The truth is that if Neil Redfearn was staying and Massimo Cellino was staying, Leeds United’s head coach would know already.
That’s not to say that either man is futureless here but the chronic indecision around Redfearn’s job is self-explanatory if you think about it hard enough. There’s a vacuum of authority at Elland Road – yet another one – and only two ways of properly filling it.
That Redfearn deserves a longer contract is the bleeding obvious in a few words. Leeds either believe in performance-related employment or they are cutting and shutting on a whim. It is equally true that Leeds minus Cellino might not feel able to commit to a new deal. The club are impotent on the big questions without his say-so. Redfearn came to realise that a long time ago.
In the interests of clarity, and not merely in respect of Redfearn’s future, United need one of two things to happen: Cellino to return with all his guns loaded or Cellino to up sticks and sell. He is ducking and diving on that issue, unwilling to say which scenario is likely, and differentiating between his position and that of Redfearn misses the point. One needs the other to act.
Still, the treatment of Redfearn in light of his performance is less than decent. The club could do more than leave him to dangle and play a game of join-the-dots of a few vague promises. He has been asked to organise a pre-season schedule and to offer suggestions for the transfer window but Leeds need a plan for the summer, with or without him.
Their programme last year was put together so hastily that it resulted in two pointless friendlies in Italy (one of which did not involve any opposition). A game at Swindon Town only came to pass because David Hockaday pulled a few strings at his former club and persuaded them to back out of a pre-arranged game with Charlton.
As for transfer targets, Redfearn has been invited to submit lists of players before. The names he put forward for this emergency loan window are either on file or in the bin. He’s been around football long enough to realise that a signed deal outweighs any of these nods and winks. There is a way of committing to a head coach and talking to him about a summer which he and his assistant, Steve Thompson, are not yet contracted for is hardly it. It becomes apparent when you question Redfearn that his job is not being addressed in any real sense. He sounds thoroughly uninformed on the subject of Cellino’s intentions and the question of what Cellino is really thinking.
Whether Cellino knows himself is hard to say but it would not hurt him to make it clear – and make it clear publicly – that if will-power and circumstances allow him to return to Elland Road as owner, Redfearn is his man. It is not as if the 58-year-old is banned sine die. This specific Football League disqualification ends in 42 days’ time. You question in any event whether a new owner would be so irate about having a productive coaching team under contract and already in place. Redfearn is an asset however the land lies.
There is, needless to say, an alternative; that Redfearn and Thompson are not for Cellino. It’s a nonsensical thought when their record is taken into account (Thompson’s in particular is virtually bullet-proof, as is his popularity at Thorp Arch) but Cellino has a habit of finding fault with his coaching staff. Redfearn would struggle to take rejection but he might still appreciate the honesty. And he won’t fail to land another job. Thompson, too, was highly thought-of in Football League circles long before he came to Leeds.
What the players would make of Redfearn’s departure is easy to guess. There was a time this season when the squad’s performance was so poor that their opinion on the coaching team counted for little but there is merit in heeding the body language of a side who are settled and in tune. Not everyone is happy. It’s no secret that Mirco Antenucci has cut an annoyed figure recently – resulting in a highly dubious link to Norwich City last week – but he has no argument with United’s form and, on that basis, no argument with Redfearn. As for the young spine in the current team, they need a philosophy to believe in. Two of them, Sam Byram and Lewis Cook, are out of contract in 15 months’ time. Their motivation for staying put under Redfearn – total faith, regular appearances – could diminish rapidly under another coach. Hockaday did not use Alex Mowatt once. He did not feel confident enough to give Cook a league debut. They have found before that talent is not always seen as talent.
There was no purpose at Elland Road back then and no vision on the playing side. As head coach, Redfearn has risked his neck and taken the club onto higher ground. It would be typical of Leeds United if the club decided to tear it all up and start again. It would also be an unforgivable mistake.