Monday, 29 December 2014

Leeds in talks to sign Krhin

Leeds are in talks with Inter Milan about signing their Slovenian central midfielder Rene Krhin.

Inter don't want to let Krhin go out on loan, preferring to sell him in a permanent deal, for about 4 million Euros.

Leeds are currently under a transfer embargo though,of course, meaning they can only sign players on free transfers or loan deals in January - and even then under certain conditions.

Krhin is a 24-year-old Slovenia international who has been linked with moves to Chelsea and Liverpool in the past.

He's hardly played for Inter though, despite joining them from Maribor in 2007, and has spent four seasons on loan at Bologna in a co-ownership deal.

The player is highly regarded by Nicola Salerno, who is effectively Leeds' sporting director, though. And Darko Milanic also spoke highly of his countryman during his short stint as Leeds boss earlier this season.

I spoke briefly to Leeds owner Massimo Cellino from Miami on Saturday night. He said the club would be looking to bring in two central midfielders (one of them being Krhin, although Cellino refused to give me any names) as well as Italian striker Leonardo Pavoletti.

Cellino and Salerno have been keen on the Sassuolo striker ever since they first arrived at Elland Road. Cellino persuaded the 26-year-old to attend the Boxing Day game against Wigan.

It's unclear what the striker made of the 2-0 home defeat by the lowly Lancashire side though.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Danny Ings sets sights on becoming England regular

Football Focus: Danny Ings feature from Simon Austin on Vimeo.

Burnley striker Danny Ings says he won't be satisfied with only winning one England cap.

The 22-year-old, who has bagged four goals in his last six games, insists he wants to become an international regular.

"To play for the full international side has always been my dream," he said.

"Not just playing for them, but going up there and staying with the senior team.

"It’s not about getting one cap, it’s about being part of it for as long as you can.

"That’s obviously the future dream. I’ll stay grounded and work as hard as I can every day on the training ground.

"It’s your form for your club that opens doors. Saido (Berahino) has done extremely well and deserved his chance.

"Hopefully one day in the future that can be me. It’s massive for the country that there are a lot of young English strikers coming through and it’s very promising."

Friday, 21 November 2014

Full statement from GFH Capital about 'rogue' tweets

GFH Capital statement:

"It has come to our attention that there has been an abuse of the GFH-Capital web domain and our Twitter account over the last few days, such that a third party has placed malicious and misleading content on them.

"We can confirm that there has been no compromise of our corporate computer systems. We have now established that the ex-Deputy CEO of GFH-Capital, David Haigh, retained administrative rights over these web accounts after his employment ended and we believe that Mr Haigh, through his associates, is responsible for these malicious attacks on our web presence.

"We are taking urgent action to recover these web accounts and will pursue legal action against those that have perpetrated and assisted in these malicious acts while spreading false accusations and misinformation."

GFH Capital also provided this 'background note':

"David Haigh was arrested in Dubai in May 2014, after the discovery of frauds carried out against GFH-Capital including the issuing of 100 false invoices that resulted in more than £4m of the Bank's money ending up in bank accounts belonging to him or a close associate.

"This has been certified by the relevant banks’ compliance officers. Courts in Dubai, the United Kingdom and Guernsey have also issued orders freezing his assets in those jurisdictions based upon the weight of the evidence against him.

"GFH-Capital remains confident that its claims of fraud against Mr Haigh will be proven in Court."

Haigh has always protested his innocence.

Dave Whelan: Time for sports media to look at itself?

Dave Whelan’s comments yesterday about Jewish and Chinese people were wrong. We agree.

That’s the easy bit over with.

To recap, the Wigan owner said it was acceptable to use the word ‘chink’, which has been widely used as an offensive and derogatory term.

He also pedalled a familiar stereotype about Jewish people – that they ‘chase money more than everybody else’ - a stereotype which has led to persecution.

A mob quickly formed to condemn Whelan – on Twitter, on websites, on radio stations, on 24-hour news channels.

Everyone agreed that the words, the sentiments, were not acceptable in this day and age. Whelan had become an easy target - take aim, fire.

In the age of 24-hour news, the story was manna from heaven.

Report the quotes, get someone on to condemn them (this was easy, as people were queuing up to do so) and then get Whelan himself on to issue a grovelling apology.

The journalists and commentators whipped themselves up into more and more of a frenzy and the adjectives became more and more hysterical - ‘outrageous’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘moral maze’, ‘cesspit’.

Simon Johnson - the former CEO of England’s 2018 World Cup bid team, which had tried to get a job for a family friend of the disgraced Jack Warner and thrown a £35,000 gala dinner for Warner and Caribbean football officials – was fastest to condemn Whelan.

Fair enough, Johnson is chief executive of the Jewish leadership council, but it stuck in the craw to hear him decrying the morals of the game.

I think much of the reaction was easy, lazy, hysterical and hypocritical.

As we know from school, there’s nothing easier than joining the crowd and picking on one kid.

Yet don’t we agree that intentions are more important than words? And deeds are certainly more important than words.

You can learn the politically-acceptable language of the day. However, simply doing this isn't enough.

I remember watching an old tape from the late 1970s of a football match involving West Brom. The commentator kept referring to the “wonderful trio of coloured players” and, as a modern viewer, it was uncomfortable to hear.

That wouldn’t be acceptable now and the commentator subsequently stopped using the word “coloured” when he covered matches.

But does that mean his thoughts had necessarily changed?

Conversely, Alan Hansen was forced to issue a grovelling apology when he used the term “coloured” on Match of the Day in 2011.

Yet he was using a term which had been deemed acceptable when he was playing.

His former team-mate John Barnes said it was ridiculous Hansen was forced to apologise and that the man he knew so well was definitely no racist.

"In the 1970s people were afraid to call me black because they thought it was an insult," Barnes said. "They would say 'coloured'. Now it has gone full circle. It's not an issue. The INTENTION is the most important thing."

Words versus intentions. Words versus deeds.

Many of those condemning Whelan work for newspapers and broadcasters which are overwhelmingly – in fact staggeringly - white.

How many non-white sports columnists do you know on the newspapers?

How many non-white sports correspondents, presenters and reporters?

How many non-white editors of newspapers, or of TV sports programmes?

In fact how many people of black or ethnic background do you know who work on the sports desks in any capacity?

I’ll tell you – hardly any.

And I was staggered to find out that not a single black UK newspaper journalist was sent to cover the World Cup.

There’s been a lot of talk of the need for a Rooney Rule in football and I actually think it should be introduced.

But maybe there needs to be a Rooney Rule in the media - and sports media in particular - as well.

Sport is played, watched and read about by a lot of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Back to Whelan.

He’s a 77-year-old man from a different era.

Do you know many people in their 70s? I know a few.

Would you be confident that - if they were quizzed about issues of race and ethnicity - then they’d use appropriate language?

I’d say it would be quite easy to catch them out.

Whelan talked more and more and dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole. He got very mixed up and muddled.

He thought he was talking positively about Jewish people.

After all, he’s someone who has devoted his life to money making, and thought, misguidedly, that he was paying a compliment.

“Do you think Jewish people chase money a little bit more than we do?

“I think they are a very shrewd people. The Jews don’t like losing money.

“Nobody likes losing money. I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else.

“I don’t think that’s offensive at all.”

And on the Chinese: “If an Englishman said he has never called a Chinaman a chink he is lying.

“There is nothing bad about doing that. It is like calling the British Brits, or the Irish paddies.”

When I was growing up, I often heard a Chinese takeaway described as a ‘chinky’. As a kid, I didn't have the confidence or the knowledge to challenge anyone about this.

As the owner of a football club and of a big business, Whelan should undoubtedly have known better. But has he ever been challenged about this before?

Words and deeds.

A lot of people have asked whether 'a man like this' should be running a football club?

Well, Whelan wasn’t elected - he bought the club.

And he’s run it very well, judging him on just about any criteria.

He’s built a new stadium, turned a profit, won the FA Cup, had long runs in the Premier League, promoted homegrown players and – up until the last couple of years – stuck with his managers.

He’s employed Spanish, German, Irish and Scottish managers. Never a black one, admittedly, but then he’s hardly alone there, is he?

And I’ll come back to that question of how many black people are currently employed in the mainstream sports media?

Whelan has also employed players from every corner of the globe – Ecuador, Grenada, Honduras, and so on and so on. That doesn't mean he isn't racist, of course, but then I’ve not heard any specific accusations of racism against him in the past either.

Perhaps, if he's been accustomed to using language or expressing views like this, he should have been challenged before, but that doesn't seem to have happened. Perhaps it's difficult to challenge the multi-millionaire owners of football clubs.

Whelan's biggest mistake has been to open himself up now, to the national media, as a man from a different era.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Why hasn't Cellino been able to buy back Elland Road?

