Neil Redfearn has defended his claim that Leeds United’s controversial glut of injuries last week “surprised” him - but said the time had come to draw a line under the matter ahead of Saturday’s derby at Sheffield Wednesday.
United’s head coach said it would be “wrong of me or a lie” to suggest that he was aware that six of the club’s foreign players were likely to miss last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Charlton Athletic.
The six - goalkeeper Marco Silvestri, centre-backs Giuseppe Bellusci and Dario Del Fabro and strikers Mirco Antenucci, Souleymane Doukara and Edgar Cani - all pulled out of the visit to The Valley shortly before Leeds’ team bus was due to leave Thorp Arch for London.
Bellusci, Cani and Antenucci will all be absent from this weekend’s game at Hillsborough while Silvestri is doubtful after being limited to light training with a back problem. Doukara and Del Fabro have both trained with the rest of Redfearn’s first-team squad this week.
The sudden spate of withdrawals prompted accusations that the group of six were deliberately refusing to play and attempting to undermine Redfearn as he neared the end of his contract as head coach.
Leeds have denied those accusations repeatedly, however, and chairman Andrew Umbers told the YEP on Tuesday that the absences came as “no surprise” last week due to regular medical updates from club physiotherapist Harvey Sharman - updates which Umbers said Redfearn also received.
Speaking at a press conference today, Redfearn was asked why Umbers appeared to know more about the injuries than him.
“To be honest I wouldn’t know about that,” Redfearn said. “The surprise wasn’t that people get injured. It was the surprise that on Thursday they were fit, with one or two maybe carrying little things, and on Friday they weren’t fit.
“These things do happen and I’m not saying they don’t. But it would be wrong of me or a lie to say I wasn’t surprised. They were a surprise to me on the day.
“I go off advice from the medical staff. They have discussions with the players and then they’ll test them. If there’s anything on the scans then we’ve got to treat it as such. The difficulty is in assessing injuries on the day - when they happen as you’re actually about to set off to Charlton. It’s near impossible. Then you’ve got to take the players’ word for it.
“I don’t think it was a case of questioning anyone’s loyalty or commitment. That’s an opinion, rightly or wrongly. It’s not uncommon and it does happen where people get injured but you want to get people out there.
“Maybe I wanted to give people an opportunity or to change the team round a little bit. Give everybody that chance. It was just disappointing that we had that freak set of events where we lost six players.”
Silvestri is the only one of the six with a realistic chance of starting at Hillsborough, though Redfearn’s comments about his fitness suggested that Stuart Taylor will remain in goal for the second game running.
The group of absentees - all of whom moved to Leeds from Italian clubs following the takeover of the club by Massimo Cellino - attracted scathing criticism on social media last week and were also subjected to chants of “play for Leeds or f*** off home” by an away crowd of 3,000 at Charlton.
Redfearn said he “didn’t know” if the players concerned would feel worried about facing United’s supporters in either of the last two games of the season but he attempted to move on from the controversy, saying: “What’s happened has happened.
“What we’ve got to try and do is make the best of the next two games. We’ve got to try and perform as best we can and pick a side that’s fit and available.
“We’ve got to get two good results. I’ve got to select players who I feel are ready for the game and up for the game with how they’ve trained and applied themselves. I’ve always picked a team on merit.”
The Leeds boss played down the suggestions that the six players had been “taking liberties” with him on account of doubt about his own position as head coach.
“You’d like to think not,” he said. “In my opinion the players have all worked hard. It’s been a difficult transition integrating players with different cultures and different backgrounds but by and large they’ve integrated well.
“You’d like to think that it was a freakish one-off event and you try and move on.”
Leeds are on a run of five straight league defeats, their worst run of the season, but Redfearn aimed further criticism at the sequence of events which he blamed for affecting the club’s momentum before the last international break.
The sudden suspension of his assistant Steve Thompson - a decision which Umbers refused to fully explain on Tuesday - came at the end of an unbeaten run through March, a spell which earned Redfearn a nomination for the Championship’s manager of the month award.
“It’s frustrating for the players because you talk about momentum but things happen and it disrupts that momentum,” Redfearn said. “It would be churlish and wrong to say that it doesn’t because it does. It really does.
“It’s been a tough season and things have happened since the international break that have made it even tougher. That’s just common knowledge. It’s a fact.”