Leeds United: Another mad week in Elland Road soap opera

Marco Silvestri
Marco Silvestri
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Just when fans thought the their beloved club couldn’t sink any lower, six of the first team squad declared themselves unfit to play at Charlton. Leon Wobschall looks at the fallout of their actions.

JUST when most supporters thought that the goings on at Leeds United could not get any more bewildering this season, they did ahead of Saturday’s encounter at Charlton Athletic.

A relatively normal pre-match press conference on Thursday – certainly given the ones at Thorp Arch in recent weeks – saw head coach Neil Redfearn give his team news ahead of the trip to the capital, with Marco Silvestri and Mirco Antenucci rated as minor doubts with back and hip issues respectively.

No mention was made of injuries to Giuseppe Bellusci, Souleymane Doukara, Edgar Cani and Dario Del Fabro at all.

Then, by the time that the squad were ready to board the coach to London on Friday lunch-time, it all changed with six not travelling south and declaring themselves unfit, despite Redfearn, as far as he was concerned, expecting them to be among the party.

The shock development was the latest in a long line of bizarre episodes to be dissected by the United faithful in the build-up to a match, with the 3,140 strong contingent in the Jimmy Seed Stand leaving the absentees and owner Massimo Cellino in no doubt what they thought of them.

It wasn’t complimentary.

The raucous criticism, particularly of Cellino, with supporters shouting “Time to go, Massimo” and “Sell the club and **** off home’ at regular intervals, had the makings of a watershed moment.

Losing your away fans has that effect; the people who follow the club religiously and with total devotion.

It marked the beginning of the end for Neil Warnock, with popular opinion turning against him after a miserable 2-0 defeat to Barnsley at Oakwell in January 2013.

The veteran manager never recovered after that with chants of “Time to go” arriving from the massed ranks in the away end that bitter winter’s afternoon.

In contrast to the anti- Cellino chants, the name of Neil Redfearn was sung in much more reverential terms, with the head coach, left exposed and in isolation by the suspension of assistant coach Steve Thompson, having plenty of friends in the packed away end who were sympathetic to his considerable plight.

After the sudden suspension of Thompson came the attempts by the United board not to play Antenucci with a clause in his contract allowing him a 12-month extension if he scores 12 goals. And now this.

As for the players who did not board the coach, it remains to be seen if they turn out again this season on the pitch for Leeds.

Or even perhaps, in some of their cases, in a United shirt once more in their careers, with the supporters’ chant of “Play for Leeds or f*** off home,” a pretty unforgiving one.

United supporters were also scathing in their criticism of the actions of the ‘Charlton Six’ on social media, which prompted a reaction from Antenucci.

The Italian striker tweeted: “I read so much wickedness and insults in many posts.

“I’m a serious professional but if someone likes to insult me there is no ‘problem’.

“My injury is in the right leg did yesterday (Thursday) in training. A muscle injury.”

Silvestri retweeted a handful of messages from followers backing his claims about an injury and posted a picture of a scar on his back, sustained after a clash with Norwich striker Cameron Jerome in the 2-0 loss to the Canaries seven days ago.

On his absence, he tweeted: “I didn’t have train for 3 days. I had a contrast with jerom(e) at the match, and 4 that I cn’t travel bcz I need to do the therapy here. That all.”

Silvestri’s father Claudio attempted to defend his son further over the weekend on Facebook, stating he was missing with a genuine injury, adding that Antenucci was also out with a legitimate problem.

But in addition, he went onto criticise the other four other absentees – Bellusci, Doukara, Cani and Del Fabro – for declaring themselves unfit and labelled their actions as “a stupid protest.”

Speaking on Facebook, Claudio Silvestri said: “He does not know if he can train this week.

“He is really sorry the fans have become suspicious, he tried to explain but I’m not sure they understood.

“A part of Marco, also Antenucci is really injured (sic) the other have done, for what I know, a stupid protest.

“He (Silvestri) is furious with those a******s because he took the whole season to make his name through the fans and now he is risking to spoil the relationship with them and with the environment.”

Whether the attempts at mending fences which seem to have been seriously damaged represents a moot point.

United issued a statement on Sunday evening attempting to clarify the situation regarding the six injured players, claiming that “several players were carrying injuries” after the club’s midweek loss to Norwich.

Meanwhile, in a separate development, Cellino spoke about the situation with the six absentees with the Sun newspaper.

Cellino, banned from Leeds since January after being found guilty of not paying tax on a yacht in Italy, said: “I am not a coward and not the sort of guy who tells his players to go on strike.

“I only found out on Friday evening.

“I admit it looks weird. But if the players were injured, why didn’t the manager inform the chairman (Andrew Umbers)?

“This looks like a fight between manager Neil Redfearn and the ownership of the club, which is not good,” he said.

Cellino’s comments appeared to contradict with those from Umbers, who stated in a text message on Saturday that he and the club had been “kept in touch by Harvey Sharman, our chief physio, all week on injuries.’

Asked to comment on the contradiction between his comment and those of Cellino, Umbers told the YEP: “My text is correct. Massimo is disqualified.

“He doesn’t know what happens on day-to-day basis.”