Tell

It was a rewarding but ultimately frustrating experience. Those departing the old house will have tempered the disappointment of a draw with the promise of brighter things ahead. We should have been out of sight by the time Tom ‘Ten Bob Head’ Lees and his cronies drew first blood. Their celebrations betrayed the importance of a cup final goal and gave their pitifully low away following something to hang on to. It seemed another commemorative DVD was a distinct possibility until Giuseppe Bellusci’s ice cool finish earned a share of the spoils. The goal was the least that both player and teammates deserved following a crisp and energetic passing display which forced visiting keeper Kieran Westwood into a number of athletic exertions.

Whatever confusion and carnage follows in Don Massimo’s wake, there is no doubt that our Italian revolution has engendered a playing style befitting a club of our stature. Strikers with the confidence to keep the ball in tight areas and midfielders showing authority in possession are a joy to watch, while the theory that a centre back can caress a pass on the chest and lay a deft flick is like a new science in our house. The defender in question was the combative but supremely gifted Bellusci whose goal marked an impressive all round display that will further aid his ascension into cult status. He was even seen admonishing Wednesday’s goal scorer Chris Maguire when the midfielder chose to petulantly goad the Kop end following his neat finish.

Years of prehistoric football methods have weighed heavily on our collective shoulders and you can taste the palpitations when someone over plays in the defensive third but newcomers like Bellusci, Thomasso Bianchi and Mirko Antenucci appear up to the task. Despite Sky Sports’ resident bonehead Peter Beagrie’s assertion that UEFA pro licensed, multiple national champion and serial Champions League protagonist Darko Milanic isn’t qualified to coach in England’s second tier, this performance suggested our humble and quietly spoken coach can cause a surprise.

Lounging Around

It was a fixture that spawned another impulsive sacking and fuelled a growing debate surrounding the president’s interference in team affairs. This low-key, midweek fixture against nobody in particular, produced another telling indication of the interminable chaos at the heart of Don Massimo’s Leeds.

Club consultant Graham Bean’s departure came after the former FA mandarin consented to Reading’s request for a twenty-four hour delay to proceedings. A plea that came as a result of the Royals’ televised Sunday joust with Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was an action that found its roots in both good faith and fair-mindedness but came crucially without the president’s blessing and further agitated a hot-blooded Italian already angered by television’s treatment of the club’s fixture list. The subsequent fall out produced an unedifying spectacle in which Mr Bean labelled the club ‘a madhouse’ and his former paymaster ‘a c#*t’.

The drive into Elland Road was accompanied by local radio’s mischievous suggestion that full back Stephen Warnock had become another victim of Don Massimo’s infamous temperament. There were claims that the player’s omission had come at the president’s behest and although unsubstantiated, the rumours were not beyond the realms of one’s mental compass. Warnock has been one our most consistent performers this season and in his post match interview Darko struggled to outline the reasoning behind such a snub.

Despite the unpredictability of the club’s internal politics the Italian revolution seems to have provided a telling improvement to our side’s playing style. Opening exchanges saw the type of passing football that we hope will eventually lay the technically moribund efforts of recent times to rest but a lack of end product crippled any promise in the final third. Over complication and waning concentration allowed Reading and their ‘slimy get’ of a manager a firm foothold in the game and although one fan blamed Darko’s dubious substitutions for the second half malaise, control had been lost well before then.

 

Don Massimo

It was always going to happen. The only surprise is that it didn’t come sooner. Our colourful, impulsive and often wayward owner had indulged in a month’s worth of cogitation before finally deciding to end our ninety-five year wait for a continental coach. Despite Don Massimo’s ingrained urge to gamble and the newcomer’s relative obscurity, Darko Milanic’s arrival did not imbue the type of grief-stricken hysteria that embraced his predecessor David Hockaday.

Slovenian football finds its history entwined with that of the supremely gifted technocrats and perennial underachievers of the former Yugoslavia and it was a point respectfully acknowledged by the vast majority of supporters. Unfortunately we live in an era that pays scant regard to the lost histories of such nations and as a result this newly formed country finds itself languishing in the backwaters of the European game and open to derision from notable observers.

