New Leeds United director Adam Pearson has insisted that the club were in “good shape” and claimed a play-off bid would be realistic next season if they got their “acquisitions right.”
Speaking to the YEP, Pearson said he had come back to Leeds to help “take a bit of weight off” Massimo Cellino with the Italian drawing breath after a troubled first season as owner.
Cellino appointed Pearson to United’s board as an executive director on Monday, an unexpected but popular development which followed a series of meetings between them last weekend.
Pearson’s appointment comes 14 years after he left a previous role as commercial director at Leeds and a mere three weeks after the 50-year-old was named as part of a three-man ‘sporting committee’ at Sheffield Wednesday.
The former Hull City owner – a recognised and respected figure in footballing circles – said he was confident of establishing a productive relationship with United’s volatile owner but admitted he had not taken the job for “security of tenure”.
Pearson has been recruited with Leeds and Cellino embarking on a crucial summer in which a change of head coach looks likely and alterations to the club’s squad are planned on the back of a season in which United battled relegation before finishing 15th.
Pearson said: “Mr Cellino was looking for somebody to come in, help him and take a bit of weight off.
“I’ve been around a long time and somebody put his name to me. I was interested, we spoke about what he wanted and I was happy to get involved. People know I’ve got connections with Leeds United going back a long way.
“I’m here to help as much as possible and to provide input from an English football perspective. The workload is huge and there isn’t a big staff so I’ll try to take some of the pressure off with regards to Football League business, commercial aspects and any areas he wants me to deal with. I’ll give him some back-up.
“In 15 years or so I’ve built up a very broad contacts book of regulators, administrators, agents and players. I think that can help us.”
Cellino completed a Football League ownership ban seven days before Pearson joined United’s board, a three-month punishment which embodies the stress and turbulence of the Italian’s first 12 months as owner. Two court cases awaiting him in Cagliari next month could result in fresh disqualifications.
Leeds have enjoyed a healthier week, however, with young midfielder Lewis Cook signing a new contract and Cellino securing Pearson’s services in the space of 24 hours. The club also confirmed that the Financial Fair Play (FFP) transfer embargo imposed on them in January had been lifted following a substantial reduction of the £23m loss in the 2013-14 financial year.
“Mr Cellino worked hard with the Football League to ensure that happened,” Pearson said. “He wants to push the club forward and make sure we have a real good go at the Championship next season. We want to be pushing towards the top end.
“We’ve got a good opportunity to do that because the club aren’t burdened with heavy contracts or aging players. The squad’s got some very good young players in it and we need to add some experience to that, some experience of English football. Leeds are a big club to turn round, a big oil tanker, and if we’re going to do it then it’ll be done on good acquisitions this summer. That’s vital.”
Pearson declined to comment on the future of head coach Neil Redfearn whose contract expires on June 30. Cellino is likely to dictate that situation, as he has with the appointment and dismissal of previous bosses, but there are signs already that Leeds are considering alternatives.
Previous senior management figures at Elland Road, meanwhile, have found Cellino’s regime difficult to survive in. Advisor Graham Bean was sacked last year following a disagreement about a rearranged fixture and Matt Child – Leeds’ former chief operating officer – left his post in March after three months in the job.
Asked if he would be able to work with Cellino, Pearson said: “I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think I was going to stay. But I haven’t come here for security of tenure either. I’ve come here to help the owner get the club moving forward.
“I’ve only been here for a couple of days but I think the club’s in good shape. We can work on the corporate side, on commercial revenue and other things, but the position of the club looks healthy.”
Pearson is best known for his successful time as owner of Hull City between 2001 and 2007, though he has also been linked with and involved in a number of mooted buy-outs of Leeds. As recently as last year he was believed to be part of the Together Leeds consortium which tried and failed to acquire the club before Cellino sealed his own takeover.
Cellino’s time at Elland Road has been hampered by an endless stream of controversies and bad publicity. Supporters protested against him during the final month of this season, attacking him with chants of ‘time to go, Massimo’.
Pearson said the relationship between the club and their support needed to improve but insisted: “Now that Mr Cellino is back around the club, I’m sure it will. I know this club of old and at times stories and rumours run away with themselves. Clarity of communication would help everybody but clubs still need to do most of their business discreetly.
“I certainly believe that we need to come together now and concentrate on getting the summer right. We really want to have a good crack at the Championship.”