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Leeds United

Could these changes help to restore Leeds United’s success under Massimo Cellino?

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Last weekend concluded another roller-coaster season in the Championship. As Middlesbrough finally clinched promotion to the Barclays Premier League after a 1-1 draw in the six pointer with Brighton, away from the Riverside, there was little excitement by way of promotion or relegation implications, something that is rare for the division on the final day.

However, something that is not rare for this division though, is Leeds United finishing mid-table. After a 1-1 draw at Deepdale against Preston on Saturday, Leeds confirmed their 13th place finish for the 2015/16 season, their fifth straight season finishing between 15th and 13th in the Championship.

So, why is one of the biggest clubs in the country; a side that just over a decade ago was in the top four in Europe, with one of the biggest fans group in England marching on to nowhere? The answer is simple – Massimo Cellino.

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Of course, Cellino cannot be blamed for all of Leeds’ failings as he only became the majority shareholder to Leeds United in 2014.

However, he can be seen as the latest addition to the failings of Leeds United in the passing season. Alongside Fawaz Al-Hasawi at Nottingham Forest, Katrien Meire at Charlton Athletic, Vincent Tan at Cardiff City and Assem Allam at Hull City, Cellino has added to the unfortunately long list of those controversial football club owners and CEOs.

Cellino does not fall into the Allam and Tan category however. He has not tried to ruin the clubs tradition by changing their kit colours to his favourite colour, or changing the name of the team, but he has done something which owners of a football team simply cannot do – lie about money.

After being arrested in 2013 for attempted embezzlement and fraudulent misrepresentation during stadium constructions for his former Italian club Cagliari, you can understand why Leeds United fans and many football fans around the country question the English FA for allowing Cellino to become the majority shareholder of Leeds United.

In my opinion however, it is not the money that is the most alarming factor about this footballing owner, rather it is his footballing ideology. 

During the Cellino era at Elland Road, Leeds United have had seven managers in under two years. With Steve Evans looking more and more likely to be the next casualty to add to this list, that number could raise to eight, meaning a manager for almost every three months that Cellino has been in charge.

In this era of the game, results are everything in football. However, Cellino is known for making often incorrect and knee-jerk decisions with regards to managers and footballing matters. Leeds United have also retired the number 17 due to Cellino’s fear of the number through Italian culture. This man; in my opinion at least, is a joke, however this is no laughing matter to the fans of Leeds.

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Leeds United are a team that many people love to hate, but for those loyal supporters of the Yorkshire-based outfit that pump money in to the historic club every Saturday, that protest through holding a mock funeral in the club’s honour outside Elland Road, they deserve better and any true football fan can see that.

The entire Cellino era was summed up when Steve Evans was hired. Leeds United are one of the biggest clubs in English football; historically at least, as they are a former European winner after all, however they were belittled by this hiring.

Steve Evans was the former Rotherham United manager; a Yorkshire rival to Leeds, and a club which in stature cannot in anyway compete with Leeds United, yet Cellino resorted to a man axed by the Millers. Quite a ridiculous decision in my view. In hindsight, Steve Evans has actually done an acceptable job when you consider what he has had to work under. 14 wins, 11 draws and 12 defeats is a more than respectable return, but this is Leeds United we are talking about. They should not be a team that are content with mid-table in the second tier of English football, Leeds United should be a team that are at least in the play-offs this weekend.

Everyone that I have spoken to knows a Leeds fan, but can the same be said for Brentford and other similar clubs? This is a team that finished four places and six points in front of Leeds. It is unacceptable for a team like Leeds United to have exhibited little to no progression over four seasons, for they are a team that need to be in the Premier League. In an opinion shared by many Leeds fans, this kind of growth cannot be achieved under the current ownership, so what can be done?

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If the Cellino family were to leave Leeds United and a complete reshuffle of the board and upstairs employees of the club were to take place, then I believe the club would have a real opportunity to become great again. However, in reality, this is not going to happen. Although we heard from the Guardian yesterday that Massimo stepped down as chairman of the club, there is still no indication that he will move on from the ownership of the club, so what else can be done? 

