Brian McDermott woke up to a flat tyre yesterday morning, the final obstacle between him and his desk at Thorp Arch. Many people and circumstances have conspired against Leeds United’s manager but there he was at the usual time, present and correct.
While one vehicle failed him, another came to his rescue when he needed it most. McDermott was very clear about the reason why a coach sacked and reinstated, undermined then supported, was anywhere near a club who had treated him so badly. “We’ve got what hardly any clubs have,” he said. “A machine behind us.”
The machine he spoke of was the crowd of 31,000 who flooded into Elland Road on Saturday to rail against his sacking by would-be Leeds owner Massimo Cellino 24 hours earlier. He described too the overwhelming sympathy shown by players, staff, old contacts in the game. In all it was a frightening reaction which panicked Cellino, Gulf Finance House and all the villains of the piece into acting like custodians instead.
McDermott joked once before that he has an image problem – a slightly dour demeanour and a lack of showbiz – but carrying himself appropriately is one of his strengths. Sat at Thorp Arch yesterday afternoon in a club tracksuit and his typical attire, he looked like he’d never been away. He sounded like he’d never been away. The sight of McDermott back in his job, having his say and speaking his mind, was evidence that people power is not quite dead as a force in football. He ran through the timeline of events last week, confirming that he had been sacked on Friday night during a telephone conversation with Chris Farnell, a lawyer representing Cellino and working to finalise the Italian’s incomplete takeover.
McDermott explained how phone calls from GFH the following morning began the process of him returning as manager, though he did not see the club’s statement to that effect until it popped up on his iPad on Saturday afternoon. And as for when he realised that he would definitely be coming back to take training? “Nine o’clock this morning, probably,” he said.
There were two messages from his press conference. The first was that McDermott’s authority has been reasserted, albeit in the most bizarre way possible. But the second was that he is still not sure where this is all going. “Obviously I’ve had certain reassurances about my position, the running of the football club, all football matters,” he said. “That’s down to me. Whoever is going to be the owner in the future, I do not know.”
Those assurances came from GFH, United’s owner since December 2012 and a Bahraini bank which itself stands accused of wanting to sack McDermott last month. Asked if he thought GFH had confidence in him, McDermott said he didn’t know. As for Cellino, the owner of Serie A club Cagliari who agreed a deal to buy 75 per cent of United a few days ago, McDermott made as little comment as possible, aside from to explain how shabby his dismissal had been. There might yet be another way for Leeds, however, with talks to be held in London today between GFH and other prospective buyers, a consortium led by Enterprise Insurance boss Andrew Flowers. That group have assembled rapidly, unanimous in the view that Cellino – twice convicted for fraud – is neither fit nor proper to own Leeds. Criminality aside, there was nothing fit and proper about the appalling chain of events which occurred at Elland Road on Friday and Saturday. McDermott made that point himself.
“I would suggest that this situation should never happen to a football manager, or to staff or to players,” he said. And so say thousands on the streets. Yet he was conciliatory as is his way. “I don’t hold grudges and I’m not disappointed with people,” he said. “That’s not my style.” He offered an olive branch to Luke Varney after a transfer to Blackburn Rovers which the striker wanted fell foul of Cellino’s influence. “Luke’s trying to do what’s best for him and his family, like we’re all trying to do,” McDermott said.
That generous attitude is part of the reason why so many in the game see McDermott as a class act. United’s treatment of him was an invitation to take a big pay-off from the two-and-a-half years left of his contract but the 52-year-old told himself that if he walked out of Leeds, he’d never be back. He was wary of giving in prematurely or abandoning a situation which might yet work out for him. And he was anxious not to desert his players or colleagues like Nigel Gibbs, the immensely dignified assistant who led United through Saturday’s win over Huddersfield Town.
What did the players say to him when he arrived on Monday morning? “Had a nice weekend?” The staff were pleased to see him, McDermott admitted. “That’s because I always pay for the meal at Christmas.” If anyone feared that the past four days might have killed his humour or his self-deprecating spirit, half-an-hour with the media showed that his shell is in tact.
It is plain to see that Leeds now have a duty to earn his commitment. Or to put it another way, GFH has a duty to deliver a takeover which spares him the nonsense. Cellino’s bid appears to be sinking and in a bizarre turn yesterday, Farnell – the solicitor who sacked McDermott and was rumoured to be lined up to become club chief executive under Cellino – was escorted from Elland Road by security. He was there under the assumption that the Italian’s deal was about to proceed and needed to be signed off. In fact, it appears to be sinking. So once again McDermott is left to wait and see. But in the meantime, he can feel the free air of Thorp Arch and begin picking a team for Yeovil Town without the fear that Cellino, Gianluca Festa or anyone else might end up picking it for him. The victory last week was ultimately delivered by the public. Everyone from Cellino to McDermott was amazed by the metaphorical riot caused by his dismissal. “You can’t walk away from that feeling,” he said. “Can you imagine when we start winning every week what this place is going to be like?
“That’s my only vision – when we start winning all the time with those fans behind us.” In other words, to reach a stage where this football club spends time thinking about football.