Jackie Sings The Whites

It was the sad and inevitable conclusion to a needlessly drawn out affair. Brian McDermott’s departure provided the only predictable chapter in a very unnerving period and came with charitable words of conciliation from both sides. The final outcome represented a surprisingly bloodless denouement to a situation that had become increasingly fractious.

Both manager and paymaster had not spoken since the season’s end, instead choosing to communicate through ‘terse’ and ‘defensive’ written correspondence. Don Massimo had even used a television interview to lambast the manager for taking a customary but unauthorised end of season absence. It had all become rather unseemly.

Our erstwhile friend leaves with the respect accorded to a decent man but without the accolades of a successful one. The manner in which he dealt with swathes of boardroom villainy will live long in the memory but so too will the abject performances and tactical confusion we were often forced to bare. Some fans argue that he was the right man at the wrong time and perhaps the concept has a grain of truth. I would suggest that our ascension from the bowels of Division Two to Europe’s top table under the tutelage of Don Revie, proves that winners find a way to win regardless of constraint.

Many would have spent Saturday afternoon contemplating our club’s next move. Much of the speculation was spiced with a continental flavour but the conversation took a disturbing turn for the worse with the news that an obscure non league coach had become the bookies favourite to land the post. I like most had to Google the name of Dave Hockaday and found a man who resembled an ageing Julian Dicks with a painfully underwhelming CV. We were all stung by the absurdity of the development.

Apart from the search for another messiah, the chaos continues to abound within the corridors of power. There’s the threat of mass redundancies, the temporary closure of Thorp Arch and the freezing of assets brought about by a winding up petition served by a former director. A man incidentally now languishing in a Bahraini prison cell accused of embezzlement and money laundering by our former Bahraini overlords. It’s a dramatic tale of the swindler swindling the swindlers.

Don Massimo is a man who often likes to voice an opinion before he has one. He is a shrewd operator and appears to be conducting the type of root and branch enema that we desperately require but his whimsical public musings often give one the impression that he’s making it up as he goes along. It’s a weakness that allows his doubters and our enemies to fuel the flames of fear.

The situation isn’t helped by an action starved media keen to inject controversy into an otherwise sleepy hiatus and of course it is the supporters that suffer. The anti Cellino camp groans with every development regardless of outcome while others balk at an atmosphere of persistent negativity. We are an argumentative breed at the best of times and our number has always been characterised by the constant bickering of estranged factions. The arrival of Massimo Cellino will only serve to accentuate the debate.

 

Laundering Hope

Another false dawn. Another tortuous endeavour. Another wasted opportunity. Another murky tale of deceit and double-dealing. Another skirt with financial collapse. Another manager whose rhetoric floundered in a sea of mediocrity. Another newcomer offering hope and salvation. Another summer in which to dream. Another…. Another…. Another……..

It all started promisingly enough. Luke Murphy became our first £1m capture in a decade and Ross McCormack shed the image of a sulking and self-centred striker to become an inspirational leader. The onset of winter saw us handily placed after a steady if unspectacular campaign.

The misconception that our club was being run in an enterprising and progressive fashion carried us through the Yuletide celebrations but began to unravel soon after. Brian McDermott’s inadequacies manifested themselves in a string of abject reverses, while the bandits from a Bahraini bank thrust us into the financial wilderness. By February Leeds United as a functioning football club had unequivocally ceased to exist.

When Massimo Cellino entered our collective consciousness he had already been cast as villainous despot and spent his first weekend in the Ridings chased through Beeston by an angry mob. The necessity of his arrival has softened those attitudes somewhat and a display of passion and warmth has only served to accelerate the process. Despite a wayward and often volatile reputation our new leader speaks candidly about the ‘bloodbath’ he has inherited and appears to have taken a rather measured approach.

Many predicted the swift and immediate demise of our beleaguered manager following the season’s conclusion but Don Massimo offers only vague answers to such questions. There also needs to be swathing cuts to our overpaid and bloated squad but again our leader refuses to be rushed. This apparent lack of urgency has provided a surprising denouement to a dismal season and is causing distress to those who call for decisive action.

Fight!!! 

Last season’s finale was flushed with the blissful sabotage of Watford’s promotion dream and a sense of optimism induced by the arrival of a new manager and new ideals. Twelve months on and this end of season encounter could not offer such solace. Most of the bumper 30,000 crowd that arrived in LS11 did so not in eager anticipation of fresh hope but to swing the collective axe on another desperately disappointing campaign. In the end it was an afternoon that ‘brought a year of madness to a steady and cordial end’.