Cellino is not an unintelligent man or else he would not be where he is today. In my opinion, the hiring of Uwe Rossler last July was a good appointment and Leeds enjoyed steady but consistent performances which included an impressive win at play-off contenders Derby County. Rossler was sacked after twelve games however, another mistake in my opinion especially when as mentioned earlier, Steve Evans was the man chosen to take the reins.

An optimistic man such as myself hopes that Cellino has learned from his mistake. Seven managers in his era alone would suggest not however. Of those fateful seven, I would argue that Rossler was the only manager capable of leading Leeds forward. I believe that Steve Evans will be sacked in the coming weeks and even though statistically Evans did a fairly decent job, the decision would be the right one as I would argue he is not the right man to lead Leeds forward. If Evans is axed, Cellino should hopefully take time to reflect. There are plenty of managers who are capable of leading a squad forward, especially one that can boast young talents such as Mowatt and Cook.

A good appointment would be someone such as Malky Mackay or Paul Clement. Both of these managers have worked with awkward owners before, and pressing owners who want quick results. Mackay got Cardiff City to the Premier League under the watchful eye of Tan, while Clement has worked with egos and difficult owners as an assistant at the likes of PSG and Real Madrid.

Mackay has suffered reputation slander due to widespread reports of alleged racist texts he made away from the field of play, however, I would argue that under the Cellino era it is difficult to attract a successful name. Mackay would possibly be looking for a break to improve his reputation once more, whereas Clement would be looking for a chance to prove he is a better coach than portrayed by Derby.

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The squad has talent which was on display this season with impressive wins against Derby, Hull and Cardiff and the right manager; with the valuable commodity of time, could build this sleeping giant in to a promotion contender next season. The problem is the fact that the manager will almost certainly not be granted this.

Cellino will not leave on his own merit and the FA have deemed the family fit enough to be the majority shareholder, so Leeds fans have to accept the situation and support their team like they do better than most. 

Hopefully Cellino has learned from his mistakes. If he has and a manager is given time, progress will follow. If he has not, then the merry-go-round will continue and Leeds will continue to remain in their happy place of 13th-15th in the Championship.

It is a farcical situation at the moment, and more frustratingly still, one that is not going away any time soon. Leeds fans can only hope that someone will galvanise these players and forget the off-field implications, but that will be a very challenging task.


Featured Image: All rights reserved by Idlan Zakaria

Aspiring sports journalist and currently a 4th year undergraduate to a Broadcast Journalism Honours degree. Avid sports fan, particularly football where I am a full licensed semi-professional official.

Barnsley

Why Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment at Leeds United is a risk worth taking

Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment as Leeds United manager is a risk, but one worth taking in order to push for Premier League promotion, writes Ryan Smart.

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Photo: Reuters

Leeds United acted swiftly in the 36 hours following Thomas Christiansen’s sacking on Sunday night, appointing the now ex-Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom to replace him by Tuesday morning.

Heckingbottom leaves the Tykes having signed a new contract with the club only one week earlier.

His release clause stood at just under £500,000, a sum Leeds had no problems in paying.

Heckingbottom’s appointment does represent a gamble for the Elland Road hierarchy, with the 40-year-old having had under two years of managerial experience.

He took over at Barnsley when Lee Johnson left for Bristol City in February 2016, promoted from the role of Development Coach at the club.

He tasted instant success, guiding the club to Football League Trophy success and following that up with a thrilling 3-1 play off final win over Millwall, allowing for a return to the Championship.

Barnsley have had to endure plenty of upheaval since promotion, selling star players like Conor Hourihane, Alfie Mawson and Sam Winnall.

In the 2016/17 campaign, they signed 16 players, selling on another 15.

This season, they have signed even more (17), while moving on a futher 19, although the majority of those were released.

Those figures have made it very difficult for Heckingbottom to establish stability at the club, showcasing how good a job he has done, comfortably keeping Barnsley in the division last season.

The Tykes have not been as consistent this season, having only won one out of their last 16 games in all competitions, but they still sit clear of the relegation zone at present.

Heckingbottom’s new contract, signed last week, showed that the owners did have faith in him to carry on the good work he has started and establish Barnsley as a solid Championship side.

In contrast, Leeds are not normally associated with stability, especially under the Massimo Cellino reign, although Andrea Radrizzani’s takeover of the club has signalled a positive change in terms of how the club operates.

