Friday, 30 December 2016

Ancelotti on English football's DNA

(From Quiet Leadership, by Carlo Ancelotti):

"In England there is much more aggression and less obsession with possession. English teams and players have a strong fighting mentality.

If I had to go to war, I would go with the English, not with the Italians or the French. It is absolutely essential to understand the culture, which is macho like the South Americans, but in a quiet, understated way.

Didier Drogba, for example, did not understand, when he first joined Chelsea and was guilty of simulation and exaggerating injuries on the pitch, that a big man simulating injury is not seen as manly in England - it goes against the notion of fair play, and this is a cultural thing.

It is different in Spain. John Terry spoke with him and he changed, going on to score lots of goals and become a club legend. Sometimes it is better for this conversation to come from the dressing room leader and not the boss.

That player can become de facto manager for this moment, in the sense that it's more effective when such advice comes from his teammates, peer to peer."

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Steve Evans: I still talk to Cellino on a regular basis

In his own words:

RELATIONSHIP WITH CELLINO

I asked Sir Alex Ferguson for advice when I was offered the Rotherham job and he said ‘pick it by the chairman.’

That's something I followed and I'm still on great terms with the Rotherham owner. Now, I’m not sure what Sir Alex would have made of Massimo Cellino. To be honest I didn’t need to ask him, because it’s impossible to say no to a club like Leeds United.

I’m not like two or three of Mr Cellino's other managers, because I found my relationship with him was absolutely first class. We still speak on a regular basis, more about personal stuff, like our families.

His knowledge is very impressive. For example when we were going to play Reading, he knew about their central midfield. When we played QPR, he knew about their centre halves. I’d be mad to ignore what he said.

You filter it and make your own decisions though. I’ll be honest, because I don’t work for the club any more - I enjoyed his company and I enjoyed working for him. That might not be fashionable, but he’s up front.

He never told me who to pick. He’d give opinions - and people are na├»ve if they think owners don’t give opinions - but you take it on board and make your own decision.

Weak managers are the ones who go with it. He’s very knowledgeable, passionate, and speaks from the heart. But I never had a problem with him.

WEIGHT LOSS

The weight loss was something I undertook myself, just before Christmas last year. I've lost about four and half stone all in all.

Living away from my family and eating late was taking a toll. I was going to watch games three or four days a week and my health was not the best. I made a conscious effort to change that.

I've heard people say it was Mr Cellino who told me to lose the weight, which is quite funny really. We used to go for dinner a few times every week. I’d only have soup and he’d be saying ‘Steve, Steve, come on, have some pasta.’

But he treated me with respect from the moment I walked in the door. It takes a long time to change people’s perceptions of you. I have not been the subject of a referee’s report for a long time. I try and ask questions in a different, more dignified manner.

It will continue here at Mansfield Town. I don’t want to lose that passion and enthusiasm, but it’s about channelling it in the right way.

GARRY MONK:

Mr Cellino and the other board members wanted someone with Premier League experience. That was hard to take, but I don’t think they could have made a better choice than Garry.

I think he had a wonderful base to build on and has done fantastically well. He's gone in and done a great job. There were issues that had to be dealt with – certainly some of the players had to go.

A dressing room needs to be together. When I sat down with Mr Cellino and discussed this season, I put names down that had to go. And he didn’t disagree with them. You can work out who they are for yourself.

It was a pretty difficult situation to manage last season. Sir Alex always told me ‘control the controllables – only spend time on the situations you can effect.’ So I had to manage it as well as I could, and wait for the opportunity to ship them out. Now Gary has done that.

After that it was about getting three or four players in who could make it much better. Garry has certainly done that. Bartley – who we tried to get - has been superb.

Bridcutt, who I had on loan, is a fantastic professional. Big Chris Wood has really hit his stride. He has that desire.

AFTER LEEDS:

I could have gone into Championship within two weeks of going out at Leeds, but they weren't the right jobs. Mr Cellino endorsed me for one particular role I was offered.

I'd only ever taken one week off in a summer period before. On this occasion I used the time to watch other managers in other countries and feel fresh and invigorated.

LOOKING OUT FOR LEEDS:

I felt very proud to be manager of Leeds United and I did my very best to represent it in a fitting manner. I was following on from some great men, like Sir Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson - what a privilege.

I look out for Leeds’ results and I’d love to go back to Elland Road to cheer them on as a fan. That place gets in your heart.

Half the fans were probably against me when I was appointed – maybe I’m being generous to myself there - but I’d like to think I won a fair few of them over by the end. I've become a fan.

The club will always be in my heart. The fans get you that way, it's a very unique football club. We were 19th and a point off the relegation zone when I took over. By the time I went, we were 13th, and looked like we might make the play offs for a while.

People will probably say ‘he’s gone to Mansfield Town, that makes him less ambitious.’ But I wanted to begin something with a real focus about it. People might say he’s gone to League Two, he’s lost his ambition, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Neil Redfearn: What Leeds United means to me



 

(This is the full transcript of an interview conducted in September:)

FORMATIVE YEARS:

I grew up in Birkenshaw, between Leeds and Bradford. At that point Leeds were the side, in England and in Europe. They were a big influence on me. My dad (Brian, now 81) was a pro for 15 years. He played for Blackburn, Darlington, Bradford City, Bradford Park Avenue. From a young age I had a dad and a coach as well.

