Phil Hay: Cellino is not answer to Leeds United’s problems

Julio Cesar.
Julio Cesar.
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Massimo Cellino may be interested in Leeds United but his style of management does not fit with the doctrine preached by Sport capital.

Julio Cesar. Massimiliano Allegri. Just in case you wondered if Massimo Cellino conforms to the doctrine of sustainability preached by Gulf Finance House at Leeds United.

Cellino said once that English football didn’t want him but these days the game will take almost anyone. They ask for proof of funds rather than proof of sound judgement. There was little sign of either at Elland Road this week but Cellino’s part in the circus tossed Leeds through the looking glass with heavy force.

He has not bought a share in United and, all opinions considered, he is not likely to buy one. He has spoken about the possibility and came to England last weekend. His son Ercole took a tour of Elland Road and Thorp Arch on Thursday. But there is no deal and no definite investment. It appears that Cellino Snr and David Haigh have been friends for a while.

Haigh can pick friends as he pleases but United’s interaction with a man of Cellino’s stock so far into the process of a hard-pressed takeover is questionable. In footballing terms, Cellino has money and experience; years of experience of running Cagliari. But he has baggage aplenty – two criminal convictions, an embezzlement trial awaiting him and a track record of slaughtering coaches like the Trojans slaughtered the Greeks. Take his money and you may as well bank whoever’s.

Soon after word of Cellino’s interest in Leeds spilled out, someone close to him let it be known that Cesar, the Brazilian international goalkeeper, would be the first signing made by his regime. Other media outlets reported that Allegri – recently dismissed by AC Milan – had been offered the manager’s job at Elland Road; offered it and declined.

Cellino can easily deny every word but Sean Dyche was the collateral damage of the Pozzo family’s buy-out of Watford. Dyche read about Gianfranco Zola’s forthcoming appointment in the Italian press, days before he was sacked. And as signings go, Cesar would be ludicrous – a player in a position where Leeds are adequately served by Paddy Kenny, commanding the level of salary which would potentially end up bankrupting the club. There is ambition and there is showboating. Given the cash, Brian McDermott would not waste it on Cesar.

Give Cellino any say at Elland Road and McDermott is a dead man walking. Every coach who serves the Italian’s tune is. Neither the manager who took Cagliari to the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 1994 nor the boss who won promotion to Serie A in 2004 were given a second year in the job. McDermott more than anyone might ask why Sport Capital were indulging an individual whose philosophies are so contrary to the two, three or however-many-year plan Leeds are following.

But then internal support for McDermott has been less than impressive this month. He got his wingers, granted, and two signings he wanted but the week just gone has been dead and any remaining transfers will be crammed into the back end of January, precisely the scenario he wanted to avoid. His authority was challenged by GFH’s refusal to buy Ashley Barnes and he has been left waiting for a end to Sport Capital’s takeover at a time when he needs surety, rather than bids for Ross McCormack. McDermott is Sport Capital’s man but Sport Capital are not Leeds United. Not yet. If they were, Cellino’s presence would have caused nothing like the commotion he did. Even United couldn’t facilitate two takeovers in a month.

The message from Leeds about Cellino is that Haigh and Andrew Flowers – the only other member of Sport Capital who has been named – met with him a number of times to discuss their takeover bid and, somewhat loosely, the possibility of Cellino involving himself in it.

Cellino was quoted on Thursday night as saying he was an “advisor” to the consortium and had got involved at Sport Capital’s request. They take Cellino with a pinch of salt in Italy but the suggestion itself is risible.

Sport Capital announced that their deal was agreed in November. They say they have funding in place. They don’t expect the Football League to oppose their buy-out of GFH and they’ve been wrangling with the bank all week about the sticking points holding this takeover back. There is conceivably nothing that a figure like Cellino could advise Sport Capital on, unless he has been recounting his own experience of trying and failing to purchase West Ham.

Two possibilities present themselves – that Sport Capital were humouring Cellino and doing him the courtesy of talking, or that they genuinely wanted his input. On one hand his inevitable run-ins with the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test should have sounded the investment alarm. And on the other, walking his son around Leeds United was an interesting use of time in a week when everything between Sport Capital and GFH seemed to be on edge.

The mantra of this United regime has been strong, stable and sensible management. That’s what they promised from the outset and that’s what Sport Capital’s buy-out was supposed to foster. But each passing day makes Elland Road look like a tent losing pegs to a howling gale. And where Cellino’s concerned, even an insolvent Crystal Palace told him to keep his millions.

They haven’t regretted it.

United’s record of appealing red cards meant Smith had very little hope of being successful

The dust has long since settled on Matt Smith’s red card, left, at Hillsborough, a sending off Leeds United fought against but failed to overturn.

Smith is one game into a three-match suspension and will complete his ban during United’s home fixtures against Ipswich and Huddersfield next week. If he feels aggrieved then he can console himself with the realisation that the club’s record of successfully appealing to the Football Association is astonishingly bad.

Brian McDermott’s record as manager is played two, lost two: Smith’s appeal last week and Rodolph Austin’s, inset, towards the end of last season.

Both decisions dismayed McDermott and Austin’s most of all since the referee who issued his red card, Graham Scott, promised to support Leeds’ claim and then failed to do so. Where Smith was concerned, Lee Probert said he had seen the striker’s collision with Sheffield Wednesday captain Reda Johnson and stood by the sending off so the odds were stacked against Leeds from the moment they sent the paperwork to Soho Square.

In these situations, you win some and lose some. In fact, clubs resign themselves to losing more than they win. But Leeds have gone almost seven years without overturning a single red card shown to one of their players. Seven years without a reprieve.

Alan Thompson was the last United player to win an appeal during the anxious run-in of 2006-07. Thompson received a red card away to Southampton, right, after grabbing striker Kenwyne Jones around the neck. Leeds lost 1-0 and were left with two games to fight their way out of relegation. Thompson’s suspension felt like a death sentence.

On reflection, the FA decided that the former Celtic midfielder had been trying to keep Jones out of a brawl between Southampton and Leeds players inside United’s half. The ban was rescinded. It made no differnce to Leeds’ dreadful season but it was a victory that no other manager has enjoyed since.

In the past seven years, Leeds have incurred 23 red cards.

Not all have been straight and not all have been appealed but none were overturned. One of those things, obviously.

phil.hay@jpress.co.uk

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