On one hand it surprised me to read last Friday that Massimo Cellino is considering selling Leeds United. But on the other it doesn’t come as much of a shock to realise that he’s thinking like that.
In the past few weeks we’ve had the refund offer on season tickets and indications that he’s going to ‘go for it’ this summer. It wasn’t so long ago that he was talking about getting Leeds back into the Premier League and then into the Champions League. That doesn’t sound like a man who wants to give up and walk away.
But if I was him then I think I’d be feeling demoralised too. He’s in the same boat as Mike Ashley at Newcastle and Randy Lerner at Aston Villa. Say what you like about these guys but over time they’ve put plenty of their own personal wealth into the clubs they own. It’s gone wrong for them and when that happens you’re always going to cop for some flak, but it must be tough to see so little appreciation of the investment you’ve made.
Personal investment at Leeds doesn’t come from anyone other than Cellino. No-one else on the board of directors is putting any money in and the accounts show that the cash spent by him so far is not inconsiderable. Far from it in fact. I very much doubt that he’s looking for adulation from the supporters but he doesn’t seem to get any credit for the fact that he’s trying.
Over the past two years he’s got things wrong and he’s done things that he shouldn’t have done. Right back at the very start – and he’s admitted this himself – he totally misjudged the quality of the Championship by trying to flesh out the squad with Serie B players. That was a mistake. Serie B in Italy might be the same level as the Championship but it’s not the same standard. Our league is one of the toughest in the world, as we’re finding out season after season.
I’d say that, in general, he’s found English football very unfamiliar. It doesn’t operate in the same way as the Italian game and for that reason his ways and his manner stand out like a sore thumb. Yes, he’s deserved some of the criticism that’s come his way. But I’ve felt for a while that there’s a desire among some to chase him out of the club at every turn.
To me, Cellino is our best option in the circumstances. What is the alternative?
I know people have this idea of finding better owners who are filthy rich or perfect in every way, but I don’t believe there’s a queue of people waiting to take Leeds off his hands. I don’t believe there’s a queue of people rich enough to do it. I go around the country every weekend, I speak to people from the Football League and other clubs and they all say the same thing to me – there are fewer and fewer individuals out there who want to buy a football club. The days when you could invest quite cheaply and get things going pretty quickly are long gone.
Now you need mega money to buy in. You need serious personal wealth and a willingness to gamble a lot of money.
Cellino seems willing to put his money in. From what I’ve been hearing around the club, I think he wants to put more money into the squad this summer to give us a fighting chance of the play-offs next season.
If the pressure is getting to him, it worries me that he might have second thoughts about doing that. The concern from my point of view is purely the club. Leeds United have been part of my life for 50 years and I want what’s best for them.
As it is, I really can’t see a better option than Massimo right now. But I accept that some people disagree.
Deep down I do feel sorry for him. His family are spread far and wide and they’re no longer with him in Leeds. When he’s on his own in his flat, there must be times when he thinks ‘why did I bother doing this?’.
It’s not that the past two years have been brilliant. In fact they’ve been quite the opposite, so I really wouldn’t expect anyone to be lauding him with praise.
But I do think he’s trying his best and I think he’ll continue to try his best. I hope the suggestion that he wants to sell isn’t a sign that he’s given up.