Leeds United exclusive: Massimo Cellino interview PART 2

Massimo Cellino.
Massimo Cellino.
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United owner Massimo Cellino continues his frank appraisal of the club in the second part of his exclusive interview with Phil Hay.

There are two types of managers, Howard Wilkinson once said. Those who’ve been sacked and those who’ll be sacked in the future.

It takes 11 months on average for a manager in England to bite the dust so perhaps Massimo Cellino has come to the right place.

His culling of coaches at Cagliari is a notorious trademark and he was at it again this week, firing Diego Lopez after Cagliari lost at home to Roma. There was sympathy in a severance statement which said the sacking was “extremely painful” and described Lopez as “a professional man” but he has gone – the 36th coach dismissed by Cellino in 22 years.

Lopez was lucky to survive in February when to all intents and purposes he was on his way out. Cagliari’s players complained, the sand shifted behind the scenes and when the music stopped, Cellino sacked assistant Ivo Pulga instead, accusing him of disloyalty. Pulga is back at Cagliari now, named as Lopez’s replacement.

Is English football ready for this? And is English football any better? The cuts are usually cleaner here but Leeds United, Cellino’s new project, have no track record for managerial survival.

“The coach gets a chance because he has a job,” Cellino says. “If I give the coach a job, he has a chance with me. If he doesn’t do it then what? What should I do? Come on!”

Brian McDermott can relate to Lopez and the experience of being sacked, backed and then threatened again. United’s manager is into the fifth day of Cellino’s rule but has coped with three months of observation from the Italian. Cellino says McDermott will stay as manager until the end of the season but McDermott is not so sure. “That’s not a question for me,” he said on Thursday.

Cellino doesn’t speak about managers. As of Tuesday, there is one manager at Elland Road – him. For now, McDermott is his coach. “I manage the club,” Cellino says. “That is my responsibility. What I need is a coach, a great coach. That’s clear.

“I was raised as a manager, not as a bulls**t president who puts his tie on, eats some roast beef and f***s off home. I look after everything.” He runs his fingers along the steel girder above the doors to the Harewood Suite in Elland Road’s East Stand. It’s filthy, though you hardly notice until he unsettles the dust. “Who cleans this? No-one. What are you doing here? I don’t work this way and everybody has to be like me. Everybody.

“In Italy we have coaches. You can call them what you like – the manager, the king, the queen. But the coach is part of the team. Like the gardener. If we want the pitch higher, the gardener better make the grass grow. The coach makes the team play.”

McDermott is not adverse to the idea of being a cog in the machine or of having the change to devote himself to coaching, away from the machinations of a loco club. But can he and Cellino work together and does Cellino really want him? “He’s our employee,” Cellino says. “We’re paying him so why not? Why should I get rid?

“Ask him if he wants to work with me. He will tell you. But he also has to start letting me see what we’re going to do. And me, I’m watching.

“I have to look after the club. He has a contract, I have no contract. He has to respond with results and work. If not, I’m here.

“I think Brian is a good coach but not a good manager. That’s my point of view. He likes to coach but he doesn’t like to manage. So we can work together. He has to manage the soul, the mentality of the players, the belief and behaviour. But not the wages, the economics. Economics don’t belong to the coach.”

There are cultural boundaries between Italian and English football which Cellino will attempt to break in time: the way clubs are run, the way new signings are chosen and handled.

Luke Dowling, the chief scout who McDermott never officially appointed, was with him at Elland Road on Wednesday and Together Leeds, the consortium who tried to buy Leeds in November, have been touting the idea of working in partnership with Cellino, providing a “local stake and local understanding.” The consortium’s frontman, Mike Farnan, said they wanted to “help accommodate both cultures and combine them” – in other words, help Cellino along the straight and narrow.

Cellino has not spoken to them directly. Historically he has never shared authority, though he talked of delegating some responsibility at Leeds. “Do we need anything else? I don’t think we do,” he says. “The Together group, they want to help us – well, there are season tickets, boxes.

“That’s the way to help us. Advertise things. That’s what I want.

“This club should not be begging money. One million pounds more? Stop with that. But I know that maybe I take too much responsibility sometimes.

“Maybe I look arrogant because the pressure is too much. I hope to get people here to share a bit of responsibility, to share in winning games and maybe some profit. I don’t want to share in losing games. That’s s**t.”

Leeds did a lot of that in the time it took Cellino to buy-out Gulf Finance House. Tuesday’s defeat to Watford, a game he watched, was insipid and badly lacking in effort.

“No more of that,” Cellino says. “The players, they have to play. They have to try. I want to see them laughing and winning. Be positive.

“They don’t have to waste time worrying about me. I can recognise a good, honest player and I recognise one who is not. I don’t give a damn about what managers or coaches tell me – I tell you, I know. I don’t resign, I don’t give up like other people do. The players are better than this, much better.”

It’s a surprising comment, altogether unexpected.

The prevailing view is that Cellino and whichever coach is beneath him will butcher United’s squad in the summer. Twenty Championship defeats are no protection for anyone but Cellino is defensive of the squad, unwilling to berate them.

“People say these are rubbish players who have no skills,” he says. “How the hell can they not have skills when this club was in fifth position three months ago?

“Three months ago they were a good team. Now they are a s**t team. So I ask myself why? Who runs this club? The managers at all levels, they’ve done a terrible job. For me it’s not the fault of the players.

“I know teams. They should play better when they’re not getting paid or when the club is going bankrupt because they try to save their own ass.

“That team out there, it’s not being made responsible. I don’t think we’ve given them the right responsibility or the right consideration.

“Whoever tells them they are bad players tells a lie. They are better than they look, believe me. But they don’t believe in themselves anymore.

“They’ve been sent to work in the s**t too much. When I’m here, everyone should look at the players at Leeds as the best in the world because they are our players. Our players! That’s my rule.”

Cellino wanted to sack McDermott on that crazy, punch-drunk Friday in January. He admits that openly. “When I came for Leeds, they were sixth in the Championship. I wanted to buy five or six players with my money, not with Leeds’ money.

“I was changing the coach but they (GFH) wouldn’t let me change the coach – they take my money but they won’t let me change the coach or bring in my players. Now I’m here, involved with a club who are shaming themselves. (GFH) ran the club with my money and in the worst way. But that is the past. The future is this – who are the guys who want to stay and who are the guys who want to go? I’ll work it out.”

According to Cellino, GFH tried to initiate season ticket sales in February but were stopped by him. “Back then, you couldn’t say I was here 100 per cent, you couldn’t say we were in the Championship 100 per cent,” he says. “I don’t want to steal money for the fans. Now we know so the season tickets will start.”

He says that in several of his years as president of Cagliari he decided not to bother with season tickets. Why not? “Because I was p****d off with the fans or I wasn’t sure of my engagement with them. So I say ‘no season tickets. You pay three times more.’” Surely that upset them? “Yes but sometimes if we don’t win, if the team play bad, I give them back their money. I’m a player, a man who likes to play. We have fun.”

Before I leave, he has a look at a copy of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

There’s a picture of him on the front page, his face raised to the sky and his hands together beneath the headline ‘The answer to our prayers?’

Not all of the newspaper’s coverage of him has been so positive, as he probably knows.

“When I make mistakes, when I do things wrong, you write s**t about me,” he says. “If it’s true, if it’s your opinion, I respect you more if you write s**t. Don’t kiss my ass.”

It sounds like advice for the press. It’s really a message for the club. Do your jobs and do them well.

Kalvin Phillips celebrates scoring Leeds' second goal of the game Picture by Simon Hulme

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