The Apprentice: Benito Carbone says he is at Leeds United to help in the Academy and doesn’t have designs on the manager’s job. Phil Hay reports.
Leeds United was a wing and a prayer for Benito Carbone. Massimo Cellino talks about him like a lifelong friend but they met in person for the first time when Carbone flew to Leeds from Italy four weeks ago.
Their relationship began after Cellino spoke to an Italian agent and asked for recommendations of football-minded people who could work with him at Elland Road. The agent suggested Carbone and Carbone agreed to come. He did so, he says, expecting no salary and prepared for a short lifespan under a notoriously ruthless boss.
“Honestly, when I came here I thought ‘I’ll stay here for two days and then he’ll kick my arse back home’,” Carbone says. “I really worried about that. But after two days it was better; always better. I like him. He’s given me a chance.
“I knew the name, Mr Cellino, but the day I came here I met him for the first time. But we have the same ideas. If you don’t have the same ideas, you don’t work with him.”
When Carbone appeared unannounced at Thorp Arch in the penultimate week of the season, the obvious question was whose job he would take.
Brian McDermott’s position as manager was fragile then and less secure now. Besides his playing career, Carbone’s CV showed a spell of youth-team coaching at Pavia, the Italian side where he retired. “Benito will help me rebuild the academy,” Cellino announced after Carbone sat in the directors box for United’s 3-1 win at Birmingham City on April 26.
On Thursday his job became official. Leeds described him as “a consultant” focusing on “technical and football operations” – of both the academy and first team. Carbone says that since his arrival in England, he has concentrated solely on academy matters. And the academy is where he thinks Cellino’s long-term priority lies.
It is an intriguing opinion for two reasons. Firstly, United’s training ground at Thorp Arch – the base of their youth development scheme – lies virtually empty after Cellino closed it for the summer. The Football League is sending officials to Leeds next week to establish whether the closure might impact on the category two status awarded to the academy earlier this year. That ranking earned the club a central payment of £490,000.
“We don’t want to lose category two,” Carbone says. “But for 25 years the chairman, Mr Cellino, has another club in Italy (Cagliari). He has the same numbers in that academy, from under-nines to under-21s, but the cost is really different.
“He wants to bring the same course he has at Cagliari to Leeds because it works well in Cagliari. It does the same thing. We don’t understand why here we must pay maybe 70 per cent more. We have high costs and the chairman is spending a lot of money every day – boom, boom, boom. We need to close the tap but we have a budget. If we are in the budget, we keep everything.”
Cellino, who bought Leeds from Gulf Finance House on April 7, is engaged in some of the heaviest cost cutting United have seen for years, much of it boiling down to redundancies.
Carbone says expenditure at the academy needs to fall; that the temporary closure of Thorp Arch makes sense, despite the fact that Leeds are committed to paying £600,000 a year to rent it.
“We will save a lot,” he says. “You can’t imagine how much. You still have electricity, air conditioning, the swimming pool, everything. If you don’t close it, you pay the same for months. It’s a massive training ground, for a Champions League team not a Championship team. But it’s beautiful and we want to keep it for sure. We’ll open it for pre-season, when the first team come back.”
The date of the return of senior players and staff is not exactly clear. Cellino said in an interview this week that he wanted everyone to report back on May 28, more a month before pre-season normally starts. McDermott is estranged from the club, in contact via written communication but still to speak to Cellino at length about his job and next season.
Carbone played a part in finalising a retained list at Leeds this week, something McDermott did not have his say on, but the squad as Cellino visualises it in August is yet to take shape. Carbone believes United’s playing resources will be heavily supplemented by an academy which has been headed up by development squad coach Neil Redfearn to good effect for two years.
Carbone is complimentary about the output at Thorp Arch. The cost is where he and Cellino see a problem.
“It’s fantastic,” he says. “My God, we have seven or eight players in the Under-21s who are very good players.
“Our objective is that in two, three or four years’ time, the line-up when we start a game has six, seven or eight players from the young Leeds. Like before, when the club were in the Champions League.
“Leeds players can do more on the pitch than other players in the world because they feel it in their heart. They come from Leeds and they love Leeds. Our idea is to keep the players from the academy and get six or seven into the first team.
“You give them a chance to grow and then you give Leeds a chance to sell maybe one or two each year, to make money – make big money and then save it. Because if you don’t do that, how do you get money? Always from someone’s pocket? One day that might finish.”
McDermott and Cellino have not spoken since the end of the Championship season. United’s manager is in the south of England, visiting his mother who was recently admitted to hospital. He has two years left on his contract but for all of Carbone’s contact with Cellino, he is unable to say whether McDermott will survive.
“I don’t know this one,” he says. “You must ask (Cellino).
“I know (McDermott), we have spoken at the training ground three or four times, talking about everything. He is a good manager, he’s doing well. But I don’t know what’s happening about the gaffer.
“At the moment I wouldn’t talk about the first team because nobody’s here. For the last four weeks, I’ve worked just for the academy. I’ve touched nothing with the first team. Because after the game against Derby, everyone left. We need to wait for the manager and then talk because at the moment they’ve gone on holiday – the players, the manager, the staff.”
Carbone says the retained list was ultimately Cellino’s call. “I’ve decided nothing,” he says. “The chairman (Cellino) decides everything anyway. Definitely, the chairman decides. But the chairman must talk with the manager because they must work together.”
The former striker coached three lower league clubs in Italy – Pavia, Varese and Saint Christophe Valle D’Aosta and he has a view on how a coach should be – approachable but strict, at arm’s length from players. “If I go inside and play five-a-side with them, it’s too friendly,” he says. “I don’t like that. Coaching under-21s is for me, beautiful. I don’t want straight away (to be managing in) the Championship or the Premier League. I’ve got time.
“Honestly, I came here to be a coach but not of the first team.
“I’d never say that because we have a manager and I respect him. I never thought to be consultant but the chairman sees me as someone who is very good in this role.
“‘You’re fresh, you do everything straight away when I ask.’ That’s what he told me. And I’ll do my best for this club from the first day to the last day because I’m professional. I always do my best.”