I was fortunate to have my dad, because he always put that belief in me that I was good enough. And I always believed that myself. I instil that in other players as well, I make them feel they’re good enough.From seven or eight he used to take me to Leeds games. He was a Bradford fella but Don Revie had built this side that were the best in Europe. It was a great learning curve to watch these players, Clarke and Bremner and Hunter. We used to watch Leeds on Saturday and Bradford Northern, the rugby league side, on a Sunday. Just me and my Dad.

He’d pick out certain pieces in the game and say, ‘when the ball goes into Eddie Gray, watch how he takes it.’ When you’re seven or eight you can’t really see the mechanics of what they’re trying to do, just the quality in what they do, the touch. My favourite was Allan Clarke because he scored goals.

Not only was he a great player but he was prolific. Dad's favourite player was Bobby Charlton. Even in my mid twenties, I’d go out with this session my dad designed - it was about receiving and finishing round the box. It was based on Bobby Charlton when he’d pick the ball up, run with it and shoot from the edge of the area. It worked. Dad had worked out that if, as a midfield player, you could get 10 goals a season, then you would became a commodity.

I’m proud of my goal record – 181 goals from midfield – which is a lot, it's what a good striker would get. And a lot of that was down to him and how he worked. I look at some of the coaches I worked with during my career and he definitely had the quality. If it’s someone you really love, then you’re prepared to go that extra bit to try and learn how to do things, and I took that with me throughout my career.

LEEDS FAN:

We used to go in the West Stand, about halfway down to the right of the tunnel. We’d get the 226 bus onto Leeds Road and get off at the pub at the top and walk through the underpass. I can remember the excitement I felt. We'd get to the ground early and I'd just want to see the pitch, that green oasis.

There's one match I remember in particular - in the West Ridings Senior Cup. It was Leeds against Halifax Town and we beat them 4-1. I’ll never forget that night. It was rainy and thundery, close and warm. The pitch was immaculate. They were all blue and Leeds were all white. There were about 20 thousand there and it just got you, the theatre of it. It shapes who you are.

After school, we'd go out and play football, all in Leeds kit.

ALMOST A LEEDS PLAYER:

When I was at Barnsley, Leeds came in for me and apparently offered money plus Alfie Haaland when George Graham was boss. Barnsley turned it down because they thought they had a chance of staying in the Premier League so they kept hold of us. I learnt about that after. They also came in for us in the summer when I went to Charlton. I didn’t get to find out about that either, until it was too late. I had an agent, Mel Stein, and the Charlton deal was obviously best for the club.

BACK AT ELLAND ROAD:

A role with the academy became available and I thought it was a good chance to further myself as a coach. I took the Under 18s. It was my club. Simon Grayson had just come in as manager and was bringing it all together. He'd made some good signings and got some good backing.

People might not like me saying this, but my experiences with Ken Bates were always good. I know how he is, that he has a ruthless side, but he was good, supportive. I can’t say bad about someone I’ve not had a bad experience with.

YOUNG GEMS:

I could see these young players coming through. Cook was under 13, Mowatt was under 14. Phillips, Taylor and Byram were in the under 16s. I was looking at the best ways to develop them as individuals within the team. We had a system – a diamond to start with – and they were learning together and bringing each other on. We won the under-18s. I could see how good they were getting.

With Alex Mowatt, we worked on how to get him round the box and getting those shots off. With Sam Byram, we’d work on these positions where we’d get him further forward and receiving it round the box. That comes from the stuff I did with me dad and the experiences I had with him as a coach.

My only concern was opportunity. Gwyn Williams could see how they were starting to develop. It’s about your manager being responsive to it. Neil Warnock didn’t really put kids in, he liked to bring in his own group – Brown, Tonge, Kenny.

I remember he came into the office one day and said ‘have you got any players?’ I laughed and said 'we’ve got about 300'. He said, 'I need someone to take to Cornwall for pre season. I told him, ‘I’ve got the best right back at the club – Sam Byram.’

I think he thought I was having him on, but he put him in and Sam took off, he was brilliant. Nothing phased him or flustered him. Then one or two others started getting in. They saw Sam and thought, ‘we can do this.’ They relaxed. There was the basis of a good side there for years to come.

Our smart targets were to get two from pro to first team every season. We were getting four or five. Warnock came in at the time we were in transition with the EPPP. The philosophy and coaching programme ran through the club and had to be agreed from the top. That's meant to be the identity of your football club, providing continuity. I wrote the club philosophy and coaching programme right through the age groups, from pro development to youth development to foundation.

It used to be on the academy website, but they took it down under Cellino because they associated it with me. When he got the hump on with me, they tried to cut off everything to do with me. It’s still there in place because, with respect, no-one there has the acumen to put it down. It was to be comfortable receiving and playing anywhere on the pitch and to play a structured passing game going through the thirds.