Talking to Massimo Cellino over the course of 2014 has taught me that when he says ‘the deal is done’, he means ‘the deal is agreed’.

He doesn't necessarily mean 'the deal has been signed’, which is how you and I would probably take it.

This might seem insignificant, but it is an important distinction, as you'll see during the course of this post.

The distinction has become evident when the Italian has talked about transfers, incoming managers and, most recently, about the attempted buyback of Elland Road.

Back in August, I interviewed Cellino in the stands of the stadium for ITV Calendar.

On a sunny afternoon, he was bullish and buoyant and everything seemed good at Elland Road. Cellino announced that the terms of the share purchase agreement (SPA) with GFH had been renegotiated, essentially meaning that his debt to them was written off until the club reached the Premier League.

So he declared that the club was 'debt free'.

Cellino said all parties realised this was for the best of Leeds United. He would have more capital for the development of the team and purchase of the stadium and so the club would have a better chance of reaching the Premier League.

And for their part, GFH would have a stake that was significantly more valuable if the club were able to reach the promised land of the Premier League.

There was also another apparent reason for the compromise agreement - the parties disagreed about the state of the club’s finances when it was sold to Cellino, and this was a good way of avoiding potential legal action.

Cellino also made his now infamous promise to purchase Elland Road ‘by November’.

Originally, he had told me he would buy the ground back the day after his purchase of the club in April, but that obviously hadn't happened.

Fast forward to this week and we witnessed a very different Cellino - beleaguered. tired and weary.

Now he conceded he wouldn’t be able to buy the ground back by November after all. In fact he probably wouldn’t be able to buy it this year.

The exact reasons have been a little unclear, but I will try and shed as much light on them as I can.

Not only was Cellino a little hasty in promising to buy back Elland Road, but it turns out he was also hasty in saying a deal had been done with GFH over the SPA.

In fact it hadn’t been signed and still hasn’t.

Indeed GFH don't appear to have any intention of doing so. They want the original terms of the SPA to be honoured, meaning Cellino paying the next instalment due to them in December, for some £6 million.

Perhaps GFH now realise that those hopes of the club getting into the Premier League were a little premature and will have to wait for at least another season for that to happen.

I'm guessing their motives a bit, because I've tried to get a response from Salem Patel, via text and email, but received no reply.

Under the terms of the SPA, any substantive decision affecting GFH's shareholding has to be ratified by a majority vote of the board, including one of the two GFH-nominated directors, Salem Patel and Salah Nooruddin.

They have been unwilling to ratify a purchase of the stadium which would involve a contribution commensurate with their shareholding.

GFH have countered criticism of this stance by complaining that they thought the £10.75 million gained from the sale of Ross McCormack in the summer would be used to buy the ground.

And, in fairness to them, Cellino did say that himself.

Yet Leeds probably only received about £9 million from the sale of the Scotland striker, as a portion went to his former club Cardiff. And the Elland Road buyback clause is for £16 million - quite a discrepancy.

In any case, the terms of the SPA do not require consultation with GFH over transfers. And would they really have vetoed the sale of a player they had agreed to sell to Cardiff for a fraction of that £10.75 million in only January?

So Cellino has been looking for a mortgage to make up the shortfall.

This has so far proved impossible, mainly because of the club’s poor credit rating, which was hardly helped by the winding-up orders issued against it earlier this year.

As a result Cellino, who is even conservatively estimated to be worth £500 million, has been left with a stark choice - pay 100% for an asset that will greatly increase the value of GFH’s shareholding, yet to which they have not contributed, or risk the wrath of supporters by breaking a key promise.

The Italian has plumped for the latter, but been reluctant to express his dilemma in such stark terms, perhaps understandably. He said buying the stadium outright could cause the club to fall foul of the Football League's financial fair play rules. Yet when I called the League to check this, they said any spending on infrastructure or stadia was exempt from FFP.

Cellino has told me he hates breaking promises and letting the fans down, but unfortunately that’s exactly what has happened - for the time being at least.

The 58-year-old flies to Miami on Sunday to recharge his batteries and try and think of a solution to the current impasse.

My personal opinion, based on experience, is that this is a man who has good intentions for the club and is not there to enrich himself at its expense.

He can, however, be extremely rash, both in terms of his decision-making and his pronouncements, and that trait has cost him once again.

So we are left with a club that is still no closer to owning its own stadium and which yesterday released a statement saying its aim was to ‘stay in the Championship’ this season.

That's all a far cry from those heady days when Cellino first took over.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Lowdown on Red Bull link with Leeds United

Not for the first time, there's been confusion surrounding recent events at Elland Road.

As fans and players were preparing for Neil Redfearn's bow as permanent manager at Cardiff on Saturday, a story was published on the Daily Mail website that took everyone, including me, by surprise.

It claimed that owner Massimo Cellino was in talks with Red Bull about selling the club.


It was bylined John Edwards, (long-standing Mail reporter) initially, before being changed to David Kent (website journalist) in the afternoon. I'm not quite sure why.

I made some initial inquiries with an insider at the club and was told the story of a takeover was 'horseshit'. Phil Hay, the excellent Yorkshire Evening Post correspondent, spoke to Cellino and was told a slight variation - that it was 'bullshit'.

Yet further inquiries revealed that Cellino HAD been involved in preliminary talks with a representative of the global drinks giant.

Apparently the Italian is NOT interested in selling a club he has already put so much money and effort into (frankly I'd have been amazed if he was). But I was told he IS interested in bringing additional finance to Elland Road.

This could, apparently, even involve Red Bull taking a stake in the club - potentially by buying GFH's 25% stake (although this would obviously be the Bahraini bank's choice) as well as some of Cellino's shareholding. It was emphasised that talks were at a very early stage and that all of these possible outcomes were hypotheticals.

The Italian does have the money to continue to bankroll the club, but has always been clear he doesn't like 'throwing money from the window'. He has lofty ambitions for Leeds - some of which are being thwarted at the moment - so any additional finance would come in very useful.

We know that he wants to buy back Elland Road, but has found it difficult to get a mortgage to help do this. And we know that he wants to build a new training centre.

I finally got a call from Cellino late last night, and he was very angry about the Mail story. This was mainly because he said he has absolutely no intention of selling the club and felt the story had undermined him in the eyes of the fans.

Yet he admitted he HAS been talking to someone purporting to be a representative of Red Bull (this purporting bit was a little confusing). This could potentially lead to the global giant investing in a new training centre for the club.

Cellino has never made any secret of his dislike for the current Thorp Arch training ground - too expensive, too far from his office at Elland Road and, in any case, an unlucky venue.

There have also been talks about possible investment in the stadium, although Cellino was at pains to point out that he would never allow the famous ground to be renamed.

He was also furious that the story of the Red Bull talks had been leaked to a newspaper. 'Who is the mole?' 'Who is trying to hurt me?' he shouted, asking the question to the heavens really.

Apparently Red Bull are also averse to news of their affairs and negotiations being leaked and were unhappy when this was done during preliminary takeover talks with the club last year, before Cellino was even on the scene.

So there are serious talks going on.

That much isn't horseshit or bullshit or any other kind of shit.

And who knows exactly where these talks will lead? Probably not even Cellino himself at this stage.

Possibly with the Austrian drinks company taking a stake in Leeds; possibly with them investing in the stadium and training ground; or possibly with nothing at all.

Whatever the case, there's barely ever a quiet day at Leeds United.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Cellino's promises for Leeds fans

This piece was first published in The Sun newspaper on April 5th, the day after Massimo Cellino's takeover of Leeds United went through.

Massimo Cellino has promised Leeds fans: “I will make your club great again.”

The outspoken Italian became the official owner of the Championship giants yesterday.

An independent QC overturned the Football League’s decision to fail him as a ‘fit and proper owner’.

Speaking exclusively to SunSport, the 57-year-old has vowed:

* To return Leeds to the Premier League by 2016

* To buy back their Elland Road ground and Thorp Arch training ground NEXT WEEK

* To pay the players and staff their unpaid wages

* To transform the playing squad

Whether manager Brian McDermott will be there to oversee the revival is in serious doubt though.

Cellino said: “The fans have had to put up with 10 sh***y years and I want to make them proud of this club again.

“I’ve always said that the only assets Leeds have are their fans and their history.Next week I will go to the bank and buy back Elland Road and Thorp Arch. And on Monday I will pay all the wages.

“A lot of work needs to be done on the squad. We need new players.

“I had four signings lined up in January but I couldn’t sign them because of the ownership situation — it was so frustrating.

“In the summer we will buy some players. I want to focus on English and international players.

“I have built up a fantastic scouting network with Cagliari which we will use. I have scouts in Europe, South America and Latin America.”

And Cellino has promised to return the Yorkshire side to the promised land of the Premier League for the first time since 2004.

He added: “I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep — and I admit it will be difficult to get promotion next season.

