Phil Hay: Cellino still seems confused by the English game

Massimo Cellino
Massimo Cellino
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Massimo Cellino’s interview with the Daily Telegraph was epic. It lasted five hours and apparently ran to more than 10,000 words verbatim.

Cellino gets on a roll in these situations, with weird and wonderful results. You’ve never experienced a discussion with him until you’ve seen him bounding around his office, wearing an Arab headdress. But that’s a story for another day.

All that oxygen and yet so little in the way of coherent messages about what he or Leeds United plan to do next. Carlo Ancelotti said this and Jose Mourinho was told that (told he lacked the requisite body parts to drop beneath his pay-grade and manage Leeds).

You imagine Mourinho listening to Cellino and pulling that smug smile he pulls while resisting the urge to tell a journalist to run and play on the nearest road.

Oh, and it turns out that Steve Evans is probably toast. But then by this stage Steve Evans was always likely to be toast. He’s had his six months and his 30-odd games. He’s served a purpose and done a praiseworthy job by keeping the wolf from the door in the Championship, but the best Cellino can say about him, in a five-hour interview running to more than 10,000 words, is that he talks too much.

Evans might well talk too much. Most managers are more coy than him. But someone needs to project a voice at Elland Road. He is still the only club employee who has touched on Souleymane Doukara’s biting ban.

Evans is an easy person to ridicule and denigrate. He is outlandish, overweight (though by looking after himself, considerably less-so than he was when he came in October) and someone who can look and sound like he is winging it.

Those ideas of Evans were preconceived when Leeds appointed him. It was part of the reason why resistance to him was so strong and why Evans, in his first press conference, made a point of asking for acceptance and a bit of rope.

Many of us who watched him hold court thought he was trying his luck in a job which would wreck him. Since Simon Grayson, and with the possible exception of Neil Redfearn, it is hard to think of a coach who handled it better. At the very least he has earned that compliment.

It matters not whether Leeds now finish top 10 or in the top half of the Championship. From 10th place down, 12 sides are separated by 10 points and that section of the league is, in effect a swollen, mid-table field which would bob and weave forever if this season didn’t end.

What counts is the distance between Leeds and the relegation places and the fact that Evans has not had relegation on his mind since the turn of the year.

There have been losses of form and dismal results but there have been considerably better days too. He had Leeds over the hump a long time ago and, on that basis, his record deserves more than blatant disregard.

So when he argues that with better players, with his own players (and bear in mind that Leeds have signed three in his time), he would carry the club further up the division, he is entitled to say that.

He is entitled to say it without sarcastic replies, even if he knows that next season the chips would be down. The mind was focused on Evans’ performance by links to Fabio Cannavaro last weekend; a World Cup winner and a truly stellar footballer, but, as a coach, limited to experience in Dubai, China and Saudi Arabia – those hotbeds of world football.

There are circumstances and clubs in which Cannavaro could be a genuinely thrilling appointment.

Here and now you have grim visions of a Ballon D’Or recipient looking shell-shocked in Burton.

Cellino, though, sounds as if he is about to go foreign with his next head coach. He sounds as confused about the English game, its culture and its mannerisms, as he was when he bought Leeds two years ago.

“I cannot work with English managers,” he told the Telegraph. “Not everyone is Sir Alex Ferguson. All the other managers want to act like Ferguson.”

Really? That sounded a little like a dig at Evans, who refers now and again to his fellow Glaswegian. Does Chris Hughton think he is Ferguson? Does Sean Dyche? The traditional British model of management, as opposed to Europe’s head coach system, still has its merits, but it comes down to much more than nationality.

In fact, nationality is nothing in comparison to philosophy and infrastructure. Aitor Karanka is Spanish, born and bred. He had never worked in England before 2013. But Cellino is mistaken if he thinks that Karanka’s remit at Middlesbrough is any more narrow or limited than Hughton’s or Dyche’s.

So what next? Evans to go, you would think, with a feeling of deflation and the sense that the club’s promise of an extended contract was like the promise of a lottery ticket. He would go with his reputation enhanced and other job offers on the table. And after that the next man, sitting at Elland Road and looking mildly surprised to be there; telling us how passionate Cellino is, how they spent several hours discussing football before contracts were signed, how the first thing they agreed was that final say over team affairs would lie with the head coach, and how Cellino doesn’t like sacking people.

You wonder if, at times this season, Cellino ever asked himself if he should have stuck with the partnership of Redfearn and Neil Thompson.

And, whether by the time the autumn comes, he might be wishing he had stuck with Evans.

Kyle Bartley

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