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CELLINO ARRIVES:

I had a call off an agent and had to go down to Elland Road. Cellino was there and said, ‘can you take this group of players in the morning?’ I rang Brian [McDermott] after and said ‘what’s happening’ and he said ‘they’ve sacked me.’ I was like fucking hell. I took training Saturday morning before the Huddersfield game. It was a mess. The players were asking what’s happening and I had to say I didn't know.

That Friday, Cellino came in. The supporters barricaded him in at Elland Road. I remember first meeting him - there were all these people buzzing round him. I didn’t know who they were, they must have been agents. He said, ‘Neil, you need to take this group of players for tomorrow morning.’ He said Gianluca Festa was going to be in charge, with me helping him. He hugged me and said ‘you be my coach’. It was surreal.

Chairmen at English clubs are usually roast beef and Yorkshire pudding - you never see them. But there was this guy who looked like someone who was moving house and had been given two hours to do it. Everything was a rush and nothing made sense. Brian didn’t come to that Huddersfield game because GFH had advised him not to. They scored after about three minutes, through Danny Ward. I thought, 'fucking hell, we’re gonna get battered, it can’t get any worse', but then they went in one after another, 5-1. You can’t call it, can you?

I didn’t really see Cellino that much to start with. He'd come up to Thorp Arch now and again. His son Edoardo would come up, ‘just show him round the academy.’ So I’d sit down with this kid, who was going ‘wow,’ explaining 'we’ve got the foundation group, under eights, nines,' and he’d be ‘we’ve got a lot of players.’ And you’re thinking ‘what’s he going to go back and tell his dad?’

Cellino got one of the corporate boxes right at the end at Elland Road, like a makeshift office, with Debra Ware’s office on the other side. That was where you used to go in. That was where he had Benny Carbone based to start with.

SURREAL SUMMER:

It seemed they liked what they saw with the academy and I thought we’ll plough on with them and see how many of the lads we can get in the first team. But they were cutting costs. I thought ‘this is Leeds United, what are you doing?' Dave Hockaday came in - and, to be fair, he was a lovely bloke - and Junior Lewis was a nice guy too, but you’re thinking, 'jesus, you’re like lambs to the slaughter here.' Dave didn’t have a chance.

Then Cellino stopped everything at Thorp Arch - he closed the kitchen and stopped the food. But we had a duty of care to these kids, it’s in the contracts. Lucy started cooking so the kids had something to eat.

He drained all the water out of the pool. The pressure of the water had kept the tiles in place and they started buckling. It cost £25k a year to heat and treat and he said ‘we’re not having that.’ He made the cleaners redundant, getting the apprentices to do it. That’s when the bug went round. Spores from the swimming pool area caused a sickness bug. He got rid of security. On a night when we had hundreds of kids in, anyone could walk in. He was getting rid of people on £12k a year and still paying Paddy Kenny, who couldn’t stop a pig in a passage, £20k a week.

We had to have people deliver the food in the end from Elland Road, not refrigerated. Lucy was cooking for about 80 people a day.

We were leaving at about eight every other night following a 14-hour day. They brought in Mishcon de Reya to do the redundancies. They got all the heads of department to help in this. I met Andrew Umbers and he said, 'right, you’ve got to sit these people down and say they’re going to be made redundant.' I said, 'I’m not doing that, I’m a football coach.' The process was illegal, but you had cleaners who didn’t have the money to do anything and there was no union.

There was this fear and people did what they were told, even if they didn’t agree with it. I remember taking Benny Carbone to Thorp Arch and the grass was about three feet long. The whole place smelled. There was no electric. We were trying to sort out the running costs of the academy because he wanted it all cut down - and you’ve got Cook £5million, Byram £4million – it pays for itself for the next 20 years.

But no-one would ever dare say that to him, because you couldn’t question him. That first time I went down to see him, I said ‘you look like you need some help.’ And he said ‘yes.’ We got talking about football. He asked me about young players and said, ‘I love this system.’ He listened more. The more I got to know him the less he listened.

BECOMING MANAGER:

It was after Wolves at home and we got beat 2-1. I had an idea what was happening because I had the call from Nicola Salerno on the Friday, ‘come to the game on Saturday.’ I said 'do I need to? There’s an 18s game.' 'You need to sit with Mr Cellino.' I thought he’s gonna do him. Milanic had only had six games.

We went ahead through Antenucci and battered them and I thought 'good, I don’t want to be in the middle of this shitstorm.' But they scored again and Cellino got up and stormed off.He can’t sit still through a game - he’s holding your leg, twitching, shouting in Italian. Fans were calling up to him. This time he'd been even more agitated than usual.

I got to my car and had the phone call, 'come back in'. He said ‘you take the team. Get them in tomorrow.’ Cardiff was my first game. My dealings then were with Matt Child, so it was quite a sane environment. I said, 'if it gives me chance to get these young lads in and get em playing, then I’ll do it.'

Matt fought for me to get Thommo in. There was a clause in my contract that I’d pick the team. I think he knew it wasn’t the be all and end all for me, so he never had that hold over me. I just need the right people round me, like Thommo. And I knew what these kids were capable of. The first time we did the running the Italians were blowing. I used to say to the players, 'if you lose it, run after it and let them see you run after it. That’s it. We’ve got to be brave enough to pass it, I’ll give you a plan. This is your theatre. If they see you run after it you’ll be like gladiators.' If there wasn’t the influence of Cellino over the Italian lads, I would have helped them too, because you could see them thinking 'I like this'.