“But in 2015-16, we will earn our way back to the Premier League, which is where Leeds belong.”

The club’s managing director David Haigh has welcomed Cellino and was due to become his chief executive.

But the Italian has some bad news for Haigh... ‘You’re fired’. He said: “David has to go. I have had too much of him.”

A consortium of local businessmen called Together Leeds have claimed they will work with Cellino, but the Italian seemed to throw cold water on this.

He said: “I promised I will talk to them and that is what I will do.”

Cellino will arrive in England on Monday and plans to hold an immediate Press conference in London.

He will then travel up to Leeds to begin his transformation of the Yorkshire side.

He is still planning to sell Cagliari, although he admits “the situation is not so hot at the moment”.

Cellino said: “There is only place in my heart for one club and that is Leeds. When I get the right offer I will sell Cagliari.”


This piece was first published in The Sun newspaper on February 9th.

Massimo Cellino has exclusively told SunSport how he will return Leeds to their former glories.

The 57-year-old Italian arrives in England tomorrow ahead of an interview with the Football League on Wednesday.

He is confident he will pass their fit and proper persons test before immediately getting to work. Cellino says he will:

* Immediately buy Elland Road * Keep manager Brian McDermott and work closely with him * Transform the club’s Academy * And give key roles to his two sons. * Speaking from his home in Miami, Cellino said he was looking forward to working alongside McDermott — despite having sacked him a week ago.

Cellino said: “I want to get to know the manager and help him.

“I hope he can help me as well. We are going to work together.

“When I am approved by the Football League I will go to the bank the next day and buy Elland Road.

“I am going to get to work straight away.

“I love the history of Leeds and I love the fans.”

Cellino has owned Italian side Cagliari for the last 22 years but is planning to sell them to focus on Leeds.

He had a buyer lined up, but the deal has stalled.

He added: “If I was running a Fiat 500 in Italy, now I have the chance to run a Ferrari.

“I feel like I did 22 years ago, when I first bought Cagliari.

“Or when I was eight-years-old and my father bought me my first bike and I woke up at 4am to ride it.

“I want to forget about Cagliari now, my heart is with Leeds.”

Cellino says he plans to use all the experience he gained from running Cagliari at the Yorkshire club.

He said: “Cagliari was recognised by UEFA as a model of a well-run club.

“We didn’t spend what we didn’t have.

“We had a €45million budget (£37m) but managed to compete with clubs with budgets of hundreds of millions.

“I am most proud of the Academy we had. I spent a lot of time and money on it and even knew the price of the seeds for the grass.

“In the end we had six home-grown players in the first team, all from Sardinia. Is there another team in Europe with a record like that?

“Imagine what we can do at Leeds — it has much more potential. I will set about finding a guy in Leeds who loves Leeds to run the Academy there.”

Cellino says he will buy a home in Yorkshire and spend a lot of time there.

And he will give his two sons roles at the club.

He said: “I am bringing my two sons with me to work there and learn about business. One is 22, the other 24.

“They speak English, Spanish, German and Italian. They have degrees from American universities.

“I am giving the future to my sons and bringing them to a big club with potential.

“One will work in the marketing department, the other will work with the secretary, learning about wages and contracts.

“They are not spoilt. They each drive a Smart car and live in modest apartments.”

Cellino has a big job on his hands to win over the Leeds supporters, who are furious about his treatment of boss McDermott.

The Italian says he is now determined to work hard and keep his head down.

He added: “I am going to a country where I want to be approved.

“I am moving to England from Italy because English football is better than Italian football.

“I have got passion and the fans loved me at Cagliari.”

He says he plans to quickly get in a couple of additions to the squad and then invest more heavily in players in the summer.

Cellino said: “In the last few years not enough money has been spent on investing in players.

“I want to reinforce the club. When you spend little you achieve little.”

Sunday, 26 October 2014

'Trapped by ebola but I won't give up on these kids'

Holed up in the football academy he runs for the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone as fear and suspicion spreads throughout Africa, Johnny McKinstry is standing firm.

When he was sacked as manager of the national team last month, his worried parents urged him to come home to Northern Ireland. But even though more than 1,200 people have been killed by Ebola in Sierra Leone and his former players are being treated like ‘fugitives’, the academy in the capital Freetown is now a sanctuary from the devastating disease and 29-year-old McKinstry has vowed to stay on.

‘We are like an extended family here and that’s what I told my parents,’ says McKinstry, as he sits in his spartan office in the middle of the 15-acre complex.

‘There are 27 boys here and, before each enrolled, I went to meet his parents. The first thing I always said was, “I’ll look after your son”. I meant it and can’t go back on that now. If I was just doing this job for myself, I’d probably have gone home but people are relying on me and I have to stay.’

No one is allowed in or out of the academy, which was founded in 2007 and is funded by Bellamy, the only exception being McKinstry’s forays into town once a fortnight to pick up supplies. If anything, the dedication and enthusiasm of the youngsters, who range in age from 12 to 17, has actually improved in recent weeks.

‘I’ve been immensely impressed with the kids,’ says McKinstry. ‘Their strength and focus has just bowled me over.’

The Sierra Leone national team that McKinstry used to coach have become football’s lepers, chased out of every country they visit because of a disease they do not even have.

Last month they were banned from playing at home following the outbreak. All their games have become away fixtures and to say they are unwelcome guests is something of an understatement. In the last eight days they played Cameroon home and away.

Sierra Leone defender Mustapha Dumbuya, who grew up in Tottenham and plays for Notts County in League One, says: ‘When we arrived in Cameroon, we checked into our hotel and everything seemed fine.

‘Then we were told it was fully booked and that we had to leave immediately. We went to another hotel and it was empty. We were literally the only residents there.’

It turned out that the Cameroon government had asked for the visiting delegation to be quarantined.

Dumbuya and a couple of his team-mates ventured out onto the streets and received a by-now-familiar response from the locals.

‘As soon as people saw our training tops, the shouts of, “Ebola, Ebola” started,’ he says. ‘I’m getting used to it to be honest.’

Things first started to change with the Africa Cup of Nations pre-qualifier in the Seychelles in August. The team were refused entry to the country and were held in transit in Nairobi, Kenya, for two days.

Full-back Michael Lahoud, who plays for Philadelphia Union in the MLS, says: ‘We felt like fugitives. ‘We were on the run, only we were fleeing from something we didn’t know anything about.’

Eventually the Seychelles forfeited the match, so worried were they about Ebola entering their idyll and ruining the lucrative tourism industry.

This was only the start of Sierra Leone’s problems though.

They were banned from playing any matches at home by the Confederation of African Football, meaning all their games were now away fixtures. Ivory Coast wanted to ban them from entering last month and the match was confirmed so late that the Sierra Leone players had to buy their own plane tickets.

‘They tried to ban us from coming, yhen the opposition didn’t want to shake our hands or swap shirts with us,’ said Lahoud. ‘South Africa is the latest country to close its borders to Leone nationals and I can’t help feeling like we have become the scapegoats and face of this disease.’

Things reached their nadir with the fixture against DR Congo in Kinshasa. There was the customary nightmare journey, followed by hostility on the streets. Then came the match in the Mazembe Stadium. Dumbuya says: ‘Before kick-off, Johnny walked out on to the pitch, as he always used to do.

‘He looked a little shaken when he came back into the dressing room and said, “This isn’t going to be easy lads”. He wasn’t wrong. When we walked out of the tunnel the whole place just erupted and we were hit by this deafening noise.

‘It didn’t take long to work out what they were chanting — ‘E-BO-LA! E-BO-LA!’ It seemed everyone in the crowd was chanting it.’ Lahoud, who was born in Sierra Leone before moving to Washington DC at the age of five, says he will never forget that day.

‘It stung me and hurt deep inside,’ he says. ‘How could another African country — itself dealing with the disease — react like that?’

Sierra Leone lost the match 2-0 and suddenly their great form under McKinstry had evaporated.

These experiences will not deter Dumbuya from representing his country though.

‘All the boys in our squad are so passionate about playing for Sierra Leone,’ he says. ‘That applies more now than ever. We feel like we are representing the country in a positive light and giving the people something to be proud of. I’m in this for the long haul.’

The same, it appears, goes for McKinstry. ‘This is a wonderful country that has only just recovered from a terrible civil war and is now having to contend with another crisis,’ he says.

‘The least I can do is stick around and do a little bit to help.’

This piece was first published in the Mail on Sunday newspaper

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Roy Keane and Gary Charles: A different perspective on the Man Utd legend

I don't know Roy Keane.

My opinions of him were always based on what I'd seen of the Irishman on TV, in the papers and what I'd read in his two autobiographies.

The image I formed was perhaps the same as yours - of a ferocious, unforgiving and uncompromising loner.

A man who has, by and large, struggled as a manager because he can't empathise with or relate to players. A man who savages anyone he feels has let him down.

