Leeds United: Mac holds clear-the-air talks with Festa

Brian McDermott waves to the fans at the end of the match. PIC: Tony Johnson
Brian McDermott waves to the fans at the end of the match. PIC: Tony Johnson
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Gianluca Festa could be added to Leeds United’s backroom team with Brian McDermott’s blessing after a clear-the-air conversation between the pair.

McDermott contacted Festa on Friday with Leeds on the brink of a takeover by Massimo Cellino and Festa is likely to figure in Cellino’s strategy for the Elland Road club.

The former Middlesbrough player is a trusted ally of Cellino’s having played for the 57-year-old’s Italian club Cagliari but he was seen as a direct threat to McDermott after making his presence felt at United’s training ground a fortnight ago.

Festa, 44, watched a number of first-team sessions and Cellino asked for him to be given a seat on Leeds’ bench for a Championship game against Ipswich Town last month. The club refused the request amid concerns that McDermott was being undermined.

Cellino placed Festa in charge of United’s squad following the brief sacking of McDermott on January 31, though that plan was abandoned at late notice and assistant manager Nigel Gibbs eventually took the team for their 5-1 win over Huddersfield Town 24 hours later.

Festa was understood to be Cellino’s preferred choice of coach at Elland Road but the furore over McDermott’s dismissal and his subsequent reinstatement has seen a change of tone from Cellino who insisted over the weekend that he would not be looking for a new manager when his £25m takeover goes through.

Football League approval of that deal could arrive before the end of this week and McDermott took the first step towards establishing a working relationship with Festa by speaking directly to him ahead of Saturday’s 2-1 win over Yeovil Town.

“I spoke to him on Friday and had a really good conversation with him,” McDermott said. “We spoke for 20 minutes. He’s a good man.

“He’s a football man and if he’s involved, he wants to help the club. Whatever happens at our club, everybody has to be going in the same direction and that’s exactly how he feels.

“There have possibly been misunderstandings or miscommunication, whatever you want to call it. But at any club everyone has to be going in the right direction.”

Asked if he expected Festa to feature in his coaching staff when Cellino completes his takeover, McDermott said: “Possibly. I don’t know. But if he is then I’ve got no problem.

“I thought it was important that we talked. It was a good conversation, he was pleased I made the phone call, and I’m sure he’ll be delighted we’ve won the game (at Yeovil).”

Second-half goals from Ross McCormack – his 23rd of the season – and Stephen Warnock earned Leeds three points in brutal conditions at Huish Park.

The game survived heavy rain but was dominated by forceful gales throughout. United’s victory placed them five points behind sixth-placed Reading with a game in hand.

“It’s a really good end to an interesting week,” said McDermott, who was reinstated as manager on Monday after Leeds reversed Cellino’s bid to sack him.

“But this has been us for the last four games with the shape of the team. We got beaten 1-0 by Leicester but should have got a result. We drew 1-1 with Ipswich and beat Huddersfield 5-1, and this (at Yeovil) is a fantastic result in the conditions.

“There’s still 17 games to go this season but the bigger picture is the stability of this club.”

Leeds sanctioned two departures on Saturday morning with midfielder Paul Green joining Ipswich Town on a three-month loan and Luke Varney moving to Blackburn Rovers on a temporary basis until the end of the season.

Both players are out of contract at Elland Road in June.

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