They’d speak to him. Perhaps in their culture that’s what happened. The president brought players in and the coaches came and went. They were always quite respectful. The bit I like is on the grass with the players. I’m a tracksuit manager. As a coach I’m at my strongest. I’m honest and genuine.

DOING IT MY WAY:

We beat Derby at home 2-0, then got beat at Derby. I’d persevered with the Italians, but our season is that intense it caught up with them all. They looked leggy. I said to Thommo 'we’re gonna have to radically change this and become a functional Championship side.' We played Murphy and Austin at Sunderland away and they ran the game.

Recruitment wasn't ideal. He’s brought Nicola Salerno in as head of recruitment, who is a very nice guy. But I'm not sure he understood the demands of the Championship or what it took to do well there. He said, ‘we’ve got this Albanian centre forward, he’s brilliant.’ I saw the footage on Scout 7 and got Alex Davies to do some more clips for me. He just looked raw and the level he was playing at just wasn’t good.

When he scored a goal you could hear one bloke clapping, because there was no-one there. Cani came in and trained and I’m thinking 'you’re miles away.' He was a nice enough kid. I think he was Bellusci’s mate. He worked hard enough but was nowhere near. I had people like Steve Morison, who was not scoring but playing well and working hard. And he’s an experienced big man. He came to see us and I went ‘I’m sick of you. You think everything should be on a plate. Why don’t you man up and show us how good you are?’

And it was like a relief for him. He found himself again. I saw him grow as a person. He was massive in us doing alright. We played one up top and everything that went into him he got hold of it or shook it up. He was great for Mowatt and Byram. Billy Sharpe was itching to play but we weren’t strong enough to play 4-4-2.

I knew Thommo from when we played. We were good mates at Bolton and I knew what he’d bring - a human touch, which is what the group needed. The crowd is brilliant but harsh and hostile and between them you need some safe ground. Cellino would phone me up and say 'you don’t need an assistant. You’re my coach, we’ll do it together.' But we had 30 odd players. You’re like 'fucking hell, I'm doing this on my own.'



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ECCENTRICITIES:

Before the Bournemouth game, he called me in and said ‘we need to win tonight. I don’t want to be relegated.’ I said ‘you know these are top of the league?’ We’d come off the back of some hit and miss results. He said ‘I’ll come and cook for the boys, I’ll cook proper pasta.’ He must have helped, or told them what to do, and they cooked it. It's just a bit odd, isn’t it? The players ended up taking things on board that shouldn’t be happening. When the supporters first meet him he’ll have a selfie. He’ll let people in, and then some get right in. For him to become better, he needs better people around him.

We kept getting done in the wide areas and overloaded. Before we played Ipswich, we spent hours and hours with a back four and two in front and did waves against them attacking. It allowed everything else to start flourishing. It was four-two-fuck off and play. Murph came in and Austin.

We said when they break they’re gonna hit that wall. Mowatt started playing off behind the front and found little pockets because his gamecraft is brilliant. And you know that if you can get him half a yard round the box on his left foot he’s a scorer. He got 10 goals that season from midfield. We found little niches for the wide ones. We put Byram and Taylor there. The number of games we started winning 1-0 and 2-1. We nilled Bournemouth and Boro. It was all about not having it, but we knew where we’d go when we got it.

THOMPSON SACKED:

First thing in the morning there was a knock on the door. Ally, the secretary, gave Thommo a letter. He’s opened it and read it and his face changed. 'Fucking hell, have you read this?'

I rang Andrew Umbers, ‘what the hell’s going on?’ ‘It’s nothing to do with me, it’s Nicola Salerno.’

So I make another call, ‘Nicola, what’s going on?’ ‘It’s not me, it’s Andrew Umbers.’

Apparently they said he’d bad mouthed Nicola Salerno, but when I spoke to him he said nothing had happened. You could never meet two nicer guys in football. Thommo would never disrespect anyone and Nicola’s not like that. So I don’t know where they cooked this story up.

They took it out on Thommo because of the Antenucci thing. It’s like 'I’m in charge'. His contract stated that when he got to 12 goals, he got a new deal. I spoke to Cellino, whether I was supposed to or not. He said 'don’t let him get to 12 goals. He’s one of these that downs tools.' You’re talking about another year - in the scheme of things that's pence. I said, 'if that’s what you want to happen, you have got to tell him and publicly tell him. Because if I don’t play him, how does that make me look?'

He was starting to nick a goal or two. They were trying to make me fall in line – 'we’re in charge, you do it like this'. But they’d put me in charge of football matters. And I thought he was worth another year. If he got 12 goals and that was in his contract, then fair play to the lad.

In the end it was childish. Just get on the phone and be grown up about it. And show your humility. It was little bombs all of the time, like Stix phoning the players and saying 'you’ll be back this time and not that time for pre season' the day before a game.

