Leeds United assistant coach Paul Raynor pleaded for harmony today as owner Massimo Cellino came under renewed attack from sections of the club’s support.
Raynor attempted to distance himself and head coach Steve Evans from the bitter relationship between United’s supporters and Cellino, who is facing fresh calls to quit Elland Road after courting more controversy in the past few days.
Leeds’ majority shareholder caused anger this week after footage emerged of a video interview with an Italian newspaper in which he appeared to suggest that United’s ‘pie tax’ policy - a surcharge added to the price of South Stand tickets in December - was imposed in response to criticism of him by the Elland Road crowd.
The Italian told the YEP that those comments were “just a joke” but an acrimonious mood was underlined this morning when an advert calling for him to sell Leeds - paid for by a group of fans - appeared outside Elland Road’s East Stand.
Cellino is abroad in Italy and was not present at the stadium when the advert was put in place but dissent towards him - the latest example in a turbulent spell as owner which began when he bought United in 2014 - has intensified at a time when the club’s Championship season is petering out.
Raynor, who appeared Leeds’ weekly press conference in place of Evans this afternoon, said he believed that criticism towards Cellino was coming from “a minority” and said an upturn in results after one win from eight games would clear the air around Elland Road.
Raynor said: “I can only comment on the football side and the coaching side but we want harmony here, we want to move forward together as a club and the best way of doing that is by sticking together, all pulling in the same direction.
“The biggest frustration is that we haven’t been winning as many games as we should. That’s not going to help matters. If we’d won five on the trot people wouldn’t be saying too much, would they? They’d have a big smile on their face and we’d be the same. When we were nine unbeaten, everything was great. Now the job’s not quite so easy.
“If we start winning a few more matches, it (the frustration) will drift away. I didn’t hear too many murmurings when we were going through that unbeaten run in December. It goes hand in hand.”
The advert calling for Cellino’s departure - positioned on a lampost directly outside the main entrance to Elland Road and bearing the words ‘Time to go Massimo’ - is reminiscent of a similar sign paid for by the Leeds United Supporters Trust amid protests against former chairman Ken Bates in 2012.
Cellino’s relationship with United’s crowd has been delicate throughout his 22-month reign and he temporarily banned himself from attending fixtures after a 2-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road in October - a match in which Leeds conceded twice in the first six minutes - provoked chants against him.
He flew to Italy after last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest and is not expected to attend Monday’s league game against to Middlesbrough.
Raynor insisted that results were to blame for the conflict, saying: “There’s just an expectation that people want to win. People want Leeds United to be in the Premier League. We’re not, so there’s that undercurrent of expectation.
“It’s going to take time. Hopefully the gaffer and myself will be the ones who can deliver but there will be an undercurrent of people expecting people more and more. I firmly believe that given time we’ll achieve that.
“I can’t really comment on posters and issues people have with other people. That’s not my remit. But I would believe it’s a minority. I certainly don’t believe it will be a lot of them doing that.”