A lot of that may well be true, but I got a different perspective by speaking to the former England defender Gary Charles - a friend of mine who has been a friend of Keane's for more than 25 years.

The duo first met as teenagers and shared digs together in Nottingham.

These were heady days for both men. They were becoming regulars in the first team and each looked destined for stardom.

Charles was dubbed "the Brazilian", because of his silky dribbling skills and skin tone.

After one game, legendary manager Brian Clough purred: "When Charles plays a one-two, he goes like a gazelle.

"It's so effortless - at first it looks as if he's not moving, yet he's 40 yards up the field."

There were also lots of nights out, plenty of girls - and some scrapes - along the way.

Both played in the 1991 FA Cup final against Tottenham - when Charles was chopped down by that infamous Paul Gascoigne tackle early in the game - and the defender went on to win three England caps that summer.

Although it looked like each player was on the fast-track to the top, their journeys went in different directions after this.

Keane moved to Manchester United in 1992 and we know the rest - he became the club's on-field emblem and drove them to unprecedented levels of success.

Charles's next destination was, with respect, rather less glamorous - a short move across the east Midlands to Derby County. His form seemed to have gone backwards since 1991.

The reason was probably a road accident in the summer of 1992, in which he hit and killed a teenage cyclist. Although Charles was cleared of wrongdoing, the experience - of seeing the look on the boy's face at impact, of seeing his stricken family at the inquest - had a profound effect on the footballer.

His career was still pretty stellar - he played for a very successful Aston Villa side, for Benfica in Portugal, and also for his boyhood team West Ham - but it never really reached the heights that had once been expected.

He had also sunk deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Things got really bad during a year out with a career-threatening ankle injury at Villa, and there was an infamous incident towards the end of his career, in 2002, when he collided with another car in London, and told the other driver he was a bank robber on the run before fleeing the scene.

He was sent to prison for four months for drink driving in 2004, then jailed for a year in 2005 for threatening a nightclub bouncer while serving a suspended sentence.

Drink was always at the heart of his problems. I'd need at least another 5,000 words to try and get to the root of why Charles drank - perhaps that's for another day.

This is where Keane comes in again though. The pair had kept in touch sporadically since parting ways at Forest.

When Charles was serving his sentence in Rutland Prison in 2006, he received an unexpected and lengthy letter from his old pal, who was by now the manager of Sunderland.

The letter talked about what good friends they had been and what good times they had had, before going on to say 'There but for the grace of god - what's happened to you could have been me'."

When he was a wealthy Premier League footballer, Charles found he had dozens of friends. Mysteriously, they all disappeared when he experienced problems with drink and the law.

In the letter, Keane vowed to help his old pal, saying he'd give him some guidance about starting a coaching career, and that he'd provide him with somewhere to stay when he got out of prison.

And he was good to his word. In fact Keane didn't just offer his friend a place to stay, he brought him in with him and his family.

The Irishman also took Charles to training at Sunderland, where the former full-back sometimes took part alongside the other players, and at other times organised training drills.

When the side went on a pre-season tour to Holland, Charles went along as well.

The east Londoner has now taken some of his badges and is a coach at the University of Nottingham, as well as being a part-time scout.

It's not all been plain-sailing, but he's stayed sober and is doing well, and it's quite a transformation and an achievement for him. He is also looking after two of his three sons, with the eldest having left home to take up a job.

Charles himself has to take the credit for turning his life around, but a bit of credit should also go to Keane.

Not that he'd want any credit though. In fact he'd hate that. As far as I'm aware, the Irishman has never told anyone about this. He hasn't spoken about it in interviews, or in his books.

The last thing he's wanted is a pat on the back for helping out his mate, in private.

And Charles hasn't wanted to talk about it either, which is why there aren't any quotes from him here, and why it's in a blog.

But I thought it was a story worth telling.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Cellino's gamble on Milanic

Let's be clear about one thing at the outset - Neil Redfearn wanted the Leeds manager's job on a permanent basis.

He was buoyed by the way the players responded to him in both training and matches during his four games in charge.

And he felt that, at 49, and with many years as academy boss and two previous spells as caretaker under his belt, he was ready to step up.

Massimo Cellino's logic in appointing Darko Milanic and overlooking the caretaker was that he wanted to keep Redfearn at the academy and at the club long-term (because he does have a bit of a habit of sacking managers or head coaches).

This argument stacked up only if Redfearn was happy with the arrangement. And the fact is he wanted the top job.

That makes this is a big gamble by Cellino, arguably the biggest of his tenure at Elland Road so far.

Redfearn has been strongly linked with the top job at his former club Barnsley, where he enjoys hero status from his time there as a player.

There hasn't been any contact between the parties yet, but if the Tykes do decide to replace under-pressure Danny Wilson, you can be pretty sure that Redfearn's name will be at the top of their wanted list.

That could mean Leeds losing one of their most loyal and respected servants, a man who knows the club inside out and who undeniably did a great job for them as caretaker. Record: played four, won three, drawn one.

It's why Phil Neville, admittedly not the most popular pundit among Leeds fans for obvious reasons, made pertinent points about the Milanic appointment last week.

"They've already got somebody there with the quality and the experience, who knows what the club's all about," he said.

"If they are a club who want to bring through their own players, well this lad's been doing it for the last however many years."

There have been a lot of departures at Elland Road in recent months - Benito Carbone, Andrew Umbers, Graham Bean, Dave Hockaday - the list goes on.

But Redfearn could prove particularly difficult to replace.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Trouble with Mr Bean at Leeds United

Up until today, I thought of Graham Bean as a behind-the-scenes administrator at Leeds United: a solid, suited Yorkshireman who quietly got on with the business of signing off contracts, paying bills and dealing with the Football League.

That image changed dramatically when the 53-year-old came out all guns blazing after a quite spectacular falling out with Leeds United's irascible Italian owner, Massimo Cellino.

Bean, 53, took to Twitter, using his little-known account, @FootballFactors, to publicly lambast Cellino.

He wrote "never seen morale so low anywhere (as Leeds)" and "relieved to be out of the mad house".

I spoke to Bean this evening (more of that later) and his anger was still palpable. I could picture him with his sleeves rolled up and fists clenched as he spoke.

Of course Cellino is not averse to apparent impulse sackings.

We saw that when he fired Brian McDermott before he had even taken over the club; we saw it when Benito Carbone was ditched as a technical consultant; we saw it when Andrew Umbers, who had been brought in to oversee cost-cutting at Elland Road, was ruthlessly dispensed with.

The falling out with Bean was still very unexpected though. After all, this was a man who was performing an awful lot of the administrative tasks at the club and who seemed to be quietly effective.

Bean - the Football Association's first ever compliance officer, and before that a policeman for two decades - had signed off the deals for 15 new players after being brought in on a 12-month contract as a consultant by Cellino.

The reason for his dismissal appears, on the face of it, very trivial.

This is the story. Bean agreed to Reading's request to move their league game against Leeds next week back 24 hours, from Tuesday to Wednesday.

This was because the Royals’ game against Wolves this weekend was moved from Saturday to Sunday so it could be shown live on Sky TV, and the Berkshire side wanted an extra day to recover.

Bean argues the Football League would have insisted the game was moved anyway.

He told me: “It was three months ago, and he (Cellino) was on holiday.

“Reading asked ‘Can we move the game 24 hours, from Tuesday to Wednesday’. It was the middle of transfer window and I had a thousand and one things to do.

"I agreed. The League would have made us do it anyway.

“Yesterday he (Cellino) found out about it. So I get a phone call from a lackey of his (a club employee in the accounts department) to tell me I’d been fired.”

Bean says he’s been told that Cellino was “apoplectic” when he found out about the fixture change, and was “foaming at the mouth”.

When I put Bean’s comments to Cellino, he replied: “I don’t give a fuck. I have to run this club my way. I don’t like to talk about private matters. Ciao.”

It's easy to view the Italian's actions as irrational.

But there are explanations for his actions.

First off, Cellino is incredibly competitive and completely absorbed by the club. He wouldn’t have wanted to give Reading any mercy at all after their Sunday fixture against Wolves.

He's also long harboured a suspicion that the League fixtures are weighted against his side.

When he was in the process of buying Leeds last season, they were in the middle of a long run of consecutive away games in the Championship, which he just couldn’t fathom - and he promised such a thing would never happen on his watch.

It's perhaps fair to say that Cellino should have spoken to Bean to get his reasons for the fixture switch though, rather than summarily axing him.

Bean also says there was a clause in his contract stipulating that if there was a breach, then 14 days would be allowed to remedy it, which has obviously not been adhered to here.

Bean also made a fair point when he pointed at the lack of people to help Cellino run the club when he tweeted: “no more signings – who is there to do the paperwork?”

After being informed of his dismissal, Bean says he called Cellino to confront him about his decision and the way it had been handled.

