Leeds United: Cellino buys now, plans for tomorrow – Hay

Massimo Cellino.
Massimo Cellino.
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Not a lot of people know this ... but Massimo Cellino has a morbid superstition surrounding the number seventeen. Phil Hay reports.

Fifteen signings and almost an unlucky 17 for Massimo Cellino. He’d have taken Federico Viviani if the Roma midfielder had jumped on his offer and he’d have taken Leonardo Pavoletti if the ducks had formed a line in the hour before 11pm on Monday.

Cellino has a morbid superstition about the number 17 (something to do with Roman numerals) so the arrival at that tally might have tempted him to seek out the left-back he never quite bought. This, for Leeds United, was a transfer window without limits; a window in which Cellino was always open to one more.

No club in the Championship out-signed Leeds. Quality supersedes quantity in this division but United have the numbers. Their senior squad has 34 players in it and only four or five of those could be reasonably described as junior professionals with no stake in this season. They own six centre-backs and nine strikers – nine after selling Matt Smith and Dominic Poleon minutes before FIFA’s transfer deadline.

Smith was listed for sale towards the end of last month but even in a squad as overloaded as United’s, he was not flogged in a cut-and-run deal. Oldham’s interest in Poleon was live for a while and the terms of his transfer changed several times on Monday. The 20-year-old expected to sign a new contract and leave on loan. To his surprise, Cellino eventually traded him for £100,000 and a 25 per cent sell-on clause.

Fulham’s bid for Smith was a late scramble too and up in the air until they and Leeds settled on a fee of £800,000 shortly after 9pm. Smith had been in London for some time, aware that Leeds were likely to sell him but conscious of the fact that his medical and contract negotiations would be up against the clock. He signed in the end and so did Poleon but Leeds were only interested in selling on their terms. They’d sooner have kept both players than lose them in a firesale.

There is something mildly amusing about the idea of keeping 11 forwards happy. Even with nine, United’s next head coach will have deep resources to work with. Given the shambles at Elland Road when Cellino first bought the club and his comments about a wage bill which had grown to almost £20m, the influx this summer was a change of tune. Cellino did not plan to go so far when the transfer window began but his recruitment became an open-ended process, right up to the moment when Pavoletti’s move from Sassuolo went cold.

Cellino’s motivation at the end of last season was self-explanatory. With certain exceptions, he didn’t rate the squad he inherited from Gulf Finance House. He wanted changes from front to back and initially promised seven or eight signings. The first five came in and Cellino predicted six more at least. Eight players were signed after the defeat to Millwall on August 9 and three arrived in the last two days of the window.

Leeds were once known as a club who made hard work of dragging deals over the line. Last week, Cellino looked more like an owner who couldn’t drag himself away from the market. But in truth he was an owner with a sharp eye on the implications of Financial Fair Play. This season is the first in which the Football League’s rules on FFP will result in actual punishment and Cellino is convinced that the debts and losses amassed while GFH controlled Leeds will result in a transfer embargo at Elland Road in January.

In April, when the Italian bought a 75 per cent stake in United, the club were estimated to be losing more than £1m a month. The share purchase agreement between Cellino and GFH recorded long-term debt at £13.5m and short-term debt at £10.5m (much of which has since been wiped out by a fresh deal between them). Monthly seven-figure deficits go far beyond the limit set by the Football League for annual losses at Championship clubs. They also go beyond the sum that Cellino is allowed to cover with his own money. The cash from Ross McCormack’s sale to Fulham fell outside the accounting period.

In the 2013-14 season, clubs were permitted to lose a maximum of £8m. Of that £8m, no more than £5m was allowed to come from owners or shareholders. Certain costs such as the repurchase of a stadium or training ground or investment in community schemes are exempt from the calculations but none of that will help to bring Leeds below the threshold. Nor are they likely to be the only Championship side who breach the rules.

The Football League expects all 24 clubs to file their accounts for the 2013-14 season by December 1. A decision on which of them are to be punished will be made later that month. “Clubs that fail to comply will be subject to a transfer embargo,” the governing body states. “This embargo will come in to force ahead of the subsequent transfer window beginning on January 1, 2015.”

It goes some way to explaining why teenager Dario Del Fabro appeared from nowhere to become centre-back number six at Leeds on Sunday. It also explains why Pavoletti, another striker, was the club’s sole target on deadline day. If any of this looks like stockpiling then it paints the picture of a window in which United bought today and prepared for tomorrow. The numbers are needed.

Redfearn’s first-team coach appointment could work but Leeds must be wary of under-estimating his current role

Massimo Cellino’s high opinion of Neil Redfearn is not a matter of convenience, despite the fact that the head coach’s job at Leeds United needs filling.

The Italian is famously hard to please but his frustration has never extended as far as Redfearn. That much is shown by Redfearn’s survival. The cull of coaches from Brian McDermott to Leigh Bromby has been sustained and severe but United’s academy manager is liked by his boss.

There is more trust between them than there ever was between Cellino and Benito Carbone, the man who made a brief pretence of taking over youth development at Thorp Arch.

Redfearn’s long association with Leeds and his productive work in the club’s academy was always likely to make him a candidate for head coach if Cellino’s search did not end quickly. Cellino effectively ruled him out of the running last weekend but at the time he thought he was on the verge of nailing down Oscar Garcia. The ex-Brighton boss had become first choice and was intimating that he’d like to come.

Twenty-four hours later, Watford parted company with Beppe Sannino and got their hands on Garcia first. Cellino, who had left England for America, was flanked and forced to reconsider. As a result, Redfearn remains as caretaker and Cellino is thinking seriously about the option of promoting from within.

After three spells in temporary charge (four if you count him stepping into the breach with Nigel Gibbs when Cellino ‘sacked’ Brian McDermott in January), you suspect that it is now or never for Redfearn. He has been at Elland Road for almost six years and done enough work with senior players to know if he is ready for the step up.

Should the offer come from Cellino, Redfearn will surely take it. That’s how football works. But when you hear him speak it is patently obvious that his heart is in the academy. It’s what he does, it’s what he knows and for several years it’s been the one project that has done United credit.

There are risks inherent in detaching Redfearn from it. Promoting him to the job of head coach would fill one crucial vacancy by creating another and if Cellino is serious about youth development his choice of a new academy manager would be every bit as crucial as his choice of head coach. Richard Naylor, the former Under-18s boss, had two years at Thorp Arch and experienced the introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), making him a potential successor to Redfearn. But he like others was sacked in July.

Redfearn as Leeds’ head coach could certainly work. With a strong, respected and well-connected assistant, it wouldn’t be the punt that the Hockaday-Lewis partnership was.

But there are so many options out there, some of whom would meet United’s requirements and prevent upheaval within their academy. Redfearn is capable of doing a job. Leeds should be careful of under-estimating the one he already does.