The United boss says the club will never get back to the top until it is concentrating solely on football matters. Phil Hay reports.
Brian McDermott has lived in Leeds United’s vortex for less than a year but the madness around him is giving him deja vu. The club has deja vu too; exploding from the inside as it seems to do at least once a season, no matter the changes and no matter the promises.
McDermott suspected as much before he came to Yorkshire but he appreciates now the unique ability of Leeds to pull the plug from the grenade at a moment’s notice. “A month ago it was all going very, very well here,” he said.
A few weeks on United are devoid of authority, lacking any direction and unwilling or unable to pay every bill.
It is not unprecedented and much as McDermott crosses his fingers, it might not be the last time Leeds find themselves here. Both of the seasons before this one crumpled around the turn of the year as boardroom machinations left the club at large staring into space in search of answers. There were grotesque moments under Ken Bates and insane decisions under Peter Ridsdale. Gulf Finance House has fostered a modern trend at Elland Road.
McDermott has survived the past week which, considering the crass attempt to sack him last Friday and the growing belief that Massimo Cellino will indeed buy United from GFH, is no small achievement. But retaining his job is a minor consolation; a minor consolation without a business decision which breaks Leeds out of their habit of implosion.
“The problem is, we’ve had 10 years of this now,” McDermott said. “Why are we not in the Premier League? The reason we’re not in it is that over each season at Leeds, something like this happens. Maybe not to this level but something like this happens.
“What’s happened in a short period of time here is that we’ve got into a place which is not good. We need to be in a place which is clear. There needs to be a clear strategy going forward. That’s all I want – I want to be able to speak to people, to get decisions. I want things to be done.
“We’re not talking about football at all and for us to be successful, that has to stop. It’s got to go away. Then we might be able have a consistent season where nothing happens and all we talk about is football. It would give us a chance.”
McDermott made that plea at the start of yesterday press conference. “Let’s break into football,” he joked at the outset as he prepared to talk about tomorrow’s game at Yeovil Town, a match which may or may not be threatened by torrential rain in the south west. “Football will hopefully start to break out here.”
You can only hope. In reality, McDermott is none the wiser about what awaits him. Cellino’s takeover bid looks stronger as the days go by with no sign that anyone will match his offer of around £25m for a 75 per cent stake. Another consortium led by Mike Farnan would like to buy from GFH but the general feeling is that Cellino’s price is a top-end, killer bid.
The Football League is still to receive full documentation from the Italian, and the governing body plans to be painstaking when it decides whether to approve a man twice convicted for fraud and viewed with scepticism by many who have followed events at Leeds. He is, though, on the brink as McDermott proved yesterday by discussing their potential relationship at length.
It would seem logical to say that they could never have one; not a healthy one anyway. Cellino used a lawyer of his to sack McDermott by telephone last week – one of his first acts after agreeing terms with GFH – but was thwarted when the Bahraini bank ruled that the Italian lacked the authority to do so until his takeover of the club was officially complete.
Cellino’s attitude towards McDermott is understood to have softened in the wake of fierce protests against the dismissal and it might be that the Italian is willing to watch the 52-year-old work before considering his position again. But McDermott would start from a low ebb with Cellino – employed by an owner who this time last week considered him instantly dispensable.
“You’ve got to look at someone’s track record and what they’ve done over a period of time,” McDermott said. “I’ve been in football 35 years.
“You always want a chance but I want to give whoever comes in a chance as well.
“Everyone can have preconceived ideas. Me, a new owner, whoever.
“Until you start working together, you don’t know if it can work.”
Cellino was reported yesterday to have sold his other club Cagliari, a team he bought back in 1992, to Qatar’s Al-Thani family, relinquishing a 98 per cent stake. Only two per cent of shares are to remain in Cellino’s possession.
As the story rolled on, McDermott talked of a void above him.
The focal point of the club and the most audible voice at Elland Road, he is bearing huge pressure with no promise of a let-up.
“I’m alright,” McDermott said when asked how he was coping. “I tell you why – because I’ve been here before. It happened to me at Reading.
“We had a new owner come in and I said at the time I thought I’d have to win every game to keep my job. Actually, we did and we won the league so that was good.
“But I didn’t deal with it particularly well last time. This is tough but I’m dealing with it okay.”
It helped that while McDermott’s reinstatement was under discussion last Saturday, Leeds routed Huddersfield Town and ended a run of bad results. Though largely overlooked, the difference between a loss to Huddersfield and a victory was a gap of 11 points to the play-offs and a gap of eight. Leeds are hardly a club on the cusp of promotion but at least their season is not quite dead.
“We weren’t looking at football last weekend, that’s the problem,” McDermott said.
“We were forming a club before but now we’re at a roadblock and we need now to get round it.
“Whoever the new owner is has to be part of that club.
“If it’s not like that, it can’t be right.”