Neil Redfearn’s future as Leeds United head coach looked more precarious than ever last night after owner Massimo Cellino insisted he would not “please the fans” by bowing to pressure to extend Redfearn’s contract.
At a bizarre and explosive press conference, Cellino refused to confirm whether Redfearn would remain as head coach next season, saying he was “fighting with his emotion” as he pondered the 49-year-old’s fate.
Cellino presented himself to the media at Elland Road yesterday, speaking publicly for the first time since completing his Football League disqualification and retaking control of affairs at Elland Road.
The Italian used the fractious event to scotch takeover rumours and insist that he would only consider selling the club in two years’ time if he was “not ready to take this club to the Premier League.”
Cellino has returned to Elland Road at the end of a turbulent season and is facing mounting criticism from United’s supporters over his handling of the club and the delay in making a decision over Redfearn’s future.
Redfearn, who Cellino appointed as head coach in November, is out of contract next month. Leeds have the option to extend his deal for another year but he and Cellino have not spoken since the Italian’s ban ended almost two weeks ago,
A defiant Cellino said: “I have to find the right coach and not because I want to please the fans for 15 days. Not because I don’t want them saying ‘Cellino, it’s time to go’ like they did. I’m used to that.
“Who put Neil Redfearn in that position? It was me. Who wanted Neil to succeed more than anyone else? It was me. It was my choice, I took the risk. I took the Under-21 coach and gave him a bigger responsibility with a lot of pressure.
“I’ve thought a lot of things. Is Neil the best coach for the club in the future? He’s not expensive and he’s from here but is he good for next season? Then I ask myself ‘are you sure you aren’t thinking Neil is good because you’re a coward with the fans. You don’t want to change it.’ Every day I must ask that same question.”
Cellino, who said his daughter Eleonora had left her university course in Leeds due to abuse aimed at her by fans in the street, admitted he and Redfearn had not been in contact and criticised his head coach for failing to attend a party welcoming the club’s owner back to Elland Road.
But Cellino said: “I will not fire a manager who is good for the club just because he’s got personal problems with me. If I have personal problem with him but he’s good for the club, I don’t do that. Otherwise it’s better that I don’t run the club. I have to fight with my emotion. Everything I do must be for the interests of the club.”
Cellino was banned from running Leeds by the Football League for three months in January, the result of a conviction for tax evasion imposed on him in Italy last year.
The 58-year-old faces other court cases in his homeland next month and, amid the threat of future disqualifications, United have been the subject of constant takeover rumours.
Cellino said: “We’re still far away (from being) ready to go to the Premier League. We are not ready. It’s not mandatory and we don’t expect the club will go in the Premier League just because the name is Leeds and it’s a beautiful club.
“I wish to go in the Premier League yesterday but it takes time. If in the next two seasons we fix the club and it’s ready to face finally this challenge, I’m going to stay. If in two seasons’ time I’m not ready to bring the club in the Premier League and fix this club forever, I’m going to sell.
“But for two seasons don’t tell me any more that someone wants to buy the club or that I’m selling it. This club is not for sale. It’s never been for sale.”
Cellino was joined at yesterday’s press conference by Adam Pearson, the new director appointed by Leeds on Monday.
The eccentric Italian walked out with the event in full flow to take a cigarette break and faced a barrage of hostile questions, including heckling from a supporter who turned up uninvited.