier said than done) you need to control the controllables in life.

6: Recruitment:

When Cellino came in, he told me he had a worldwide network of scouts. And his former club, Cagliari, did uncover some gems, like Naingollan and Ibarbo.

But we've seen precious little evidence of that at Leeds. Cellino's first season was marked by a slew of (largely poor) imports from Italy, under the guidance of Nicola Salerno.

At the start of 2015/16, the recruitment policy seemed to be guided more by manager Rosler, and the focus was on players with experience of English football.

But the overall recruitment has been poor, even if the wage bill has been reduced. This is especially dangerous when you're selling very good players, like Ross McCormack and Sam Byram. If you can't adequately replace them, the effect is disastrous.

7: Neil Redfearn (and Lucy Ward):

Opinion seems to be split on Redfearn, which has surprised me. Leeds had their best (in fact only) good spell of form of the Cellino regime when he was in charge.

I think his success was down to the fact that, as former academy boss, he was able to capitalise on the club's third biggest asset (after its fans and history) - the youngsters. And Mowatt, Byram, Cook and Taylor thrived.

His managerial credentials might be unproven, but he understood Leeds and its fans. You lose someone like that at your peril. And to treat him as shabbily as Cellino did (sacking his assistant for no reason, slagging him off, making sure he left via the back door when he should have been cheered out of the front) meant the Italian lost any integrity he had in the eyes of the staff and fans.

Redfearn's partner, Lucy Ward, is currently taking Cellino to an employment tribunal for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination. She was also a long-serving member of Leeds staff, praised by former trainees such as Fabian Delph.

8: Sam Byram:

Again, opinion is divided on the full-back. Someone who was senior at the club last season tells me Byram was ready to sign a new contract. And his new manager, Slaven Bilic, says he believes he will become 'a great player.'

So to let his contract wind down to its final year left the club in a weak position in which they got half his true value from West Ham. And, again, for Cellino to slag him off in the press during negotiations, was classless at best.

9: Superstition:

This is perhaps part of human nature. But Cellino takes it to the nth degree and, again, it suggests someone who is failing to look at reality or rationality.

Getting the programmes reprinted to 16b, having the pitch blessed, retiring the 17 shirt: it's not really addressing the key issues at the club.

10: Fans:

Leeds United's biggest asset. Cellino has identified this himself. Yet, really, they've proven another pawn to be toyed with and fought against.

The fans ARE Leeds United. But really, Leeds United is being regarded as an extension of the owner. So we've had the pie tax, mistruths about fixture rearrangements, and then, last night, staff told not to speak to the press after a humiliating defeat.

What really should have happened was the manager coming out and apologising to all those who had traveled hundreds of miles to watch a completely abject display.