SICKNOTE SIX:

Antenucci came to me on the Thursday before the Charlton game and said, ‘my hamstring’s a bit tight.’ I said, 'will you be alright for Saturday?' And he said, 'yeah, I should be fine.'. Then on the Friday, we were doing a warm up and Del Fabro went in, then Doukara, Bellusci. Doukara said ‘coach, my groin, my groin,’ and leapt over the fence at the edge of the pitch. At least make it look official.

They’d obviously got their heads together. It wasn’t the time to have an inquiry, because we had to set off at half one from Elland Road. We got on the bus and went. Berardi travelled. All the lads got round and he went right up in their estimations, you could see it. Because he must have been approached. The lads knew what had been going on. Steve Morison came out and said something about it after the game. And it all soured after that. We lost five on the trot.

My day to day dealings were with Andrew Umbers, who just wasn’t a football person. He was relaying info from Cellino. Cellino got frustrated because he wasn’t there, hands on. I think he thought Thommo got between the relationship of me and him, which was bollocks. All this, 'he stopped ringing me.' No I didn’t.

'CELLINO'S CRANKY WORLD'

This lad Andrea just used to come up and watch training. He’d work out from the shape what the starting 11 was going to be and would relay that. Ipswich was the one. At that point Cellino wanted Berardi in and had a bee in his bonnet about that. It was like the Chuckle Brothers – I had the phone held out at arm’s length because he was shouting so much.

Andrea would just come up from Elland Road. He was never introduced. He was called the spy. He’d obviously come up to find out what was going on. We used to take a bag of balls before training and spank them all over the training pitch and say ‘Andrea, do us a favour mate, get 'em in.’ And he’d be gone for half an hour picking them all up.

That’s Cellino’s cranky world. He’s taken to this guy and given him an opportunity, but you have to have a skillset. He’s been looking at players. He spoke different languages as well. Nicola’s English wasn’t great, so he was the linguistic link.

We played Brighton away. Cellino was banned and said ‘Andrew Umbers is coming to the game and he’s bringing his wife. His wife has never seen us win. You need to get something lucky. You need to wear something purple - socks or a belt. Or you need to shake Eddie Gray’s hand, he was born on the 17th.’ He sent it me in a text.

Matt Child had resigned in March, which was a big blow. He was good for the club and good for me. Then there’s no barrier or sounding board, you’re straight into it. Andrew Umbers came to me and said 'you need to write a list of players you want.' I wanted Jason Shackle, Joey Barton, Matty Phillips, Charlie Adam. Thommo drank with Charlie Adam and he was receptive to it. He said ‘big club.’ They would have been marquee signings.

They all went to Championship clubs. These were the right type of people. They leaked it to have a go at me. We approached Barton’s agent and he said would he be interested.

THE END:

Cellino said I’d disrespected him by not turning up to his welcoming do. What welcoming do? Nobody had told me. Nobody had even told me he was coming back. The only disappointment was you know you’re capable. I honestly believe I could have made Leeds United great again.

The season had finished. We gave everyone a date to come back. We did the spark testing and gave everyone a personal fitness sheet. We were going to get them back halfway through the close season for a testing week. Then there was the press conference when he rubbished me. It was just childish. He was trying to rubbish something that had been successful.

I don’t think he surrounds himself with good people. He’d listened to bad advice. I would have had far more respect for him if he’d rung me up, like a man. Even if he’d said, 'I didn’t like this and that and I’ve taken someone else on.' I wouldn’t be happy but I’d say 'fair enough, that’s football.' At least he’d have had the arsehole to sit down with me and say it face to face. I got 50 points from 36 games.

It was just badly handled. And it was the vindictiveness that went with it. There’s just no need. Tell the truth and look after people. Nobody spoke to me at all. I got a call from Adam Pearson, who had just come to the club - 'can I meet you at Wentworth Hotel.'

He said, 'I tell you now, he’s looking for another manager.' I said, 'I’m not stupid. Just make him be right with me.' They put the release out that they were offering me my old job as academy manager. I had the meeting with him at the Mercure Hotel at Wetherby. He said, 'you’ll come back in on your new contract on the 1st of July and until the 30th of June you’ll be put in the garden.' 'So you’re not giving me my old job back?' 'No, you’ll be put in the garden.'

I had a meeting with Pearson at Thorp Arch. I got there and there was only the groundsman and another car, and Uwe Rosler was in there. It was when he’d just come in and I was going. He’d gone for a cup of tea and said, 'I’m really sorry'. I said, 'it’s not your fault mate, you’re just a pawn in the game like me.' He was camped watching our games from Christmas onwards.

THE FUTURE:

I had the best part of a season there, which is a long time for a Cellino manager. I would have gone back to the academy. If somebody had said to me ‘you’re gonna be manager of Leeds United’ when I was eight years old, I would never have dreamt of it. You can look back and be bitter but I’m not. What I did was good. I was offered the Kilmarnock job after Rotherham, but I needed some time out.

I love working in football. I like to see people get better. He set me on. If it had gone well, he would have got the credit. If the timing was right and the right people were in charge, I'd go back, but I can’t see it. I don’t think he’s well, I think he’s got a problem. I definitely think he liked me, he set me on. I was on his side, in his corner.