Darko TooPhil Neville took to the airwaves to air his disgust at the ‘stupid appointment’ of ‘this Slovenian lad’ that he’d ‘never heard of’ and paid no respect to a former international who’d been a serial trophy winner as both player and a coach. It was mood shared by the majority of media outlets keen to whip up another managerial controversy. Mr Neville’s unwanted interference was given short shrift by most and led one fan to retort ‘Phil Neville is a twat of the highest order that should be bummed by every able-bodied male over the age of 18 until he falls over and farts the white of Leeds’.

To be fair to the Mancunian and his under fire back passage, the comments were sparked by Don Massimo’s decision to overlook the credible claims of Neil Redfearn and it was a salient point. Most of us would have been delighted to see our academy director thrust into the front line on a permanent basis but generally accepted our leader’s assertion that his current role is too important to disrupt.

Our upturn in fortunes had presented the new man with a bittersweet introduction to English life. Mr Redfearn’s successful redeployment managed to mould our rag-tag bunch into a formidable force and had not only seen his stock rise but also left Darko with little room in which to manoeuvre. A prolonged slip of recent standards would see the vultures circle with a ready-made replacement identified.

The new era began in less than auspicious fashion with an anaemic and limp reverse in West London, a defeat stained further by a team sheet that saw serial underachievers Morison, Tonge and Murphy on the bench at the expense of the untapped and exciting talents of Adryan, Montenegro, Benedecic and Billy Sharpe. Don Massimo provided the highlight of the day by appearing in the away end pressed intimately against his followers but would have been alarmed at the way his side meekly succumbed to an energetic and inarguably better Brentford team. Darko Milanic requires time to prove that he isn’t Mr Hockaday with an accent and a tan but in the parallel universe of Leeds United, time is in scant supply.

 

Listen To Sniffer

Bantams 2 Whites 1

Twitter bubbled with rage and psychosis dripped from every pore. That was before a ball had even been kicked. Firstly but not foremostly was SKY Sports decision to employ a studio guest list made up solely of pundits with a Bradford City persuasion. Many cried foul and you could see their point but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Our monopolisation of the channel’s Football League output is hardly down to our silky style or their concern for our welfare. We are a car crash waiting to happen and they know it.

Mr Hockaday’s team selection was the detail that spawned incandescence and saw our ‘scrotum faced’ coach accused of arrogance. Fans fumed at the sacrifice of new tricks for old dogs and even our foremost fanzine ventured the opinion that our beleaguered boss was as good as signing his own death warrant. On his arrival ‘The Hock’ claimed to encourage and nourish youthful vigour but this cautious and unimaginative line up betrayed a desperate man fighting for his life. The ignominy of defeat was expected and indeed inevitable following Luke Murphy’s reckless abandon but the nature of another capitulation was as ridiculous as it was painful. The sight of Don Massimo scuttling away after the Bantam’s dramatic winner left us in no doubt that it was all over. The Hockaday Experiment had unequivocally failed.

Whites 1 Trotters 0

The arrival of Bolton concluded another shambolic week in which howls of derision had again been thrust our way. Don Massimo’s heavy handed and capricious approach to team affairs had yet again created an unedifying spectacle. One fan summed up the mess supremely well when comparing our troubled club to the woes of Iraq……’a once proud and progressive kingdom laid to waste by a succession of tyrants, maniacs and lunatics’. There was a sliver of sympathy from those who professed to care about the disciples of a club being ‘ripped apart’ by another charlatan but even that felt like an insult. Where had those descending voices been during a decade of Bates and Bahraini bandits?

The Hockaday affair had been as cruel as it was illogical. Not only did it land another damaging blow to our already punch drunk psyche but it also cast a decent man to the more feral of our number. This toxic attitude had become so ingrained that our former coach had endured a torrent of vitriolic bile and personal abuse which went much deeper than the perceived failure on the pitch. Some players were reported to have sought clemency for their embattled boss but the die had been cast.

Spirits for the Trotters tussle were lifted by news that Academy Director Neil Redfearn would be delivered to the first team dugout. As a player the Dewsbury lad enjoyed a nomadic existence trawling a variety of unspectacular Northern outposts before retiring to his native West Yorkshire. Recent years have seen his passion for youth football oversee the regeneration of our once great academy and for the third time in as many years this steady rock of a man had been thrust into the face of farce.

