Five years ago today Leeds United took on Charlton Athletic in a mid-table Championship clash. They lost 2-1, goals from Igor Vetokele and Yoni Buyens secured the Addicks a home win after Steve Morison had previously given Leeds United the lead.
It seems like a run-of-the-mill fixture with little significance. However, for many Leeds United fans, it is the game that perhaps best sums up the madness of the Massimo Cellino era at Elland Road.
It had already been a tough few weeks at Leeds. Cellino was suspended due to a breach of the FA’s fit and proper protocol. Steve Thompson, Neil Redfearn’s impressive assistant, had been suspended with no reason by sporting director Nicola Salerno, who soon followed him out the exit door.
Amid the turmoil, Leeds’ faint play-off hopes had gone up in smoke. Manager at the time Neil Redfearn was struggling to keep the team competitive with off-field distractions aplenty and Leeds were on a four-game losing streak heading to The Valley.
Then, on the eve of the game, just before the squad were set to head off to London, six players were ruled out because of injury. Mirco Antenucci, Giuseppe Bellusci, Dario Del Fabro, Marco Silvestri, Souleymane Doukara, and Edgar Cani all pulled out of the game.
The conspiracy theories soon started to mount. Five of the six players were signed by Cellino, whose relationship with Redfearn had started to wane.
“It is difficult to tell (if the players were legitimately injured).
“The one player that perhaps did come in on the Thursday with a genuine injury was perhaps (Mirco) Antenucci. He said he had a hip flexor strain and he said to me ‘I’ll be fine for Saturday’ but he said he was feeling it so I said he needs to go in and rest.
“But on the Friday the players were coming in and as they were coming in I think some of the academy staff were taking bets on who were going to come in!
“Because it had got a ridiculous state of affairs. But it happened so close to departing to go to Charlton that there’s was not a lot we could do about it.”
Many fans suggested Cellino may have been behind the mass withdrawals. A club message suggesting otherwise did not help allay those fears.
The situation enraged Leeds United fans and those linked to the club. Former Leeds captain Trevor Cherry told BBC Radio 5 Live that Leeds should sack all six, labelling them a ‘disgrace’.
Leeds United’s former Yorkshire Post chief Phil Hay tore into acting chairman Andrew Umbers at a press conference the following week. Umbers stood by the assertion that all the players were indeed legitimately injured.
Leeds ended up getting a team together for the game. Veteran goalie Stuart Taylor made his league debut, little-used recent recruits Brian Montenegro, Granddi Ngoyi, and Casper Sloth were present. Meanwhile, youngsters like Chris Dawson and Kalvin Phillips were drafted in.
Silvestri, posted a photo of his injury on Twitter, Redfearn later exonerated cult hero Antenucci on TV Yorkshire. Indeed, all six could have genuinely been injured but if nothing else the incident best encompassed the paranoia and confusion that had enveloped Leeds United under Cellino’s ownership.
Put it this way, It seems impossible that a similar scenario would play out at Elland Road under the current regime.