Now, I for one would have been paid to listen in to this particular conversation.

Bean says he told the Italian exactly what he thought of him, using some choice Yorkshire language, and he admits the C-bomb was dropped at least once.

Cellino was apparently quite taken aback and told Bean to “watch your mouth”.

Bean is still angry and promises this won't be the end of the matter. So, as my dearly departed nan used to say, watch this space.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Milanic '95%' to become new Leeds boss and should be confirmed on Sunday

I've had quick contact with Massimo Cellino tonight and he says it's "95% sure" that Darko Milanic will become the new Leeds United head coach.

The club's Italian owner says he will know for sure on Sunday. Presumably this is when Milanic should have sorted out his severance deal with his current club, Sturm Graz.

Privately, Cellino admits he made an error in appointing Dave Hockaday - too inexperienced a manager and lacking the profile and probably the personality for such a big role.

He realised he needed a more experienced boss to come in, which inevitably meant spending more money.

The search led him to the 46-year-old Slovenian, who was an international player of some standing, and who has had success as a manager with Maribor in Slovenia, and then with Austrian side Sturm Graz since the summer of 2013.

And this might sound flippant, but it really isn't - Milanic is also not a bad looking bloke. This will not have escaped Cellino's attention.

He regularly commented on how ugly Hockaday was and even insisted this had held him back in his coaching/ managerial career.

There were other candidates for the job, of course. Cellino tried to get Oscar Garcia, and thought he had succeeded, only for Watford to beat him to the signature of the 41-year-old Spaniard.

He also met former West Brom manager Steve Clarke, but wasn't convinced the Scot really wanted the job.

In fact Clarke admitted he wanted to manage a Premier League side.

Cellino joked that Clarke had once been assistant to Gianfranco Zola (at West Ham), so can't have been taught very well.

The two Italians famously fell out when Cellino owned Cagliari and took Zola there as a player.

The 58-year-old also met former Leeds boss Simon Grayson - and his agent. The eccentric Italian joked that he wasn't sure who was the manager and who was the agent, because the latter spoke more than the former.

Cellino admits he's baffled and frustrated that managers (or head coaches) in England all seem to have agents, and that they exert so much influence.

He insists things are different in Italy.

Anyway, it looks like Milanic is the man, so long as he can sort out the final details of his severance with Sturm Graz, and we should know on Sunday.

Another chapter begins at Elland Road, with the club about to appoint their first foreign coach.

Cellino insists that Milanic will have a talented and improving squad of players to work with if he comes in. The Italian has been impressed with their recent progress under caretaker boss Neil Redfearn.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Invictus Games: The wounded warriors who refused to surrender

There was the briefest moment of bewilderment, confusion and uncertainty, before reality set in.

Then screaming, panic and pain.

“I lifted my left hand and felt my fingers hanging off, tapping against the back of my hand, which was just a bloody stump,” remembers JJ Chalmers.

“And my right arm was gone, it just wasn’t there. That’s when I realised there was nothing I could do for myself, other than call for help.

“That’s when I started thinking ‘oh man, what have you got yourself into here?”

A massive commotion was going on all around. Blood, dust, fear.

Eventually someone arrived to help and patch him up, before having to go and help other casualties.

Two of his fellow marines had been killed, along with their Afghan interpreter.

“It was the scariest thought in the world, being alone,” Chalmers admits.

He was only thinking of survival until he heard the unmistakeable, heavy whirr of a helicopter overhead, and at that point he knew he wouldn’t die on that patch of ground.

John James Chalmers, 23. He had been a Royal Marines commando.

The best of the best, the elite. Doing a job he loved, alongside men he admired, pushing himself to the absolute limit, each and every day.

A few days later, he was lying in his bed in hospital. The right side of his face had almost collapsed; he had lost two fingers and had the others wired back on; his right elbow had disintegrated; his legs were badly injured.

“I was lying there thinking ‘what’s to come? What is ahead of me?’”

Screaming in the dark

Senior aircraftman Mike Goody was having to live at home with his parents again after being blown up by a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in August 2008.

Mike Goody was trapped under his vehicle for four hours The 22-year-old had been trapped under the wreckage of the armoured vehicle he was driving for four hours, before eventually being pulled free.

After that there were 14 operations to save his lower leg, but they were in vain and it had to be amputated. He was also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and terrifying flashbacks.

It was an incredibly tough time for both him and his parents, Frank and Jackie. His mum Jackie remembers one particularly vivid night.

“Mike was in his bedroom and you could hear him screaming and shouting and banging on the door, speaking some bizarre language I later found out was Pashto, which he’d learnt out there,” she recalls.

“It was just a case of trying to calm him down and talk to him.”

Goody was struggling to cope though and sought solace in alcohol.

“A typical day for me would be waking up from an epic day’s drinking, cracking my first beer open within 10 or 15 minutes, then onto the next and the next,” he remembers.

“Then it was onto the spirits. Then I’d be thinking ‘how can I successfully kill myself?’ Not just a fleeting thought, but in-depth planning.

“I felt like I was a burden. If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be a burden any more.”

'Competitive beast' is back

Like many other injured servicemen, corporal Paul Vice was taken to the military rehabilitation centre at Headley Court in Surrey.

That’s where the possibilities offered by sport opened up in front of him.

Wheelchair tennis, swimming, athletics – he tried them all, before deciding he liked sitting volleyball, cycling and archery best of all.

His injuries were numerous and severe after he was blown up by an IED, or improvised explosive device, in Afghanistan in August 2011.

He reels them off: “Four hundred significant wounds up and down my left side, quite a bad head injury, severed carotid artery.”

Vice, now 31, can still clearly remember the explosion that tore him apart three years ago.

"I was walking along on a normal day patrol," he says "and saw two guys hunkered down in a field.

"Then I saw an oil drum poking out of the bottom of a wall. I knew what it was and ran, but not fast enough. I turned round and that was it. Boom. Game over."

Not quite game over though.

The sight of Vice pulling the cord of his bow using his mouth during an archery session shows his ingenuity and determination to overcome his injuries.

“Just because you are down, doesn’t mean you are broken or beaten and can’t compete,” Vice says. “Any marine is a competitive beast and you have to get back to that as quickly as possible.”

Rock stars take to the stage

Sport also rescued Goody, providing a salvation from alcoholism and suicidal thoughts.

He competed in a marathon and iron man competition and was within a whisker of being chosen for a trek to the South Pole with Prince Harry.

Then he rediscovered his love of a swimming.

As a teenager, Goody had competed in galas up and down the country and even hoped to compete in the Olympics one day, although he ultimately lacked the dedication to realise his dream.

Now he is giving the sport his all and has been selected to compete for Britain at the Invictus Games.

For Chalmers, sport reminded him what he was capable of.

“Not being arrogant, but I didn’t used to be an average human being,” he says.

“I was a Royal Marines commando. I was capable of a whole lot and pushed myself to the absolute limit. But in the past few years, to keep my head above water, the average became acceptable.

“Once you get involved in sport, you realise you are capable of a whole lot more.”

He took up cycling, got better and better, and started to compete.

“Getting on that bike, doing 45km and enjoying the pain and punishment and looking forward to getting back on and doing even better next time – that’s how I used to feel before I was injured,” he beams.

He has been selected by Britain for non-amputee cycling and will compete at the Lee Valley Velopark on Saturday September 13th.

Britain's captain for the Invictus Games is Dave Henson MBE, who will be competing in sitting volleyball, as well as the 200m and 400m.

The 29-year-old, who was blown up by an IED while serving with the Engineer Regiment in Helmand in February 2011, says the Games will be a chance to “come together and show we can’t be overcome or beaten”.

“And in front of everyone we care about,” he adds.

Goody is relishing the chance to “prove to myself and my parents and family that I can do stuff”.

His dad, Frank, a former military man himself, is not prone to outpourings of emotion, yet he admits it could be difficult to keep himself together when his son competes.

“I was terrified when I first saw his injuries,” he admits. “I wondered ‘will he cope?’ And, yes, he did cope. What holds him back? Nothing. He will go for everything.”

The Games will also provide an opportunity for the men to stand alongside their former colleagues once more.

“The thing I am looking forward to most of all is getting in amongst the lads again,” Chalmers says. “They’re the same sort of friends I had in Afghanistan.

"This group of people I am just honoured to know. They are my inspiration and should be everyone’s inspiration.

“The guys are rock stars and should be the most famous people in the world.”

Friday, 29 August 2014

Cellino explains Hockaday dismissal - and says he'd like him back one day

Leeds owner Massimo Cellino sacked Dave Hockaday on Thursday – and then revealed he would like him back as boss one day.

Hockaday was dismissed after just six games in charge of the Championship side.

The final straw for Cellino came with an embarrassing League Cup defeat by Bradford on Wednesday night.