COOK ET AL:

He was one of these, Cooky – you’d tell him and he’d get it, like that. That’s the difference between a top player and the rest. He’d take it in and evolve it himself. Football is not that complicated – get ‘em fit, show them their jobs and everyone else’s, and then develop them as people. That psychological element is so big. It controls everything – your confidence, belief. Young people are impressionable. You’ve got them at a really good age to grow. Senior professionals are set in their ways. Give them something they can hold and feel good about. We all want to feel good about ourselves.

I was pleased for Sam and Lewis when they moved, because they’re getting on. But I was disappointed for the club, because they should be the foundation. You can only put it down to mismanagement. There’s not a structure or long-term plan. They had the tools to be good for a long time, but it’s not viewed like that. The kids when I was there they wanted to stay. Agents get involved and they get involved for a reason - because there’s money in it.

Leeds were never in control of it because of one man. I think they could have made better moves if I’m honest. I think if they’d have been at Leeds now, with the right information being put into them and the right eye over them, developing em, they could have got better moves out of it. And they might not have needed to move.

What these lads have got is humility. Last year they’d stopped learning, because they were not in a learning environment. I think now they are, because Monk is a coach based manager. They’ve had seven or eight years of being really open and receptive. Steve Evans is not a coach. He’s not brought a coach with him. He’s a wheeler and dealer.

He’s not going to go out and make these players better, he’s going to sign players who are better. The nearer you get to the top, the margins become finer. You have to build something sustainable. I could see Cooky captaining England. I remember when we got absolutely battered by Ipswich and he was unbelievable. It was the best I’ve ever seen him play.

You’re talking about a 17-year-old kid, and he was getting hold of seasoned professionals and making them close down and get back. We’re getting battered and he should have been with his chin in his boots, and I’m looking and thinking, ‘wow, what a player and what a person. 17 years old with that leadership quality.’

Lucy speaks to them still and we want them to do well. When you’ve been with them that long you know how much they’ve put in. You want them to do well and be successful. The shame is we are for Leeds, we want them to be successful. It’s just a shame they can’t see the bigger picture. I would have given them five year contracts and sat them down and said 'how are we gonna chart our way forward now?' And I don’t mean getting promoted in two seasons, I mean being calculated.

When we get there, we’re going to be ready. These players will be cooked, they’ll be ready, bordering internationals, because we’re going to put that much into them. We’ll allow them to fail. But there’s that short termism at Leeds, that McDonalds quick fix, got to have it now. You’ve gone from having Lucy to go to, to put her arm round them, something to lean on, and they’ve been exposed now.

They’ve got a move, but for their long-term development, was that really the best thing for them as footballers? Byram will become another player at West Ham. Where does the development come in that? That personal touch makes them more accountable. They feel they’ve got people on their side and owe it to their parents, who’ve been bringing them in. They owe it to them and to themselves.

There’s a lot of history with Leeds and the people know it. It’s more than a football club to them, it’s their life. We were all Leeds fans. If anyone ever got hold of it, wow. It’s that big.







Saturday, 10 September 2016

Karl Robinson: I was offered Leeds job but they ended up with a better manager

After MK Dons' 1-1 draw at Bolton today, I asked their manager Karl Robinson what happened with Leeds United this summer.

He was reported to have been Massimo Cellino's first choice for the manager's job, but turned it down after having a meeting with the Italian.

"It was a unique summer," Robinson said. "It came close, but I chose to stay.

"Now they’ve ended up with a better manager than me in Garry Monk.

"Mr Cellino has said an awful lot of things about me. A lot of people didn’t know the truth.

"We can’t always say what goes on. But I’m an MK Dons man. I live there, my daughter goes to school there and my wife has a business there.

"I love this club. I was jumping around like a madman today because I care."

Friday, 22 July 2016

Burkinis: oppressive or ok?

UPDATE: I wrote a blog expressing my unease about the wearing of the burkini swimming costume.

REBECCA BUTT has posted this response.

In all honesty, the title of the piece was enough to irk me. I said to myself, "here we go again, another unnecessary debate about Muslim women and the 'cold oppressive shackles of Islam'."

With Islamophobia on the rise, articles of this nature do nothing other than provide a platform for bigots to gather and share their uninformed and often intolerant views.

I don't want to imply that Simon had any bad intentions. However, it would be ignorant to turn a blind eye to the consequences such debates have on the Muslim community - especially when they are presented without understanding the subject matter.

More often than not, it leads to heightened hostility towards Muslims, in particular Muslim women, who are often treated with suspicion whilst simultaneously pitied for their perceived lack of freedom.

Simon's tweet posting the piece received many responses. Some of my favourites included, '[Muslims] should live by our rules' and '...I always seem to think, what are you hiding? Maybe it’s a trust thing with the world we live in today.’

Pieces like the one Simon wrote are read as statements as opposed to questions. This in turn leads to comments like the ones above being made in support of what the readers believe the writer had been stating.

Again, this all stems from a lack of understanding about the issue being addressed.

So let me try and break it down for you. Hijab is the Islamic concept of modesty and decency for both men and women, which includes behaviour as well as personal attire.

I think it needs to be highlighted that hijab is not, as Kevin MacKenzie implied in his article, only a symbol of faith like wearing a crucifix around your neck.