He communicates more with the fans, keeping them updated throughout the summer of their managerial search, one which eventually ended with ex-Apoel manager Christiansen taking charge.

He also ensured that criticism of the club’s new badge last month was heard by the board, with Leeds now considering fan-designed options.

Gone are the days of loan signings from feeder sides, such as Cagliari, when Cellino was in charge, with a more focused view on transfers now apparent.

Although the transfer activity has been slightly erratic – nearly 30 players have brought into the club across all levels this season – they do seem to be bringing in a higher calibre of player, and the current squad definitely has the potential to be a top six side.

Heckingbottom has a job on his hands in order to correct the club’s poor form as of late, but the truth is that if he can get a run of positive results, as well as getting the fans back onside, the only way is up for the Yorkshire outfit.

It is a risk for both parties as those fans want instant success, with the club having been in the Championship for eight seasons now.

They are still exceptionally well supported both in England and across the world, and the size of the club and the resources available should make them a Premier League side.

The size of a club does not guarantee success, however, and Heckingbottom needs to prove to the fans and the board that he has what it takes to get the club back into the big time.

An 18 month contract gives him at least this and next season to achieve that aim, and he knows that this opportunity is going to be his best chance of reaching the top flight of English football.

It is a gamble on his part to take the job, and a gamble by the Leeds board, but one that neither will be regretting if they find themselves back in the Premier League under Heckingbottom’s management.

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Leeds United

Leeds United: A club crest is more than an image; it’s an identity

Rob Meech

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Leeds United

The outrage sparked by Leeds United’s new badge would no doubt have shocked the club’s hierarchy. They had spent more than six months in the design process, with the intention of creating a modern crest that also reflected their proud history. They failed spectacularly. Such was the scale of the criticism that within two hours of the logo being revealed, nearly 16,000 people had signed an online petition to demand it be scrapped.

It features a footballer in a white shirt with his arm across his chest, depicting the ‘Leeds Salute’, above the words ‘Celebrating fans at the heart of our community’. By any reasonable judgement, it is underwhelming and has been universally ridiculed, likened by some to crests found in computer games. Other comments are simply unprintable.

The biggest issue is it is such a departure from the current incarnation containing a white rose – emblematic of the county of Yorkshire – the club’s initials and the colours yellow and blue, which are synonymous with Leeds United. In comparison, the new version is positively futuristic and devoid of any tradition. It’s revolution, not evolution.

Leeds said they had consulted 10,000 people before designing the new badge, which was unveiled to commemorate their centenary year in 2019. In a statement, they said it “represents the passion and unique identity that runs through the club.” The reaction showed how far they had missed the mark. Many were left wondering which 10,000 people had been spoken to, since you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would describe it as a success.

What has become abundantly clear in this episode is exactly how important to supporters the badge is. It is not just an image on a shirt; it is a symbolic representation of the club’s identity. It is not only world-renowned outfits like Manchester United and Liverpool who can be recognised simply by their crest, but those much further down the pyramid as well.

Leeds fans are among the most passionate in English football. Even after their fall from grace and relegation to League One a decade ago, which came as a consequence of financial mismanagement, Elland Road was often packed to the rafters. Leeds are a sleeping giant; a Premier League club in all but status. Could this be the year they finally return to the top-flight after a 14-year absence? They would certainly be a welcome addition.

Football fans are a stubborn bunch and resistant to change. Five years ago, Everton were forced to backtrack after a new badge they had proposed was similarly panned. Cardiff owner Vincent Tan was also condemned for changing the club’s home shirt from blue to red, in an attempt to make the club more marketable in Asia. After more than two years and much to supporters’ relief, Tan finally bowed to the pressure and the club reverted to blue.

For Leeds’ long-suffering fans, who have endured a fractious relationship with the powers-that-be in the recent past, this new crest was seen as another insult. To the club’s credit, they have already admitted they will rethink the new design, in light of the backlash. They’d be foolish not to. Even in this commercial age, supporters remain the lifeblood of a football club. As Leeds’ have shown over the past couple of days, their collective voice can still have an impact.

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Burnley

How Pablo Hernandez and Hadi Sacko starred in Leeds United’s cup win at Burnley

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New Leeds boss Thomas Christiansen has seen his side make an impressive start to their Championship campaign this season.