Mr Redfearn’s team selection did much to justify Don Massimo’s decision to dispense with David Hockaday’s services. A youthful side led by home-grown starlets Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt bossed large parts of the encounter and battled stoutly to resist the Lancastrians’ frantic efforts to spark a recovery. Our leader also sprinkled an influence on a crucial victory. Casper Sloth and Mirco Antenucci showed promise while keeper Marco Silvestri proved an exceptional game winner.

Mass Meets The Mass

Blues 1 Whites 1, Cherries 1 Whites 3

To many supporters’ disappointment the international hiatus did not conclude our search for a third manager in three months. Instead our ‘confused’ owner opted for a brief sojourn to Miami in a bid to collect his thoughts. As usual a catalogue of names were mentioned but nothing concrete materialised amid growing concern about Don Massimo’s reputation and the difficulties it can bring on such occasions. Those fears were summed up by Johnny Giles comments labelling the Italian as a ‘head banger’ and given some credence when supposed favourite Oscar Garcia chose Vicarage Road.

A more considered approach to the problem was perhaps wise under the circumstances and represented a welcome departure for an individual often enveloped by ‘unfathomable chaos’. It seemed to not only betray a man who realised the importance of his next move but also one that felt comfortable in his choice of surrogate coach.

Difficult trips to Birmingham and Bournemouth would test everyone’s resolve but the subsequent outcomes paid testament to Mr Redfearn’s temporary redeployment. Both encounters displayed our propensity for sluggish starts peppered by early confidence crunching concessions but on each occasion the coach and his young charges repaid their president’s faith. At St Andrews astute substitutions wrestled a deserved point from the jaws of tepid defeat. Two days later subtle tactical changes saw us recover from a murderous opening half an hour to inflict clinical destruction and misery upon the Dean Court faithful. It is very rare that Leeds fans spend Tuesday evening suckling on the teat of victory but this powerful south coast revival allowed just that.

Whites 3 Terriers 0

Saturday saw another humiliating Elland Road humbling for our dog bothering cousins but this one seemed to suggest something more tangible. In February the same opponents gleefully found us embroiled in another maelstrom driven by protests, phantom sackings and the sight of wealthy Italians fleeing mobs through the dead of a Beeston night. That victory however robust provided nothing more than a brief moment of respite in a relentless storm.

Eight months later uncertainty still lurks but an exhilarating show was the culmination of a period that points to better times ahead. It also provided a fitting conclusion to Neil Redfearn’s third and most impressive stint at the helm. In his final post match interview the coach displayed the quiet confidence of a man whose stock has grown markedly in little more than a fortnight because of his ability to blend our collection of misfits, starlets and rough diamonds mined from the coal face of continental football, into a competitive force. While he spoke of a calm and ‘measured’ display fans pointed to an ‘organised rampage’ that tore our former captain Lee Peltier and his battered Terriers ‘a new arsehole’. We were confused, bemused and basking in the warmth of our own potential.

 

The Gelderd End

Whites 0 Seagulls 2, Hornets 4 Whites 1

One of the many issues that befall a club like Leeds United when languishing in the Championship, is the division’s collection of combatants with scant repute whose followers attempt to manufacture a ‘rivalry’ in order to justify their existence.

Brighton fans don’t generally interest themselves in such folly but recent times has seen a minority of their number travelling to Elland Road determined to cast us all as moronic homophobes. The pursuit of equality in society is an honourable aim but those from ‘Sussex by the Sea’ ought to remember the rather stereotypical welcome their pro Thatcherite town of the 1980’s gave to visiting Northerners and how the Goldstone Ground regularly serenaded us with songs about slums and signing on.

Watford supporters take their fascination with the Red Ridings to a bizarrely unhealthy level. Despite the cavernous gulf between the history and size of both clubs, there has been a desperate ploy by those in sleepy Hertfordshire to engender some kind of mutual antipathy with their West Yorkshire ‘rivals’. This is quite a strange concept for many of us and it’s a struggle to find a reason why. Even after our trouncing in Cardiff there was little anger shown to our opponents as we instead chose to vent our frustrations at the pointlessness of the Blackwell regime. Perhaps the demise of their so-called historical agitators Luton Town has left the Hornets feeling empty and aimless and in need of a fillip from further afield.