Hijab is a significant part of the religion of Islam and observing it is an obligation on its followers. Therefore, when a woman chooses to cover her head and body, whether that be on the street or in the swimming pool, she is practising her faith.

Objecting to this is objecting to her human right to freedom of religion. It's as simple as that.

Burkinis allow Muslim women to be able to swim whilst adhering to their religion. Despite Simon describing the burkini as a dark full-body swimsuit that covers every inch of the body except the face, most of them do not in fact cover the hands and feet; nor is there a requirement for the burkini to be dark in colour.

The burkini is made from a very similar material to ordinary swimming costumes and therefore is not hot, heavy, nor inappropriate for swimming.

I would like to assure Simon and anybody else who may have felt concerned for the women mentioned that the stares they received from the people around them would have caused more discomfort than anything else.

What people need to realise is that the majority of Muslim women who observe hijab, including myself, do it out of our own free will and happiness.

We do not feel oppressed. In fact, we feel liberated. We have not fallen victim to the social pressures which appear to dictate how women should dress and behave.

Therefore, people like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who imply the hijab is part of a wider Islamic patriarchal system of control, fail to understand the true purpose of it.

And they fail to acknowledge the right Muslim women have to choose whether or not they want to adhere to it. Taking that choice away from them - whether it be banning burkinis, or imposing bikinis or a one-piece as the only suitable swimwear - is one and the same.


I went swimming yesterday (bear with me here) and there were two women in the pool wearing 'burkinis' - dark, full-body swimsuits.

Other than their faces, every millimetre of skin was covered, right down to the soles of their feet.

And, instinctively, without having really though about it, I felt uneasy. These visceral reactions can be telling, and also the ones we try to keep hidden.

Swimmers were staring at the women (who must have only been in their early twenties) and I wondered what they themselves thought about their attire.

My gut reaction surprised me, and I've been trying to analyse it since.

When I see women wearing Islamic robes or veils in the street, I don't think anything of it. And I found Kelvin Mackenzie's comments about presenter Fatima Manji ridiculous, because there wasn't even an established link between the perpetrator of the Nice massacre and Islam, at least not at the time of the Channel Four bulletin.

I was also angry that newspapers had described killer Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as an 'ISIS soldier' and 'Islamic terorrist', when there was no evidence of this.

The intention was clear - to link his terrible actions with Islam - in a way that didn't happen with the killer of MP Jo Cox. And Thomas Mair had actually made political statements during the murder, according to eye-witness reports.

The difference? Mair is white and not Muslim.

But the 'burkinis' made me feel uneasy. The garments seemed so unsuitable for swimming, so heavy and all-encompassing, especially on a hot, sunny day; and so at odds with what the vast majority of people normally wear in swimming pools (some may liken them to wetsuits, but how many people go to the local baths in a wetsuit?)

The incongruity was stark, the inappropriateness too. The garments made a bold statement - about difference, about religion.

Should we be tolerant of women having to completely cover up, at all times, even when they're swimming? Should shops like M&S sell the burkinis?

Journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said that in doing so, the company was "complicit in a version of Islam that believes women must be subjugated in public."

How would I explain the costumes to my young daughters? They always ask questions when they see something different and I always try and give open answers.

I'm not sure there would be a rational explanation.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Andrea Iore: Leeds United's head of recruitment?

I first wrote about Andrea Iore a year ago - a story that seemed almost too strange to be true.

Perhaps you'll remember it. The Frenchman came onto the radar of the Cellinos when he was working in a furniture shop in Miami. Mrs Cellino came in as a customer and was struck by Andrea's politeness and fluency in several languages.

So she spoke to her husband, who arranged for Andrea to be brought to Leeds United as an intern. The then 23-year-old initially worked in the club shop, before progressing to interpreter for chief scout Nicola Salerno.

Andrea was given a modest wage and put up in a flat in the city.

So far, so good. In fact this could even have been Leeds United's own version of My Fair Lady.

It was less amusing when Andrea started turning up in the boardroom for matches though. And at important meetings. And at the Thorp Arch training ground, where he would sometimes quiz the manager about selection and tactics and voice his own opinions on both (seemingly based on little other than watching games on TV or playing Football Manager).

Soon Andrea gained the nickname 'the spy', because the staff and players at Thorp Arch were convinced he was simply there to relay information back to the owner.

Andrea has crossed my radar a few times since - doing keepy-uppies on the training pitch as the Leeds first team were put through their paces by Uwe Rosler; acting as Souleymane Doukara's interpreter when he appeared before an FA Commission to answer a charge of biting (and was criticised as a witness); appearing on the touchline at Elland Road on matchdays; and sitting in front of the Cellinos as they watched from their box.

Last summer Cellino told me he had just returned from a scouting mission to Portugal - with Andrea.

This all seemed strange, I must admit, although I forgot about the Parisien until a few weeks ago, when a respected agent called to ask if I knew a 'young French lad called Andrea', who he said was acting as the 'head of recruitment' at Leeds United.

Apparently he had been assigned as the point of contact regarding players in and out (and there could be a few of those this summer).

Another agent confirmed this. Now, it could be that Andrea is acting up in this role until the club finds a permanent replacement for Martyn Glover, who departed for Sunderland in January.