The Whites ended a decade of intolerable subservience to an old rival with an improved display but were flattered by a Derby side ensconced in the playoffs and distracted by bigger battles ahead. Ross McCormack agonisingly failed to join the likes of Charles and Lorimer by finishing a goal shy of thirty for a season but was instrumental in Matt Smith’s deft equalizer. Michael Brown also impressed with an ‘ageless’ performance in what is likely to be his Elland Road farewell.

Brian McDermott was quick to highlight the improvement in results since the cessation of boardroom hostilities but many remain unconvinced. They were victories grasped from the impoverished hands of the division’s weak and were by and large unstinting in their mediocrity.

The Spirit Of 85 

St Andrews 85

 The prospect of another lacklustre and meaningless end of season encounter was lightly spiced with the host’s precarious league position and the presence of a former tormentor in the stands.

I have two abiding memories of the diminutive Italian Benito Carbone. Primarily it’s the goal that put paid to David O’Leary’s FA Cup ambitions in 2000 but there is also his acquisition by Bradford City some time later. It was a signing that was supposed to cement their place in the top flight but instead sent them spiralling towards the financial abyss.

Carbone’s appearance in Birmingham as a guest of Don Massimo led some tabloids to excitedly predict the imminent demise of our beleaguered manager, while the Yorkshire Evening Post proffered the possibility of an academy position. Subsequent comments by Signor Cellino suggest that the locals had it right.

Despite a desire to see the conclusion to another dispiriting campaign, the travelling hordes found plenty with which to amuse themselves. While some marked the occasion with fancy dress others chose to evoke the spirit of 1985 with city centre skirmishes and the wanton destruction of St Andrews’ inner echelons.

The players enjoyed themselves too. Young striker Matt Smith enhanced his growing reputation with a lovely header and Danny Pugh’s cool strike could well have been a farewell gesture. The calamitous third goal summed up City’s desperate plight and sent them tumbling towards League One.

FrankieDespite his obvious eccentricities Massimo Cellino has brought a period of relative calm to the Ridings. It was a mood alluded to during a post Barnsley debriefing in which Brian McDermott appeared a little more relaxed. Two days later the spirit of repose had vanished. Another abject display by a side in dire need of swift and brutal butchery saw the manager return to the agitated and defensive individual commonly associated with the last three months.

Don Massimo describes the overall situation at Elland Road as a ‘bloodbath’ and it’s a word that adequately describes the sweeping changes our new leader is determined to make. Brian McDermott hopes to be involved in administering such necessities but tactically inept defeats like these only serve to weaken his already vulnerable position

Manny

Whites 2 Tangerines 0, Tykes 0 Whites 1

It has only been a matter of days but already the Cellino effect is gathering pace. After jetting into seal the deal a fortnight ago Don Massimo attended a monstrosity at Vicarage Road, before driving North to take our ailing club by the scruff of the neck. He brought with him a spirit of optimism fuelled by the promise of desperately required leadership but his arrival was lightly dusted with the usual elements of political intrigue. A boardroom departure was followed by a visit from the local constabulary. There was also a couple of rare victories to celebrate.

Within hours of his arrival Don Massimo could be found yards away from Elland Road, propping up the bar at the Peacock lubricating and no doubt entertaining his newly found subjects. The cynical amongst us may say it was a clever publicity stunt but such acts don’t seem to be his style and in this case weren’t required. His popularity had already been assured by the prompt payment of liabilities so scandalously neglected by the previous incumbents.

Despite an eagerness to deal with the pressing issues inherent in his newly acquired enterprise , our new leader spent the following day addressing a curious media. During his first official press conference the charismatic Italian’s display of passion, drive and humour went some way to changing perceptions and had those that once scorned him listening intently. An exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post followed and in it the man described as ‘a whirling dervish’ by its author, spoke candidly about both his plans for the future and the shambles he has inherited.

Signor Cellino has promised to administer the sort of reconstructive surgery that will cut a swathe through the flabby underbelly of a stricken beast. Encompassing overpaid and under achieving footballers, fiscal policy or dirt on the mantelpiece, the root and branch overall will stretch from the boardroom to the broom cupboard. Expectations of the highest order will be thrust on every detail regardless of how insignificant it may seem.

The Masses

The first casualty of the new regime came almost immediately with the resignation of Managing Director David Haigh, following criticism from the new owner and months abuse from disgruntled fans. He was hardly a malevolent force and much of the criticism was unjustified. He used a large chunk of his personal wealth to meet the club’s running costs in the absence of any funding from GFH but came to represent the company’s mismanagement and greed. Fans also grew weary of the would be Tory MP’s political machinations and the unskilful way in which he weaved between prospective owners currying favour like an ‘obsequious courtier’.

