May 16, 2016

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.

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.

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?

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.

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

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Leeds United

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.

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