Leeds United: The Two Faces of Massimo Cellino
Well, at least they’re not going to get relegated at the end of this season. Last night at St Andrews, Leeds United beat Birmingham City by two goals to one, a result which pushes the club over the fifty point barrier for the season and provides just enough of a buffer from the bottom three to make relegation, whilst still just about a mathematical possibility, now vanishingly unlikely. Seasoned watchers of the pantomime that this football club has become, however, will already be fully aware of the fact that what happens on the pitch is only ever a small part of the story when it comes to Leeds United.
Three weeks ago, the Daily Mail reported that eccentric owner Massimo Cellino was already preparing to jettison manager Steve Evans, come the end of the season. Evans is not an individual whose travails will summon forth a great deal of sympathy from onlookers, but it is undeniable that there remains something fundamentally farcical about the ownership situation at the club, which is probably best summed up by the Mail’s brief comment on the matter, that, “He [Cellino] does not want to draw undue attention to his ownership while an appeal over a Football League ban has still not been resolved.”
Cellino’s latest ban is suspended pending his appeal, but when we consider the plain fact that he has already been been banned once, appealed the ban, given a decent impersonation of being heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the club whether banned or not, and then lost the appeal, it’s tempting to wonder why all concerned are going ahead with this entire pas de deux in the first place. But obvious concerns over the fact that the club has had six managers during the period of his involvement at Elland Road, if anything, mark the saner end of events at Elland Road over the last couple of years or so.
First up came a charge from the Football Association over comments made by Cellino’s son Edoardo to a supporter during a Facebook message conversation. Edoardo Celino, who is a director of the club, was charged by the FA with misconduct after calling said supporter “spastic” and a “moron” during this exchange, and the club came in for entirely valid criticism after failing to suspend him in the time between the exchange and the FA’s formal charge, with the protest group Time To Go Massimo pointing out the contrast between the treatment of the owner’s son with that of Steve Thompson, who was suspended by the club over a similar incident in April 2015:
Steve Thompson was suspended and his contract not renewed after allegedly… an almost identical offence. Steve Thompson vehemently denied this accusation, but was still punished by the club despite no proof of it occurring. There is irrefutable evidence, and Edoardo has admitted he has made the remarks; yet the club’s reaction is to not comment on the matter apart from asserting that Edoardo apologised to the person he abused, and that it will be left at that. We find this steadfast refusal to suspend the club director from his employment at the club frankly disgusting in light of how other members of staff have been treated, and an embarrassment that the owner’s son is allowed to abuse fans of the club unpunished.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, this week the club fund itself the subject of yet more publicity after a former employee of the club won an unfair dismissal case relating to a former employee of the club. Lucy Ward was head of education and welfare at the boys academy for Leeds United, but she was also the partner of then-manager Neil Redfearn. The court heard that the club put Redfearn on garden leave just five minutes before dismissing Ward, and that the locks had been changed on her office doors without her knowledge several weeks prior to her dismissal. One witness told the court that, when he asked why Ward was to be losing her job, that, “Mr Cellino sees them as a pair.” Unfortunately for Mr Cellino, however, UK employment law doesn’t consider “being the partner of someone you want to sack” as being a justifiable reason for sacking somebody.
Other evidence introduced at the tribunal also painted a pretty damning picture of Cellino’s attitude towards women, when it was mentioned that, at a meeting held between Cellino and Gary Cooper, the manager of the Leeds United Women’s team, Cellino allegedly said, “Why do women want to play football? Football is no place for women. They should be in the bedroom or beauticians.” Sometimes, a comment of this nature is so obviously ignorant that it needs no further comment, so we’ll leave it there, except to say that if Cellino has been acting on his best behaviour in order to strengthen the case for his appeal this summer, comments such as this can only be marked down as a form of abject failure.
The point at which anything could surprise us regarding Leeds United is long past, with the possible exception of getting some decent owners in, having something approaching a plan above and beyond “Spend the season trying to start fights in an empty room”, and finally realising the club’s vast potential and reclaiming a place in the Premier League. This has been going on since Massimo Cellino arrived at Elland Road practically without pause for air, and he’s managed to pack so many indiscretions into his time at the club – indeed it actually started before he formally completed the takeover, when we consider the club’s previous owners having to state that Cellino “had no authority to dismiss” another former manager, shortly before the takeover was completed – that it’s almost difficult to believe that he’s only been at the club for just over two years.
Sometimes, just occasionally, he will say something that is charming. Every once in a while he will come out with a comment that is bathed in pathos. One could almost get the feeling that he is wrestling with his conscience, only not in the same way that most people do. Rather than struggling with himself to do the right thing, Cellino often gives the impression that he is compelled to be the pantomime villain, even though he may not even want to be. Consider, for example, the period during which it looked as if he was prepared to sell to a supporters group. For a couple of days, there was a hint of reasonableness about him, a feeling that perhaps he had learned a lesson or two. It didn’t last, though. Within just a few days he’d caught wind of some perceived slight or other, and so so yet again began the histrionics, shattering any illusions about him in an instant. He really is a terrible, terrible man, and both English football and Leeds United would be considerably better off without him.
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