Having spoken with his players, Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino must now focus on the most important appointment. Leon Wobschall reports.
AFTER looking Leeds United players squarely in the eye in individual meetings at Elland Road yesterday, Massimo Cellino will now switch his attentions to meeting the candidates keen to become his new head coach – sure to be a character and aptitude test for all those invited.
Cellino talked about the need to speak to individual players face-to-face ahead of a series of meetings at the club yesterday, as much to receive assurances for himself of their desire to be part of his brave new world as anything else.
This now being completed, it’s all about finding the lieutenant in the dug-out who will lead them and, having probably learned a thing or two about his players, Cellino will embark on the process of interviewing prospective new coaches.
The list of early contenders includes a number of names who won’t represent a surprise, with the two in that category which immediately spring to mind being Cellino’s fellow Sardinians Gianluca Festa and Gianfranco Zola, who both have considerable experience of the English game.
Others are most definitely ‘bolters’ in running to become next Leeds head coach, with the name that left many onlookers surprised – some would say stunned – being former Forest Green Rovers manager Dave Hockaday.
Ex-Watford coach Hockaday has remained steady in the betting for the past two days, although it is thought Cellino has been unimpressed by the amount of publicity regarding his credentials, allied to the heavy amount of betting on him on Saturday.
One person who has thrown his hat into the ring regarding the United post is former United striker Bobby Davison, with the 54-year-old having previously worked as a head coach at Hungarian outfit Ferencvaros from February 2008 to October 2009, a time when he helped the Budapest outfit to promotion back to the top-flight.
Another one-time United forward also mentioned in the betting is Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, whose last appointment was as manager of Belgian outfit Antwerp after a spell in England on the coaching staff at Nottingham Forest.
The Dutchman’s agent, Humphry Nijman, has told the YEP that the head coach position at Leeds is something that would potentially interest him, although he would not be drawn on whether he has applied for the position.
He said: “Of course, it would interest him. Jimmy now has experience as a manager and would like to continue with that.
“Jimmy is keeping his options open. Any that come up and would interest him, for sure, he would be in touch.
“Jimmy had a fantastic time at Leeds and Leeds are a fantastic club.
“Unfortunately, things have not been so good there in the past few years, but we will see and hopefully they will get better.
“He is open to any interesting job.”
One other candidate mentioned over the weekend, while not exactly being a left-field one, but a bit of a surprising one all the same was Blackburn Rovers’ boss Gary Bowyer.
Given the fact that the 42-year-old has worked so slavishly and impressively to douse a number of off-the-field fires at Rovers to bring the Lancastrians back on an even keel, the personal appeal of moving to Elland Road and potentially having to do that same job all over again – and a bit more besides – would have been questionable to many.
Bowyer and Blackburn moved to nail the speculation regarding him and the vacant position at United yesterday afternoon, with the Mancunian, despite being only on a one-year rolling contract at Ewood, pledging his future.
Bowyer said: “I recently met with the owners in India and those discussions were both positive and constructive.
“I am fully committed to building on the foundations we have put in place over the past 12 months.
“There is a strong sense of unity with all concerned at Blackburn Rovers and I look forward to that continuing as we plan for next season.”
Further clarifying the issue, Rovers director of communications Alan Myers added: “There has been no contact from any other club with regards to Gary – nor would any such contact be welcomed.
“The club noted the stories over the weekend and would not normally respond to such speculation; however, we felt it important to keep supporters informed.”
While attention now switches to the new head coach who will operate under Cellino, the players who assembled to meet the Italian yesterday are taking stock of developments, with many forced to either change or cancel holiday plans to attend the meeting called by United’s owners.
United’s players and coaching staff arrived at Elland Road from mid-morning onwards, with Sam Byram one of the players who actually arrived early for a spot of treatment.
The young defender revealed that he had to change his own holiday plans with his father to be present at the get-together, with a number of other players having also had to either curtail their own breaks early or cancel their plans.
Speaking briefly ahead of the meeting, Byram said: “I was due to go (on holiday) on Friday with my dad and that had to be put on hold and he flew out on his own.
“Hopefully, we will be able to see what is going on and get a few more answers.
“There’s been a lot of questions asked and people are unsure what is going on, in terms of where we are going to train and stuff.
“I am sure we will find that out.
“There are limited facilities here compared to what we are lucky to have at Thorp Arch. We are working with what we have got here.”
On the situation regarding holidays being cut short, he added: “I am sure a few will be quite annoyed at having to cancel family holidays and it’s time they have to spend with their kids and stuff.
“As you can probably understand, I am sure they will be frustrated.
“But I am sure Massimo has his reasons for bringing us in and it will be interesting what he has got to say.
“Hopefully, we will find a bit more out about what is going on.”