The faithful returned to the old house for our match with Brighton in fairly upbeat mood and with good reason to do so. The Middlesbrough victory had given us enough to believe that steady progress was being made. What transpired was another in the litany of Elland Road debacles in which an unperturbed visiting side were allowed to stroke the ball around at nothing more than training pace, while their befuddled opponents chased aimlessly. The second half improved slightly with at least an attempt to adhere to the passing principles that Mr Hockaday is said to champion but we were largely hamstrung by a lack of speed in both body and mind. The coach later acknowledged a truly ‘painful’ experience.

Those of us that weren’t at Wembley on Saturday afternoon were at nearbyVicarage Road witnessing another humiliating afternoon that left the Head Coach hanging by a thread. Many Leeds fans could luxuriate in the consolation of a Challenge cup victory but there was no such solace for those of us of a black and amber persuasion. Don Massimo was reportedly so incensed by the manner of the defeat that rumours of the coach’s demise began to circulate from the most reliable of sources. The cyber ghouls found their thirst for misery and misfortune suitably quenched, while Talksport’s Stan Collymore expressed his anger at ‘the waste of a huge club’.

Twenty four hours of depression later Don Massimo publicly announced a stay of execution for his beleaguered employee in typically dramatic fashion. “Blame me. It’s my fault. I am the manager maybe I should sack myself” barked the President admitting to his own shortcomings. “I want to do everything too fast – I want 15 new players, I want to be in the Premier League, I don’t want the old coach, I want a new one. I want to build Rome in 12 hours but it doesn’t happen. If another coach comes in and we have the same problems, we are back in the shit. So I’ll wait.” He then went on to admonish newcomer Giuseppe Bellusci for the sending off that precipitated a desperate capitulation. It was mistake that the Italian defender subsequently apologised for.

For those of us that would like to see our colourful owner succeed the whimsical public musings and desire to micro manage every facet of the club sits uneasily. I doubt that any reputable coach worth his salt would feel comfortable with the prospect of working in such a restrictive and emotional environment. It is true that the current system is in its infancy but I think we all realise it is unlikely to succeed in its present form. There are times when there appears to be no system at all.

Going Casual

Lions 2 Whites 0

For the first time in many a year the dawn of a new campaign was an unwelcome guest in my house. Its arrival signalled the end of a largely carefree summer that saw the rebirth of ‘Classy Cas’, an entertaining Brazilian diversion and the impressive coronation of Vicenzo Nibali on the slopes of ‘Le Tour’. A feeling of contentment had only occasionally been pricked by happenings at Elland Road but now the boundless state of nervous tension had returned. There was simply no appetite for the tortuous months ahead.

Our club’s continually fluctuating disposition had taken another turn for the worse during the previous week. An urgent need for positivity floundered upon the collapse of several transfer deals, Benito Carbone’s abrupt departure and Don Massimo’s less than judicious comments about his newly installed Head Coach. Our collection of self righteous malcontents was bristling with anticipation.

Events in South London didn’t disappoint those strange souls that seek solace in their own side’s woes. An undercooked visiting side tamely surrendered in front of what will be Millwall’s only sell out of the season. With a number of our new recruits deemed unready for the rigours of England’s second tier, last season’s band of clueless nitwits were left to reconnect us with the misery to which we have become so accustomed.

Whites 2 Stanley 1, Whites 1 Boro 0

By the time the Elland Road faithful convened for a tough league opener against Middlesbrough, an air of nervous optimism had tickled our bellies once again. Sully Doukara’s well taken brace helped negotiate a potentially uncomfortable cup tie against Accrington, while off field developments gave those of us with a less entrenched outlook a sliver of optimism upon which to grasp.

Stung by the debacle at The Den, an experience that had him shivering like a shitting dog, Don Massimo swept into action in a bid address our many deficiencies and within twenty four hours Giuseppe Bellusci, Liam Cooper and Billy Sharp had been captured. Not only did this swift action portray a decisive and enterprising owner but also suggested the Italian’s hard line approach had softened somewhat. Bellusci and Cooper arrived following quickly resurrected deals that had previously been frustrated by the financial demands of agents and clubs, while Billy Sharp decamped to the Ridings despite the President’s initial conclusion that that the striker was too old.