The Italian had initially decided to sack Hockaday following the 4-1 league defeat at Watford on Saturday, only to perform a dramatic U-turn.

Hockaday, 56, leave with a record of three defeats in four league games.

“I felt sorry for him and had to give him some tranquillity,” Cellino told me.

“After the game on Wednesday, I found him in real trouble, it was getting too much for him.

“It was hell for him. He was under big, big pressure. I had to do something.”

Cellino denied he had made a mistake in appointing the 56-year-old back in June though.

The decision to choose Hockaday to succeed Brian McDermott as Leeds boss was met with widespread derision among the Leeds faithful.

The 56-year-old had only one previous managerial job on his CV – and that had ended in the sack at non-league Forest Green following a run of seven defeats in eight games.

“I think he has good qualities,” Cellino added.

“I found he had skills, loyalty and a desire to work hard.

“He is a very nice man – probably too nice.

“In the future, when I have a stronger team, I would like him to come back to Leeds.

“He is the perfect coach for a club that is strong.

Cellino had a reputation as a ruthless owner who got through lots of coaches during his time as owner of Italian side Cagliari.

Yet he admitted he felt sympathy and possible even guilt because of Hockaday's plight.

“I don’t think it was a fair chance for Hockaday,” the 58-year-old said.

“He needed an environment that was ready to protect him.

“I told him a couple of days ago ‘it’s not your fault’.

“The club doesn’t have a physical trainer or a goalkeeping coach.

“The team isn’t strong enough. The whole culture isn’t right.

“It’s easier to coach Real Madrid than Leeds at the moment.

“Hockaday needed time, but there was a game Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, and he never had that time.

“He agreed with my decision and it was like a weight had been lifted from him.”

Academy boss Neil Redfearn will now take caretaker charge of the side against Bolton tomorrow and Cellino believes things will start to improve.

“Neil Redfearn knows the boys and he is going to protect that team on Saturday," he said.

“We will have good new players coming.”

Cellino insisted he did not have a replacement lined up.

“If I said I had someone lined up, I would be lying,” he said.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Cellino on Bates meetings, Hockaday, and new signings

You might have thought you'd seen the back of him, but he refuses to go away.

On Thursday, Ken Bates gave an interview to Yorkshire Radio, revealing some recent meetings with new owner Massimo Cellino.

Turns out that what he said was true - and for the reason that a few of you had said.

I spoke to Cellino on Thursday night and he told me: "It's true, we've had meetings. I have to protect Leeds from the case involving Bates and GFH.

"He is suing GFH and the Leeds owner, which is now me.

"I am trying to have a friendly transaction to save the club a lot of money. We are spending too much time, money and energy on legal cases."

These are the facts as far as I'm aware (you might know more than me).

When GFH bought the club, they agreed Bates would continue as president, for three years, and at a salary of approximately £300,000 per year.

GFH subsequently sacked Bates, because he had committed the club to paying for a private jet to fly him from his home in Monaco to Leeds whenever he wanted, for three years.

Bates insisted the travel arrangement was covered by the contract of sale and is taking legal action against Leeds and GFH.

This is likely to be alleviated by some kind of deal, most likely with Bates' Radio Yorkshire being given the broadcast rights to Leeds matches (while they are in the Championship, anyway).

Meanwhile, Cellino said he was "ashamed" of the team's performance against Brighton on Tuesday night, when they lost 2-0 at Elland Road. But he refused to blame manager Dave Hockaday for the defeat.

"I was so pissed off with him during the match, but then afterwards I realised it wasn't his fault, and the fans need to realise this," he said.

"He doesn’t have the players he needs to do what he wants. I would like to blame Hockaday - that would be the easy thing to do and might make me feel better - but the truth is he just doesn’t have the players at the moment."

Cellino hopes to bring in as many as six new players, including Cagliari starlet Adryan.

That deal is proving quite complex though, so could take a while.

Offloading unwanted players is proving difficult, basically because there aren't any clubs coming in for them.

Sam Byram certainly isn't in this unwanted category, yet reports of big offers for him are wide of the mark. I understand that there haven't been any firm bids for the full-back.

Certainly Cellino doesn't feel the transfer strategy of the last few seasons has been that effective.

While he says only about £2 million has been spent on transfer fees in the last three seasons, the wages bill last season was £19 million.

So the low transfer fees don't mask the fact that a lot of the players were ageing and on big salaries. Perhaps not the most prudent strategy.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Cellino hopeful of Adryan deal

Leeds owner Massimo Cellino hopes to pull off a major transfer coup by landing the ’new Kaka’.

Cellino is locked in talks with Brazilian club Flamengo about signing their playmaker Adryan.

Manchester United made moves for the 20-year-old in 2012, while he has also been linked with Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Adryan is currently on loan at Cellino’s old club, Cagliari, after the Italian took him there in January.

Cellino, 58, revealed: “The player wants to come to Elland Road, so that is not the issue here. I know Adryan well and he is a special talent.

“But this is a complicated deal. There is still talking to do with Flamengo and the player’s agent.”

Adryan’s agent is due to meet Cellino at Elland Road today and a deal could be concluded before tonight’s game at home to Brighton.

Adryan has played for Brazil at every age level from the Under-15s to the Under-20s.

So far, he has been dubbed the new Zico, Romario and Kaka in his homeland.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Cellino on new signings, Hockaday, Elland Road and packed lunches

I've interviewed Massimo Cellino for ITV Calendar and you can see some clips here.

It's impossible to capture a 45-minute interview in five one-minute chunks though, so I thought I'd expand.

I interviewed Cellino in the stands at Elland Road on Thursday and he was looking rather like a middle-aged rocker, with beige leather jacket, jeans and trainers, rather than his usual outfit of dark suit and open-necked shirt.

And he was in good form - energetic, open and positive.

Perhaps one reason was he was pleased with how pre-season has gone for his team. Admittedly, it's hard to draw too many conclusions from the matches Leeds played in Italy - beating a very poor FC Gherdina team 16-0 before two Leeds XIs went head to head after their Romanian opposition failed to turn up.

But the training sessions were tough, certainly proving too much for one player.

Jonathan Rossini was forced to pull up during one running drill because he just couldn't cope with the physical demands. Cellino had been keen to sign the Swiss defender, but his body and mind just didn't seem right (he has recently had to contend with some family issues), so it was decided best for Leeds to pull out of the deal to sign him.

There's been a back to basics approach at Leeds this summer. Hockaday is a tracksuit coach who's happiest putting his players through their paces on the training pitch, and Cellino insists he's struck up a good rapport with his new head coach.

"We speak the same language, the language of football," he says. "Dave really understands the game and so do I. In fact sometimes he doesn't even need to say anything for me to understand what he means."

Cellino has demanded humility from his players. He admits he deliberately closed the Thorp Arch canteen before the team left for Italy, because they were taking their privileges for granted .

"They were talking about their apple pie, their jacuzzi, their spinning classes before. You need to earn these things."

So they did have to make their own arrangements for lunch for a couple of days, with many of them bringing in packed lunches. And it was a shock to the system.

The Italian says he was impressed by what he saw during the pre-season tour to Italy though.

"In the hotel, they told me 'your best Cagliari team never behaved as good like these guys.'

"And this is why I was proud. A lot of English players drink and don't behave themselves.

"They worked three times a day and are really nice guys. They are driving really hard.

"A few of those are very beautiful players. I am very impressed. I saw Morrison, Hunt - they didn't play last year, but if you asked me now they are the last ones I would want to sell."

Someone who didn't meet Cellino's standards was goalkeeper Paddy Kenny though, who didn't even make the tour.

Cellino says the player's condition was poor when he turned up for pre-season in Leeds, and that he wasn't willing to meet the standards of the new regime when he was spoken to.

According to the 57-year-old, the goalkeeping position shouldn't be a problem this season.

Cellino says new signing Marco Silvestri is an absolute gem. He expects the 23-year-old to be the best keeper in the Championship and one of the very best in the whole country.

The other new signings are midfielder Tommaso Bianchi, forward Souleymane Doukara - who Cellino says is fast, skilful and will become a fans' favourite - and right back Gaetano Berardi, as well as another keeper, Stuart Taylor.

Cellino also said he was in advanced talks to sign two more defenders - one Scottish and one English, although he wouldn't give names.

Another good source at the club told me a deal is expected to go through for Roma midfielder Federico Viviani, although the player's agent has played down the link.

One player Cellino says won't be joining is former Newcastle striker Nile Ranger.

There clearly were some discussions about the striker, perhaps just between Cellino and Hockaday, who knew the player during his time at Swindon.

Cellino describes him as "the bad boy", which is certainly accurate when you consider his string of arrests and that infamous photo of him posing with a replica gun.

Cellino explains: "The players are like a family and I can't afford to spend too much time on one of them who has problems." So the transfer will not happen, he says.

