Players won’t be affected by the Leeds United’s off-field problems – Ritchie

Mirco Antenucci is congratulated on his opening goal against Derby County by Tommaso Bianchi.
Mirco Antenucci is congratulated on his opening goal against Derby County by Tommaso Bianchi.
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It’s Leeds United’s luck, really – play superbly and beat the league leaders on Saturday and then find out on Monday that your owner’s been banned by the Football League.

The news about Massimo Cellino has totally overshadowed last weekend’s win against Derby County and that’s pretty unfortunate. I accept that football usually takes a back seat when problems develop off the field but you couldn’t make this up.

The worry on the footballing side will be that the doubts about Cellino unsettle the players, unsettle the staff and unsettle a season which finally looks to be settling down a bit. But when I look at Cellino’s ban closely I honestly wonder if this is the crisis it seems to be.

For starters, he’s appealing against the decision and last time he challenged the Football League he won his case. But more importantly, as far as I can tell, his ban only runs until the middle of March. It’s early December now and if I was Cellino, I wouldn’t be rushing the process along. It won’t be a surprise to me if this drags on for a good few weeks and into the new year.

And in the worst-case scenario – where the ban actually comes into force – won’t he just head back to Miami or wherever for a couple of months, leave someone else to hold the fort and then fly back in when his disqualification ends? This is what I don’t understand. The League has its rules and it’s obviously entitled to enforce those rules but it feels like we’re going through a messy process which isn’t going to achieve much.

I read comments from Cellino earlier this week and unless he’s bluffing – unless he’s stuffed and he’s actually about to sell up – then I don’t get the feeling he’s going anywhere. For that reason, you’ll probably see things continue as normal at Elland Road and Thorp Arch.

This isn’t helpful for Neil Redfearn or his players but at the moment it might not be the start of a meltdown either. Having been a player, I know how they think.

It sounds terrible but basically the only time when off-field problems weigh on your mind is when someone comes to tell you that the money’s run out and you’re not getting paid.

Other things tend to bother footballers – a lack of games, fall-outs with managers, injuries, form and so on – but the business side of a club is someone else’s concern. It always has been.

So in reality, players who were happy being at Leeds last week should be happy being at Leeds this week. For them nothing much has changed. I suppose the slight difference in this case is that Cellino signed a lot of these players. It might be that some of them feel a particular sense of loyalty to him and are worried about the idea of a club without him in charge.

But genuinely, I don’t see it. Players don’t tend to play for owners. I never did. You play for your team-mates, the supporters and – assuming you get on with him – your manager.

I’d say that these players like and respect Redfearn.

That’s certainly my impression. They seem to be playing for him and the performances are getting better.

Derby are a very good side and have probably never been more accomplished under Steve McClaren so beating them was a big scalp. A result like that makes you think again about what Leeds can achieve this season – or what they should be trying to achieve.

Redfearn’s a sensible guy. He’ll know that it’s too early to be thinking about the play-offs – much too early at this stage – but he’s knows too that his boss is someone who wants success pronto.

I’ve seen Cellino say that Leeds don’t need promotion this year and in fairness it would be asking a lot to demand that now but I do think Redfearn needs a season where Leeds properly set themselves up for a charge next year.

In real terms, I think that means consistent results between now and May and a league position which places the club in the top 10 or definitely in the top half of the league. They need to be close enough to the play-offs this time to look like they’re going to have a more realistic chance next time.

The first aspect of that is getting through Christmas. This is when your squad is under most strain, particularly when it’s young or newly-built, so as much as people are talking again about the long-term future for the club, I doubt whether Redfearn is looking beyond tomorrow.

It’s always about the next game – and that’s as true for him today as it was for him last week.