Leeds United: The moment was Hockaday’s but the show belonged to Cellino

PIC: Tony Johnson
PIC: Tony Johnson
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The moment was Dave Hockaday’s but the show belonged to Massimo Cellino.

Even before today’s press conference began, Leeds United’s president appeared five minutes before his new head coach, strolling in without Hockaday behind him.

“He’s gone already,” Cellino quipped, an owner schooled in the art of firing managers, coaches or anyone fitting that description. The Italian touched on the debate about Hockaday’s position and authority in his opening gambit, saying: “I’m here to present the new coach, manager or super manager, whatever. What’s the difference?”

The achievements and qualifications distinguishing one coach from another are usually found on their CVs but in Cellino’s company, most are the same. The focus at the start was on Hockaday - how he came to take the job at Elland Road, whether he thought he was good enough to thrive as head coach, what he made of the dubious public reaction to him - but Cellino promptly became the focal point, speaking for all but fractions of a gathering which lasted for almost an hour.

He branched out, as he always does, into every aspect of the club as Hockaday listened, sat to his right. Ross McCormack, United’s captain, would not be sold this summer unless Cellino felt he was depriving McCormack of a career-changing transfer. Thorp Arch training ground - mothballed in May to save money - was reopening for next season but could yet close in the interests of finding a base closer to Elland Road and cheaper to run.

Players would be signed, Cellino promised, and the squad would improve. But with all that said, the attention this afternoon clung to Hockaday’s appointment. How was it that a coach whose last job was at Forest Green Rovers eight months ago - a man virtually unheard of in Leeds - had emerged as Cellino’s choice as first-team boss for the Italian’s first season as owner of Leeds?

“Someone told me about him and we met in a hotel in London one month ago,” Cellino said. “We talked for five hours about football. Five hours talking, I didn’t realise the time.

“We talked about position, players, what we like - talked about football, not money, not bulls**t. I found a man who talked about football. I arrived here six months ago and I just hear a lot of s**t. Nobody talks about football.

“I got the impression that he knows what he’s talking about. I was looking for someone that can teach the players how to play better and to work on the field. More specialised - to work with the players, not speak with journalists.

“Today, coaches worry more about the journalists than about playing soccer. It’s public relations. A very important thing in football is showbusiness, we all know that. But at Leeds at the moment, to bulls**t and show off too much is not right.

“Here I was looking for someone who can help the players because our players need to be helped. They need to improve and they’re hungry to learn. Even the players at 32, 33 - they need to work every day. I was looking for a coach with that characteristic and I think David has got it.”

Hockaday himself was clear on his remit. “He asked me to be his coach - to coach the players, to get them fit, to teach them, to improve them,” Hockaday said. “To pick the team and manage the team on a match day. That’s it - players, coaching, end of story. It’s what I do, it’s my passion. Hand in a glove.”

Cellino bristled only once, when the bemused and mutinous reaction of United’s support to Hockaday’s arrival was discussed. Cellino had considered taking Eamonn Dolan from Reading - scared off by the compensation involved - and had been heavily linked with Gary McAllister. He said he seriously considered seven options in all. The bookmakers odds were flooded with names more familiar and high-profile than Hockaday’s, albeit at much longer odds.

“Explain this because I don’t see the Internet or the newspapers,” Cellino said “What are Leeds’ fans expectations? Give me an example, tell me one. McAllister? Where is he working? Is he working with some other team or is he free?”

Coaches are like watermelons, Cellino said - you never know how good they are until you open them up. “I follow my feelings and my instinct, and my feeling is that David is the right man. If he is what he looks like, I’m going to help him.”

Just as quickly, that comment was followed by a caveat in keeping with Cellino’s record of employing 30-odd coaches in 20-odd years in charge of Cagliari.

“I can be wrong,” he said. “Who knows? Sometimes you choose a coach and it’s wrong.

“Sometimes you don’t want to fire a coach because you try to pretend that you didn’t make a mistake. That’s a dangerous thing. I can’t do that because I have to look after the interests of my club, not the pride of my choice.”

It left Hockaday in no doubt about who he’s working for, even if United’s supporters aren’t quite au fait with the coach who is stepping out of the shadows to work for them. “For David, it is a big challenge,” Cellino said. And then some.

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