Ross McCormack left Leeds United to the sound of fierce criticism from owner Massimo Cellino as the Italian vowed to stick to his transfer strategy in spite of the striker’s departure.
McCormack joined Fulham in a deal worth close to £11m yesterday, ending his four-year career at Elland Road and prompting Cellino to accuse him of “disrespect”.
United’s president, who confirmed the signings of goalkeeper Marco Silvestri and midfielder Tommaso Bianchi shortly after sanctioning the sale of McCormack, claimed the Scot’s desire for a move away from Leeds had forced him to accept Fulham’s offer.
The fee for McCormack is the highest ever agreed between two English clubs outwith the Premier League, exceeding the £8m paid by Blackburn Rovers to Huddersfield Town for Jordan Rhodes in 2012.
The Scotland international has signed a four-year deal at Craven Cottage, with the option of a further 12 months, and will return to play Leeds when Fulham travel to Elland Road for a Championship game on December 13.
Cellino said he had secured a “very high price” for McCormack and described the striker – the scorer of 29 goals for Leeds last season – as a “bloody good player” but did not hold back in his criticism of the 27-year-old.
“All the way through, he was rude to me, difficult with me,” Cellino said. “He wanted to leave, there is no doubt. This summer it was not in my mind to sell Ross McCormack but he wanted to go so he has gone to Fulham.
“He’s a bloody good player and I’m not going to pretend that he isn’t but he didn’t respect me and it wasn’t possible to keep him. He said he would stay and honour his contract, he said he only wanted to go to a top Premier League club and now he’s at Fulham. I don’t understand it.”
The relationship between McCormack and Cellino broke down rapidly last month, with McCormack submitting a transfer request and then failing to join up with United’s squad for their pre-season tour of Italy.
The former Rangers trainee is known to have been frustrated by Cellino’s style of ownership and the sweeping cut-backs made since Cellino bought a majority stake in Leeds from Gulf Finance House in April.
Writing on Instagram last night, McCormack said: “New start. Thanks for the good wishes. Devastated to be leaving Leeds under a cloud after 4 thoroughly enjoyable years. Will always be a fan!”
United were losing more than £1m a month when Cellino took control at Elland Road and the income from McCormack’s sale will substantially ease the financial pressure on the club.
Cellino said McCormack’s exit would force Leeds to look for a new striker but insisted that his original transfer strategy would be largely unchanged, regardless of the loss of United’s captain.
“We need another forward now,” Cellino said, “but it wasn’t the case that I needed money from McCormack to buy players. We didn’t want to sell McCormack and we were always buying players. We still want the same players. That doesn’t change.”
Leeds made experienced keeper Stuart Taylor their first signing of the summer last week, recruiting the former Arsenal youngster on a free transfer from Reading, and Silvestri has followed on a four-year deal from Italian side Chievo.
Silvestri, 23, finished last season on loan at Cagliari and is in line to become United’s new number one, replacing the out-of-favour Paddy Kenny.
Midfielder Bianchi - a former Italy Under-21 international - has also completed his move to United from Italian side Sassuolo, agreeing a three-year deal with the option of a fourth term.
All three recruits are with David Hockaday’s squad in Italy and are likely to feature in tomorrow’s friendly against amateur club Gherdeina, Leeds’ opening friendly of the summer.
Cellino said United were close to finalising the signing of Jonathan Rossini, a Swiss-born centre back and another member of Sassuolo’s squad. He also confirmed that Nicola Salerno - Cellino’s sporting director at Cagliari - is to work alongside him at Leeds having linked up with the first-team squad for their Italian tour.
The YEP, meanwhile, understands that Leeds have been monitoring Souleymane Doukara, a 22-year-old French forward who plays in Italy for Catania.
United have added another pre-season friendly to their schedule and will travel to Mansfield Town on Tuesday, July 22.