Another player who won't be at Elland Road next season is, of course, Ross McCormack, the hero of the last campaign.

Cellino says the striker wanted to leave for Cardiff in January and that he stopped him at the 11th hour.

He says the player's agent then agitated for an improved contract and subsequently a move almost as soon as the season had ended.

When McCormack and his agent told Cellino, face to face, that he wanted to leave, the game was pretty much up.

However, Cellino still turned down a £10m offer from Fulham, eventually managing to get £10.75m for him.

"I didn't like that someone else from the Championship came to get our best player," he admits.

Money from the sale will be used to help buy back Elland Road though, which Cellino says will happen in November.

However, he's not so keen on Thorp Arch, which he says is "like an amusement park" and too far from the stadium. The Italian wants a training centre close to Elland Road which he can drive to within five minutes.

He's already actively looking for land for the new training centre.

The other big piece of news, which has been well reported by the excellent Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post, is that Cellino has reached an agreement with previous owners GFH to wipe out a lot of the debt at the club.

When the Italian purchased Leeds, he agreed to service a debt of £24m built up during GFH’s tenure as majority shareholder.

Cellino argued that GFH had not fully disclosed the state of the financial problems at Elland Road though, and demanded that they compromise on the agreement.

So under the terms of a new agreement, GFH is willing to wipe out half of the debt immediately and take repayment of the remaining money if and when Leeds are promoted to the Premier League.

So far so good perhaps, but the real days of judgement will come on the pitch, starting with Millwall away.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

McCormack tells Leeds he wants to leave

Star striker Ross McCormack has rocked Leeds United by telling owner Massimo Cellino that he wants to leave the club.

McCormack, 27, informed Cellino of his decision at a face to face meeting at Elland Road earlier this week. 

The Scotland international was top scorer in the Championship last season with 29 goals. He was also Leeds' player of the season. 

Italian Cellino has always said he is determined to keep McCormack - but only if the player wants to stay. 

And the 57-year-old was shocked and saddened by McCormack's decision. 

Cardiff, Norwich, Fulham and Derby have all made enquiries about the prolific striker and his exit now seems inevitable. 

The news will be another big blow to fans of the Yorkshire giants. Many are angry after little-known Dave Hockaday was appointed head coach of the club last week. 

McCormack has been at Leeds for four seasons and is a huge fan favourite. 

He did turn up for the first day of pre-season training on Thursday and for the club's kit launch this morning, but it is uncertain whether he will join the rest of the players on their training camp in Italy next week.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Reasons for Dave Hockaday appointment

The headline on the Sun story I wrote about Dave Hockaday's imminent appointment as Leeds head coach yesterday read 'Shockaday'.

That seemed appropriate, because there does seem to be a shock-a-day at Leeds at the moment.

North-easterner Hockaday was unveiled at a press conference at Elland Road on Wednesday, but it was notable that Massimo Cellino probably did 95% of the talking.

He even finished off a couple of Hockaday's answers for him.

The Italian said he was unaware of the level of fan opposition to the appointment (85% against in a Yorkshire Evening Post poll; uproar on Twitter), because he doesn't read newspapers or look at the internet.

Probably just as well eh.

As usual, some of the Cellino quotes were gems.

He seemed genuinely bemused by opposition to the appointment, emphasising he wants the club back in the Premier League and everything he does is geared towards that.

"You've had 12 bad years here," he said. "Isn't it time to try something different and to trust me?"

He then looked at the assembled journalists and said: "Don't you want to be covering a Premier League team, to come on this journey with me?"

He then recounted a story about seeing kids with old, tatty shoes queuing with their parents in the club shop to buy season tickets. He said that bestowed a great sense of responsibility on him.

So what were the motivations for the appointment? After all, few of us (certainly not me) had even heard of Dave Hockaday a month ago.

This is what I think and have gleaned.

Now, finance did play a role. The club's financial situation is pretty parlous, as we know.

Brian McDermott was on £750,000 a year and received a pay-off of about £750,000 (payable in instalments) for the two years remaining on his contract when he left by mutual consent at the end of last month.

Hockaday will be on less than a quarter of that amount.

He was also available, so no compensation had to to be paid. That was what put Cellino off the other main contender for the job, Eamonn Dolan, who had three years left on a pretty lucrative deal at Reading.

But it's far too simplistic to say that finances were the only factor.

Cellino wanted a coach, a tracksuit man, and says he's sure of Hockaday's coaching ability.

He also thinks this is a man who will be highly motivated and will live and breath the job, because it's his big (and probably) only chance to make it as a head coach at a stellar club.

Cellino wasn't convinced that some of the other names touted for the job would have been willing to give as much.

Now there are concerns, of course. How will the players respond to Hockaday, for a start?

After all, professional footballers can be a very cynical bunch.

Well Cellino has the answer for that. He'll be pretty much ever-present - at the training ground, observing the session, always watching on.

He says he will be the leader of the club and the team, their focal point, and that the players will have to respect the coach he has chosen.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The search for Leeds United's new head coach

Here's what I know so far... and the bookies might be ahead of me on this one.

After all, William Hill have tonight suspended betting on the identity of the next Leeds boss, while others have Eamonn Dolan as short as 1/10 to take over from Brian McDermott.

Massimo Cellino spoke to the agent of the Reading academy chief on Saturday, although not to the man himself.

Dolan - a close friend of McDermott's - has three years left on his contract at Reading.

So there could be some negotiating to do with the Berkshire club - if indeed Dolan is deemed to be the right man for the Leeds job.

The other name in the frame - certainly at the weekend, anyway - was former Forest Green manager Dave Hockaday, who spoke to Cellino a couple of weeks ago and has remained a strong contender ever since.

Gary McAllister has also been linked with the role, although it's my understanding he isn't being considered.

Cellino did speak to the Leeds legend in London a week ago, having first met him a month earlier.

But these were just informal meetings, by all accounts, in which the pair got on well (who wouldn't get on with Gary McAllister?) But there were no further meetings this weekend, as has been reported, and certainly not a formal interview.

Whatever happens, it seems certain the next Leeds boss will not be the 'big name' many fans crave, but rather a low-profile coach who is happiest wearing a tracksuit and putting the players through their paces on the training ground.

Cellino is currently in Italy and due to return to Elland Road on Thursday.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Massimo Cellino explains Brian McDermott's departure from Leeds

Leeds owner Massimo Cellino insists Brian McDermott leaves the club on good terms after they found "a gentleman's way" for the manager to leave.

The Championship side released a statement late on Friday night announcing that McDermott had left the club by mutual consent after little more than a year in charge.

Shortly afterwards, Cellino told me: "We did not want to go on pushing, pushing each other, and we found a gentleman's way to part.

"Brian leaves the club on good terms, he is a gentleman."

The 57-year-old says he doesn't have anyone lined up to replace McDermott - but he insists the next manager will not be Benito Carbone, who is the club's new technical consultant.

"I have always said that Carbone will be in charge of the Under-21s next season and that doesn't change now," he said.

Cellino arrived in London on Friday, having spent the last week in Miami for his daughter's graduation.

He will return to Leeds this weekend, before the club's players and remaining coaching staff arrive for a pre-season meeting on Monday.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Benito Carbone gives the lowdown on his role in Leeds United's new regime

Benito Carbone was frequently described as a mercenary during his six years as a player in England.

All in all, the diminutive Italian forward played for 18 clubs during a lucrative career that featured spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Bradford City.

So it's something of a surprise to hear the 42-year-old explain he is working for free at Leeds United.

"At the moment, I have got no contract and am not taking one pound," explains the immaculately turned out Italian.

"But that is no problem, because I want to prove I can do my best for this club and for the chairman.

"I am not bothered about money now. You need to show how good you are at your job. When the chairman decides to give me a contract, I’m here."

So what exactly is his job?

Carbone certainly set tongues wagging when he attended Leeds' Championship game against Birmingham on April 26th, wearing an official club jacket.

People presumed he must have been about to take over as manager from Brian McDermott. After all, he already had experience as a manager, after spells in the lower leagues in Italy with Patvia, Pavia, Varese and St Christophe.

Yet the former forward, who is 5ft 5 and doesn't look a pound heavier than in his playing days, insists the manager's job was never even on the table for him.

Manager's job

"My job title is technical consultant for the first team and especially the academy," he explains in clear English.

"The priority for me is the academy, because we need to build a new structure for next season.

"When I retired in 2010 I was manager for three years in Italy, but I never talked to Mr Cellino about my first manager's job, never ever.

"We still have Brian, the manager, and the assistant coach Nigel (Gibbs). I never speak to the chairman about the first team job.

"He said 'help me now, outside the pitch', and that’s my job."

He admits he does aspire to become a manager one day though, which perhaps explains why he was eager to come to Leeds and work for nothing.