When West Yorkshire’s finest were called into Elland Road last Friday my first reaction was to assume that our new leader had embroiled himself in another spot of bother. As it transpired this very special visit came at his request in yet another mind-boggling incident that took our dysfunction to another extreme. Hidden surveillance equipment was found following a security sweep of the premises and it was later established that this duplicitous bounty was obtained through the fraudulent use of club funds. Quite why the club decided to undertake such a search is open to question but it certainly suggests the existence of some kind of tip off.

Matters on the field improved with a couple of comfortable victories that effectively saw the spectre of relegation expunged for another year. Against a woeful Blackpool side Luke Murphy produced a two goal salvo and the sort of performance that made the former Crewe captain our first £1m capture in over a decade. Murphy started the campaign promisingly enough with a late winner against playoff hopefuls Brighton but has since found his talents strangled by both the rigours of a higher division and the manager’s tactical confusion. He could be a huge asset given the correct tutelage but has often been required to relinquish his natural attacking instincts for a much deeper role. This approach clearly hasn’t worked.

The drab and attritional defeat of relegation haunted Barnsley represented a huge improvement on recent times. Brian McDermott arrived in South Yorkshire blissfully unaware that Oakwell had become a graveyard for a number of former Leeds United managers. Dismal defeats in the last two years had signalled the beginning of the end for both Simon Grayson and Neil Warnock but a typically sublime piece of artistry from Ross McCormack prevented another tale of woe.

 

Mickey and John

Latics 1 Whites 0, Hornets 3 Whites 0

Four thousand anxious souls decamped to pie munching country no clearer on the path their collective future would take. The eminent Queen’s Council thrust with the responsibility of deciding Don Massimo’s fate, had bowed to an eleventh hour request to delay any public announcement until the completion of hostilities in deepest Lancashire.

The appeal for caution had come from a nervous Football League amid fears that any disclosure prior to kick off, could spark an already volatile fan base into acts of mindless violence against the people and property of Wigan. Perhaps it was an over zealous position for the game’s custodians to take but largely practical as citizens of Bournemouth, Birmingham and Paris amongst others, could testify.

Despite another frustrating defeat the afternoon was largely good-natured. The visiting throng sprinkled support for their struggling side with unrepeatable references to corruption at the top table and were moved when opposing supporters joined them in commemorating the memory of those lost in Istanbul. It was a supreme gesture by Wigan Athletic and its supporters and one greatly appreciated by their guests.

As the visitors dispersed digesting an improved performance the atmosphere began to bubble with rumours of a stunning legal victory and by 3pm confirmation came that an Italian would soon be ordained as the new ruler of the Ridings. The news sent shudders of excitement through a seething mass of humanity and those that once cast Cellino as the devil incarnate now rejoiced at the arrival of a saviour.

To understand these surreal events and quite why many welcome a man of such dubious reputation, is to grasp the desperation imbued by the last decade in which the club has been raped both financially and spiritually by a collection of leeches, thieves and brigands whose only desire was to line their own pockets. The release of the club’s latest accounts not only reveal the full weight of its financial burden but also laid bare the existence clandestine payments made to executives in ‘bonuses’ and ‘administrative costs’. In Massimo Cellino fans see a man who appears to be bucking this well-worn trend. Reports suggest the Italian has already invested more capital than Bates or the Bahraini bankers ever did and for this they are choosing to ignore his many vices.

Many believe he has the passion, vision and requisite financial power to realise our ambitions and that his unique brand of leadership can breath new life into an ailing enterprise. The Italian’s unpredictable and often eccentric ‘hands on’ approach has made his home town club of Cagliari ‘hugely profitable’ but their nomadic existence, dilapidated stadium and frequent managerial casualties are elephants in the room. Naturally any construction is preceded by a degree of demolition and in all likelihood our new owner will take the challenge by the throat but his unstinting methods will prove costly for some. As Yorkshire Evening Post writer Phil Hay eloquently wrote ‘passengers will be thrown from the bus.’

President Cellino began the new era by inviting both Brian McDermott and his players to prove their worth and some believe they did just that with an abject defeat at Vicarage Road. It would be safe to assume that a great many of the protagonists involved in what the manager described as a ‘nonsense’ performance, will not survive the summer cull and a twentieth league defeat of the season kept alive a slim possibility that a regeneration could begin in League One.

I am both excited and unnerved the arrival of Don Massimo. I welcome and fear him in equal measure. The transformation of his reputation from that dark Friday night in January has been stark and even the local media are warming to his infectious magnetism. Phil Hay conceded that after those early doubts Mr Cellino represented the best conclusion to a very uncertain situation, while Radio Leeds’ Adam Pope described him as a ‘witty’ and ‘sharp’ fellow ‘who knows how to run a football club’.