Hero’s return: cult hero Vinnie Jones is back in Leeds where he will find a club in turmoil and very different from the one he left. Phil Hay reports.
On the pitch and off it, moments like this call for a man with Vinnie Jones’ temperament; a man who would read the riot act and knock heads together without fear of consequences or reprisals.
A guest at Elland Road tomorrow, he would do Leeds United a favour by storming the boardroom and speaking his mind about the shambles he finds at his old club. They were in fine fettle when he left them, 24 years ago, and moving here was – to quote him – “the best move I made.” Times have changed, and how.
United’s manager, Brian McDermott, will let Jones loose in his dressing room before tomorrow’s game against Millwall, introducing his squad to an ex-player whose attitude and reputation in Leeds is weapons-grade.
McDermott played against Jones once, in Sweden of all places back in 1986. McDermott was a member of Djurgardens’ squad and Jones played for IFK Holmsund, a lower league club. “It was a cup game,” McDermott said. “We were the biggest team in Sweden and he played for a little club up north.
“We got bashed 4-0, I never got a kick and Vinnie was man of the match. He kicked me all night and all day. I’m not sure if he even remembers that time.
“He’s going to come into the dressing room before the game tomorrow. I’ll let him speak to the players, yeah. He was a leader, a tough guy – but he could play as well, I’m telling you.”
The subject of Jones, who is bringing his Division Two winners’ medal to Elland Road, was the only one which raised a smile as McDermott sized up the meeting with Millwall.
Memories of the 49-year-old, a native of Los Angeles these days, was a break from the repetitive discussion of takeovers, court cases, money and turmoil. Football is sadly incidental at Leeds, as Jones will find out.
McDermott is none the wiser about United’s future path or the fate of Massimo Cellino’s takeover, despite Cellino’s conviction for tax evasion in a Sardinian court on Tuesday and the belief that his bid for Leeds is fated to fail the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test.
The Cagliari owner was publicly backed by McDermott after last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Burnley, the first time United’s manager has genuinely committed himself one way or the other, but if that was an indication of McDermott’s confidence in Cellino gaining Football League approval, the events of the past few days and Cellino’s conviction in Italy have made him wonder again.
“Everything is speculation,” he said, talking after United’s owner, Gulf Finance House, wrote to the Football League demanding an answer on Cellino’s takeover before the close of business yesterday. An answer did not come. “Everything we’re talking about is speculation. You don’t know, I don’t know. None of us know what’s going to happen.
“We just want an outcome and I know what my ideal outcome would be for the club, sooner rather and later. But the honest answer is I don’t know and because I’m not party to the decision, I don’t know what the decision will be.
“All I know is that I’d like to see the club taken over by someone with real clout and I’d like to see the club being built up from the bottom. Starting from basically a blank piece of paper. We’re not in that situation at the moment and it’s not healthy.”
United’s position in the Championship is such – cut adrift from the play-offs and at no great risk of relegation, as much as defeat to Millwall tomorrow would beg the question – that McDermott might see this as his time to start planning for next season. The current season ends in little over a month’s time, a line in the sand which Leeds as a club will welcome.
McDermott speaks confidently enough to suggest that he is hopeful of remaining in place as manager if Cellino’s takeover finds a way past the Football League. He is also beginning to think about transfer targets, changes to his squad; the usual thoughts managers have in the weeks of spring. The worry for him is that his strategy will be blown apart if Leeds remain unsold for much longer.
“If this isn’t sorted, it’ll affect next season as well,” he said. “It’s very clear that a decision needs to be made. Then we can look to build for next season. I’m still doing what I have to do – assuming that things are going to work out for the best. I’m looking at all sorts, including signings. I’m thinking about how things are going to work going forward.
“I’ve only got Plan A at the moment. I’ve got to hope that everything works out and that we really kick on. When I came here in April, I thought that by now we’d have got to a different place but we haven’t. That’s on the pitch and off it. To be successful, everything’s got to be right at a club from top to bottom. And that’s the case at any football club or business. It’s safe to say that at the moment, everything isn’t right. By definition, uncertainty isn’t good.
“But you have to say that when we get through this, it’s going to make us all a lot stronger. There’s no doubt about that.”
Millwall are threatened by relegation and have won away from home only twice all season. Replacing Steve Lomas with a new manager, Ian Holloway, was a sensible response to a period in which Millwall were peppered like cannon fodder but their situation is dire. They will be without Steve Morison tomorrow, on-loan from Leeds and therefore ineligible.
“We got a performance at Burnley last weekend but not a result,” McDermott said. “Tomorrow we need both.
“Millwall went to Derby recently and won 1-0 and they drew their last game so they shouldn’t be lacking confidence. Ian (Holloway’s) track record speaks for itself and I’m sure Millwall are glad that they’ve got him. We know what we’re up against.”