While all three recruits suggested a renewed sense of conviction within the corridors of power and seemed to reinvigorate and reunite an often fractious fan base it was Sharp’s signing that struck a real chord with the masses. The deal put an end to a five year spell in which player and club had been continually linked. Even when he appeared in the colours of our opponents there was always a feeling of quiet admiration and the numerous goals that he plundered against us were always met with forlorn thoughts of what could be.

Against Boro the new arrival found his every touch embraced with a gasp of eager anticipation. Both he and fellow debutant Cooper slipped seamlessly into an admirable team effort that matched a heavily fancied opponent stride for stride. The game seemed to be drifting towards a goalless denouement until King Billy’s final contribution sparked the sort of euphoric scenes that suggested the self appointed ‘fat lad from Sheffield’ was born to play for our club.

Alejandro

I like Massimo Cellino. There are plenty of detractors and one can see why but there is no doubt that his passionate, energetic and single minded approach has provided the kind of leadership seldom seen in the Ridings. While Uncle Ken camouflaged his insecurities within scripted interviews and belligerent state broadcasts, Don Massimo displays a cast iron confidence in his methods. The last few months have pulled tightly at our emotions and recent developments have seen us entertain hope and despair in equal measure. We always seem to be in a permanent state of nervous tension and the arrival of an exuberant Italian will only serve to feed our psychosis.

June came with an entertaining Latin American distraction but did nothing to ease the burden on our weary shoulders. An underwhelming coaching appointment followed a number of highly publicised cost cutting measures, leaving the ‘cadre of joyless pessimists’ licking their chops at the promise of another banquet. As July arrived our propensity for civil war was nurtured by another high profile departure and the interminable bickering between our many factions. A mischievous skewing of the form book allowed us a brief taste of optimism and saw the malcontents dissipate into the background but a string of dubious pre season performances have left them contemplating apocalyptic disaster.

David Hockaday’s arrival as first team coach was a deeply disappointing moment accompanied by an outpouring of anger and bemused bafflement. During his first public outing Mr ‘Wackaday’ pushed his credentials forcefully but was undermined by a lamentable managerial record and a lack of hearty praise from elsewhere. His cause wasn’t helped by reports that suggested a move for Reading Academy Director Eamonn Dolan had been scuppered by its financial implications.

An air of negativity swamped the emergence of both candidates and took no account of our leader’s new continental coaching structure or failed to acknowledge his efforts in researching such obscure individuals. Perhaps the attitude was understandable faced with his eventual choice. Choosing Dolan would appear to have been a more progressive move and the President’s decision to opt for what is widely regarded as the cheapest option represented a disturbing development. The new man will have a tough time convincing the doubters that he is the alchemist we all desperately crave.

The fluctuating nature of our disposition was again apparent upon the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham. Previous regimes would have suffered a brutal public pummelling for even entertaining such thoughts but Don Massimo saw his reputation enhanced by an ability to procure a hugely inflated fee for an unsettled striker with only one prolific season to his name. On his departure McCormack attempted to deflect criticism with a few carefully chosen insincere words but only succeeded in blemishing his own reputation amongst the throngs.

The post McCormack era began promisingly, as though fate had decided to reward our sympathetic attitude towards the Scot’s departure. Don Massimo gave a clear indication that our recent windfall would lead to the repurchase of Elland Road and alluded to a healthy transfer kitty. A cornerstone of the proposed regeneration came with unheralded arrival of former Cagliari Sporting Director Nicola Salerno, one of our president’s closest and shrewdest allies. In their time on Sardinia the pair garnered a reputation for youth development and successful scouting networks that helped a club the size of Doncaster Rovers hold its own amongst Italy’s top flight.

Don Massimo’s original plan had been to source recruits from England but recently admitted that a lack of knowledge of the English game combined with its overpriced market place, would lead to an influx of youthful Italian based signings and the promotion of a number of academy starlets. Most fans are quietly encouraged by the new arrivals but the mood has been dampened by the scepticism surrounding David Hockaday and his performance thus far. In the aftermath of Saturday’s fortunate draw at Chesterfield one scribe branded the new man ‘deluded’ and ‘out of his depth’, while suggesting his appointment as Leeds United’s Head Coach was akin to ‘feeding caviar to a pig’.