With Sport Capital’s bid for United looking in tatters, boss Brian Mcdermott has pledged to battle on at Elland Road. Phil Hay reports.
Undermined and in the dark, Brian McDermott insisted he would not resign as Leeds United’s manager after a bomb went off beneath Sport Capital’s takeover on Tuesday night.
The 52-year-old cut a disillusioned figure in the hour after United’s 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town, weighed down by the chaos engulfing Elland Road. The fight for ownership of Leeds came right to his door this week, bringing his own authority into question.
McDermott was forced to tolerate the presence of ex-Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa at Thorp Arch on Monday as he and his squad prepared for their game against Ipswich the following night. Festa – described as a “loyalist” of Massimo Cellino, the Italian owner of Cagliari who has designs on buying Leeds – observed training and subsequently asked to sit on United’s bench during Tuesday’s match. The extraordinary request was denied.
Cellino’s cohorts have visited Leeds’ training ground twice in the past week and were given a tour of Elland Road on Thursday. They planned to attend the clash with Ipswich but instead returned to Italy a few hours before kick-off.
United went to great lengths to accommodate the group at a time when Sport Capital’s takeover was crumbling, and the attempt to lodge Festa in McDermott’s dug-out was a sign that Cellino had begun analysing the squad he hoped to inherit. Festa, meanwhile, is in line for McDermott’s job.
McDermott declined to give exact details of the interference he has faced in the past 72 hours but he alluded to the unhelpful machinations behind the scenes, saying: “I’ve had to go through a lot, things you never thought you’d go through. It’s been beyond frustrating.”
Cellino, 57, continues to let it be known in Italy that he intends to make United his own. According to well-placed sources in the country, he has already attempted to speak with contacts of his about filling high-level positions at Leeds, though he and club owner Gulf Finance House have yet to agree or announce the sale of a majority stake. No reason was given for Cellino’s party failing to attend Elland Road on Tuesday, despite staff at the stadium being told to expect him in the East Stand.
In the eye of the storm, McDermott is as confused as anyone. He was convinced for a time that the Sport Capital bid – set up by United managing director David Haigh and publicised on November 30 – was a formality but it became obvious over the past fortnight that the deal had run into severe trouble.
Another member of the Sport Capital consortium, Enterprise Insurance managing director Andrew Flowers, shattered all remaining confidence in the takeover when he issued a statement to the YEP on Tuesday evening, attacking GFH for dealing with twice-convicted Cellino and saying the Bahraini bank was now refusing to accept a “revised offer” from Sport Capital.
Flowers said the original bid had been reduced because “a number of things have come to light which were not as originally described.” GFH did not respond to a request for comment.
The statement from Flowers gave McDermott two messages – firstly that the Sport Capital buy-out in its original form was doomed to failure, and secondly that a satisfactory resolution to the shambles at Elland Road is unlikely to materialise soon. Nine months into a three-year contract, his own position as manager is being complicated hopelessly with United on an eight-game winless streak.
But asked if he would consider leaving his post, McDermott said: “No. Never would I walk away from the club.
“I’m a long way from home but I’d never do that, I’d never do it to the players or the staff or the supporters. They deserve better.
“When I was brought here, I was brought here on a three-year contract to stabilise the club and take them forward. As far as I’m concerned, that hasn’t changed. But I’m desperate to see an end to this. You keep getting light at the end of the tunnel but it doesn’t happen. We need (the takeover) resolving at the top and we need the right people in place.”
The lack of clarity is such that McDermott is barely considering the likelihood of new players joining the club before tomorrow’s transfer deadline. He was unable to say whether signings were possible. “I’ve no idea because I don’t know where we are,” he said. “I don’t know.
“The more important thing for me would be to resolve the ownership situation. I’ve got to believe that we can get it sorted. I’ve got to believe that we’ve got the right people here with Leeds United at heart.
“It’s not about individuals, it’s about the club and our supporters who travel every week; the people in Europe who support Leeds, the people in Ireland who support Leeds. It’s so important to get this right.
“The players are with me and I’m with them. I’m not going to hide from our results, we know the results haven’t been good recently, but things have to be right at your club. Everything’s got to be harmonised and we had that a month ago. At this moment, I can’t say we have.”
United’s draw against Ipswich, earned through a Ross McCormack penalty, brought McDermott light relief by ending a run of five straight defeats.
The damage to the season, however, can be found in a league table which shows Leeds in 12th place, eight points short of sixth. McDermott said that Leeds should “forget about the league” and “forget about me”, insisting the sole priority was to re-establish stable ownership at Elland Road.
“I’m trying to get as many points as I can, get everything resolved and move again in the summer,” he said. “I’m strong, I’m resilient, but the last few days have been a big test.”