The Whites are currently top of the table and have made similar headway in the Carabao Cup too, making it into the hat for the Fourth Round draw of the competition after seeing off Burnley 5-3 on penalties following a dramatic 2-2 draw at Turf Moor.

Hadi Sacko and Pablo Hernandez were the names on United’s scoresheet, who saw their goals cancelled out by former Leeds man Chris Wood, and a stunning free-kick from Irish international Robbie Brady.

Sacko, introduced in the 60th minute in place of Manchester United loanee Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, and Hernandez- introduced in the 79th minute in place of Pawel Cibicki- was impressive performers on the night for the Whites as they sought to turn the screw late on against their Premier League opponents.

Until then it had been all Burnley pressure that the visitors were forced to withstand, and it didn’t change immediately after the Frenchman’s introduction, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Ashley Barnes, and Phil Bardsley all continuing to waste chances for the Clarets.

Leeds goalkeeper Andy Lonergan was forced to make a save when Gudmundsson teed-up for Ashley Westwood to hit a curling strike from the edge of the box, and two minutes later the Whites, having stood firm amidst relentless pressure, found themselves in front.

Pablo Hernandez, now introduced, who thanks to a fortunate ricochet down the Burnley right found himself in possession, rode a challenge with his first touch of the ball and found himself in a pocket of space in the centre of his half towards the centre-circle. Looking up at the right flank, he played a superb pass into Sacko, who’d made an excellent run behind Burnley’s former Leeds defender Charlie Taylor.

With his first notable contribution, Sacko latched onto the ball with an inch-perfect first touch, and before the recovering James Tarkowski could intervene, Sacko powered a right-footed effort through the legs of goalkeeper Nick Pope to hand Leeds an unlikely lead and send the travelling fans behind the goal into raptures with ten minutes of the match remaining.

Hernandez almost doubled Leeds’ advantage five minutes later, but his arrowed effort flew just over Pope’s crossbar, before Burnley saw another chance go begging with one minute of normal time remaining, Lonergan tipping another Gudmundsson effort out for a corner.

Burnley found a route back into the game late on from the resulting spot-kick, Gaetano Berardi was adjudged to have fouled Kevin Long as the ball entered the box, and former Leeds forward Chris Wood made no mistake from the spot to level affairs against his old club.

But there was still time for more late drama, Hernandez was played in down the left by Stuart Dallas, and his cross was floated in towards Kemar Roofe. The referee adjudged that Roofe was being held by Burnley skipper James Tarkowski and pointed to the spot.

Hernandez took responsibility for the spot-kick, and calmly sent Pope the wrong way and stroked the ball home into the bottom right corner, capping off his cameo with a goal and handing Leeds the advantage with four minutes of stoppage time gone.

But Leeds were to be denied victory in normal time. Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position roughly 25 yards from goal in the sixth minute of added time, and Robbie Brady stepped up to curl the ball left-footed into the top left corner of the goal beyond Lonergan to send the game into extra-time.

As both sides tired, clear-cut chances were few and far between in the extra half an hour, but Hernandez would miss a huge opportunity in the final minute of extra-time, firing over from outside the box in what proved to be Leeds’ last chance.

The Spaniard made no mistake in the resulting penalty shootout, however.

Stepping up second for Leeds after Pierre-Miche Lasogga had converted for the Whites, and Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes made no mistake for Burnley in the new ABBA penalty shootout format, Hernandez stroked the ball into the bottom right corner right-footed, just as he had with his previous penalty in normal time to level the shootout at 2-2.

James Tarkowski would see his crucial fourth penalty for Burnley beaten away in the bottom right corner by Lonergan, before Ezgjan Alioski and Stuart Dallas converted to hand Leeds a 5-3 penalty shootout victory and put themselves in the hat for Round Four.

Hernandez has been a regular in the Championship for Leeds thus far this season, with Sacko finding himself in and out of the side, and their impressive cameo performances at Turf Moor, along with that of the starting eleven which Christiansen had shaken up from Leeds’ defeat at Millwall over the weekend, indicates that the Whites are a side with a deal of strength in depth.

Sitting at the summit of the Championship and looking like a promotion contender early in the season, and still going strong in the Carabao Cup having now taken a Premier League scalp, they could be one of the sides to watch from the second-tier who will feature in the Round of 16.

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