"My priority is one day to be manager," he says. "I don’t know where, if it is the first team in Leeds or if I have the opportunity to start with the under 21s.

"At the moment this is my role and I am very happy to do it. Maybe in 20, 25 days I change something and go to do something else. I am very happy to do that.

"The chairman wants to keep an English manager, like Brian. We still have the manager now, so we don’t talk about a new manager.

"The priority is to sort the problems inside the club and the academy. We don’t talk about the first team, because that is ok."

Cellino has spoken about Carbone with such warmth and affection that you could be forgiven for thinking they have known each other for years.

Yet, in truth, the pair didn't know each other even two months ago. Carbone takes up the story of how they came to work together.

"My former agent, Giovanni Branchini, is like my father. I worked with him from the age of 12, 13, up to 35.

"He is friends with Mr Cellino, who asked him who could come to Leeds to help him. He suggested me.

"I had never met Mr Cellino before I came here. I thought maybe in two days he will kick me out again! Fortunately, it was not like that.

"He liked me a lot and gave me a lot of responsibility from the first day. For me, it’s the best thing that has happened in the last one and a half two years.

The 'real Cellino'

"For me, it is fantastic to work with him. I want to grow and with him you grow, because he understands about football and really understands about everything."

The respect and affection is clearly mutual. Carbone always refers to Leeds' colourful new owner as 'Mr Cellino' or 'the president' and describes him as a mentor.

"I first met him in his office and after that meeting, everything was clear," Carbone remembers.

"He is a good man who has experience about football and really understands it. He also has a big, big heart.

"He gives you a chance to really do a job for the club. The first thing he said to me was ‘you don’t need to work for Massimo Cellino, you need to work for Leeds United’.

"He really understands that this is a big, big club and he wants to do his best. With this chairman, we can bring this club again to a high level, in one, two, three years' time.

"He is a clever person. I’ve seen him work for two or three weeks and he is incredible. He impressed me. He starts in the morning and finishes maybe at six or seven the next morning.

"Even when he is not hear we speak on the phone once or twice a day. For sure we will be back again on a big, big level.

"He tries to sort every problem and, believe me, at this club there are a lot of problems."

That's certainly something of an understatement.

About 85 staff at the club are expected to be made redundant; Cellino and McDermott have barely spoken since the Italian took over last month; players claim they found out they were being released via the media and social media; and former managing director David Haigh - who was originally earmarked for the chief executive's role - has been in jail in Dubai.

However, Carbone urges the fans to keep the faith and insists the club is now on the right track.

"It is not chaos - maybe before (Cellino arrived) it was chaos," he says. "When the chairman started, he was trying to build the family.

"That is why we need to understand who are the right people to work for this club.

"We try to sort every single problem before the season starts because we want to leave the players and coaches free. When the season starts we must think to play football."

He argues that redundancies simply have to be made.

"There is debit everywhere and Mr Cellino pays every single day from his pocket," Carbone says.

"If you have 100 people and just 20 work and the others watch, then you don’t need the other 80. We need everybody on the same direction, the same objective.

Academy changes

"That is the best way to build a family - to work together to the same objective. There were a lot of people saying ‘this is my area, not your area, so you can’t work here’.

"No, it is not good. We are a family. You help me and I help you and we work together."

Was it right for players to be told of their released after they had read about it though?

"After the last game (of the season), the manager organised straight away to go on holiday with the team," Carbone says.

"Then we had time until Friday to give to the Football League the (retained) list. If we don’t give to them then they fine us.

"If we don’t talk with the manager then we need to take the responsibility. It’s really quick, a short time."

The academy will also have to be reformed because it is haemorrhaging money, says the former Inter Milan and Napoli star.

The academy currently caters for groups from under-nine upwards, but they might have to start at under-15s and even sacrifice the club's category two status in the short term in order to save money.

"The chairman had the same structure in Cagliari - starting from under nines," Carbone explains.

"But the cost was maybe 75% less (than it is at Leeds). That is why the club every single season had big problems and finished the season with no money or risk to close everything."

Cellino has ordered McDermott, his coaches and all the players back to Elland Road on Monday - and Carbone believes that will mark the start of a new era for the club.

"The chairman wants to talk face to face with every player and understand whether they want to stay here," he says.

"With the manager, we will organise everything for next season.

"I think the players will stay here maybe two or three days and then maybe go back on holiday for another two, three weeks, and be ready to go on pre-season.

"We have the idea to go on pre season somewhere in Italy. I don’t know where exactly at the moment."

Carbone is currently living in a city-centre apartment in Leeds, but might bring his wife and two sons, who are agers 16 and 18, over in due course.

His younger boy in particular is a very good footballer, and currently plays in Inter Milan's academy.

Carbone admits: "He is not bad - good quality, a midfielder", and he chuckles when I suggest he could come and play for Leeds, saying "that is a good idea".

So what are the expectations for next season? Cellino has suggested it could be too early to gain promotion, with that being more likely in 2015/16.

"With many things we have a chance to do better, because every single season we have to do better," Carbone says.

"New players, new ideas, new philosophy. Strong, compact, every single one to the same direction, from the secretary to the chairman, to the coaches, to me.

"For sure we can then do better next season and I am excited."

Friday, 23 May 2014

Spurs draw up three-man shortlist for manager's job

Tottenham have drawn up a three-man shortlist for their vacant manager's job.

A senior figure at the club told me Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax's Frank De Boer are on the list.

Spurs are confident they could lure either man to White Hart Lane.

The identity of the third manager is being kept tightly under wraps, although he is a big name currently working at a major club and Spurs are less sure about whether they could land him.

The club want someone who could work closely with sporting director Franco Baldini and bring the best out of a talented squad.

Spurs were unhappy that De Boer spoke publicly about being approached in January, which is why he has been very coy about the job recently.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Haigh arrested, GFH coy, and Cellino goes through the books at Leeds United

Another busy week at Leeds United, plenty of headlines and a lot of unanswered questions.

I first heard on Monday that former MD David Haigh had been arrested in the Middle East and was being detained. Initially, I was told he was in jail in Bahrain, then Dubai.

Despite a lot of phone calls - to the British Embassy, the Ministry of the Interior, GFH (more on that in a bit) and others, I couldn't stand the story up.

It finally came out on Wednesday, via Haigh's UK-based PR man, Ian Monk.

It turned out Haigh had travelled to Dubai to discuss a job offer from GFH, and was then arrested upon arriving at their offices.

He was suspected of "financial irregularities" and has been held in custody for four nights and counting.

A report in Gulf News on Thursday, quoted a lawyer from GFH as saying: “We lodged a lawsuit against the suspect for alleged embezzlement, swindling and breach of trust at Bur Dubai Police Station.

“Currently the suspect is in provisional detention and being questioned over primary charges of embezzling millions of dirhams.”

Haigh denies the claims against him and in a statement, his spokesman, Monk, said: “Although he is horrified to find himself in this position, he is answering fully every allegation made against him in the knowledge that he is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.

“In co-operating fully with the Dubai authorities, for whom he has complete respect, David is clear that he has no case to answer.

“He has every confidence that the authorities will see clearly the motives which lie behind these allegations and will act accordingly in bringing no charges against him.

“In the meantime he would like to thank the many people who are supporting him.”

Meanwhile, back in Leeds, Massimo Cellino's long-time accountant and fellow Eleonora Sports director, Daniel Arty, has been leading a forensic examination of the club's finances.

And he is apparently uncovering a lot of irregularities. Firstly, Cellino says several back-dated staff contracts have been discovered.

This explains why head of scouting Luke Dowling, among others, has been moved aside.

Secondly, Cellino says the club's income was misrepresented when he was negotiating to buy the club - by a significant amount.

What happens next, I don't quite know. Will the discoveries in the accounts and the arrest of Haigh affect the winding up order he issued with Sports Capital, which was contested by Cellino?

And how will the tie-up between Cellino (who owns 75% of the club) and GFH (25%) and the money he is scheduled to pay them be affected?

I spoke to Salem Patel, head of investment management at GFH, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

It's fair to say he was reluctant to speak. He wouldn't comment on the rumour that Haigh had been arrested, saying "I am not authorised to speak on behalf of GFH".

He was in Dubai and explained he hadn't been back to Leeds for several weeks and had no plans to go back there.

On Wednesday, after news of Haigh's arrest was made public, I called Patel again and asked whether he was worried about being arrested himself and whether the sale of the majority stake in Leeds had been conducted correctly.

He said, rather indignantly: "I am 100% sure I will not be arrested and am 100% sure that everything was done correctly in the sale of Leeds."

He refused to discuss why Haigh had been arrested, what the circumstances were around his arrest or what the "financial irregularities" were.

Meanwhile, Cellino will travel back to Miami on Friday to attend his daughter's graduation, before returning to Leeds on June 2nd, which is also when the players, manager and coaching staff are due to return.