Or perhaps he's just fielding calls.

But, still. It augments the image of a club being run on a whim and on a shoestring.

Earlier this week, Lucy Ward spoke about the cleaners being sacked at Thorp Arch last year, causing some of the academy players to get ill.

And we found out she had been doing the players' laundry... and that the person who deals with payroll is effectively also the head of HR.

Now this. Andrea Iore, 24, de facto head of recruitment?

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Why people are angry about Cameron's tax affairs

"There are two Britains. The people who have this wealth in Government are telling us there is no alternative but to make swingeing savage cuts across the public sector and on the incomes of the poorest.

"People have a right to know that some of these wealthy people live in a very different world to them.

"It’s clearly questionable when people who have that independent wealth are making political decisions where the poorest are suffering in unimaginable ways.

"Cameron and Osborne do not have a clue what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet, to visit a food bank, to be disabled, to worry about a zero hours contract and not know where your next penny is coming from.

"When they say ‘we’re all in this together,’ the last week has shown we are not all in this together."

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS Union

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Steve Thompson: Leeds' loss is Preston's gain

Match-winner Jordan Hugill explained what Steve Thompson has brought to Preston North End since arriving at the club in the summer.

I've always been intrigued, because his arrival at Leeds last season also led to an upturn, before he was suspended and then released.

There still hasn't been an official reason as to why this happened and Thompson is none the wiser.

"We’ve not really changed the squad since we got promoted from League One," Hugill told me.

"The spirit is still the same, everyone loves to come training. We’ve moved up the table as we’ve gone along.

"He’s been really good around the training ground. Sometimes after reserve games I’ll go to him and say what can I do better and he’ll always be honest with me.

"He gets players going. It’s something you need to have at the club and he’s brilliant.

"It’s good to have someone you can do and say what can I improve on? You’re always learning the game, no matter how old you get.

"It’s good to have someone to say ‘do this, don’t look out of place and he’s done that with me.’"

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

10 things Cellino should have done differently

Even for a club accustomed to pitfalls and calamities, this really does feel like a new low for Leeds United.

Beaten 4-0 at Brighton, with all the goals coming inside 38 minutes; the owner walking out at half time; then apparently instructing the club's staff not to speak to the press.

Pretty disrespectful when 1,500 had travelled hundreds of miles to the south coast on a Monday night.

There is irony in the fact the club is marooned in 17th - Cellino's demon number.

So this seems like a good time to ask where it's all gone wrong. And I think there is only one place you can look, because the owner has turned the club into a reflection of his own fragile, troubled and erratic personality.

He has always been honest about the fact he is a control freak who wants to do everything. The staff has been greatly reduced and only a select few have stayed for the course of his tenure - player liaison man Stix Lockwood and PA Debra Ware among them.

In place of these experienced staff are various hangers on - Terry George, Cellino's son Edoardo and his friends - Andrea (he of the Miami furniture shop) and someone called Kit who looks after the website.

On Twitter, people often counter that it's unfair to blame the Italian, because he inherited a lot of debt, his hands have been tied because of the relationship with GFH: basically that there's not a lot more he could have done.

So here are 10 things he could, and should, have done differently, which wouldn't have cost a penny:

1) Promises:

Someone, somewhere, said that happiness = reality - expectation. This is quite true. But on the April 2014 day that his ban was overturned, and he officially bought Leeds United, he did an interview with me for The Sun (I am grateful) in which he made a series of lavish promises: he would go to the bank that week to buy Elland Road; he would buy the Thorp Arch training ground and the club would be back in the Premier League by 2016/17. Otherwise he would have failed.

These promises were then backdated, until a point when they were just abandoned. He would have been better assessing the situation properly and being honest and realistic with the fans.

2) Sticking with a manager... any manager:

I recently did an interview with Brian McDermott, and he was very measured about Cellino. But he did admit that what stuck in the craw was that the owner sacked him (first time, anyway) before he'd even met him, let alone got to know him.

Perhaps McDermott wasn't pulling up any trees, but he's experienced, has integrity and is now doing well at Reading, who he's taken to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. It's hard to believe that things wouldn't be better at Leeds if he was still there.

He was on a decent salary, but it was the going rate for a strong Championship manager with Premier League experience. And has Cellino actually saved money by sacking him? He had to give him a pay-off and he's then gone through a succession of other managers.

As we know, Darko Milanic (until yesterday) and Uwe Rosler are still on the payroll at the club. None of the six bosses he's had has been given the time to properly implement their methods or philosophy, which brings us onto...

3) Leave the manager alone:

Being a manager under Cellino is like having a crazy, overbearing father who joins you at work every day.

He has pestered all of his managers about players, tactics and training. He's cooked the pre-match meal, he's gone in the dressing room at half time, he's insisted Evans go out for meals with him. It's stifling and counter-productive.

There came a point in Neil Redfearn's tenure, at Christmas 2014, when he decided 'if I'm going to get sacked, I might as well do things my way.'

So he brought in Steve Thompson as assistant, he started to select the team HE and not the owner wanted and he ditched the diamond formation Cellino insisted on. Things went well and there was a point in March when Leeds had the second best record in the Championship for 2015.

But the Italian was 'very, very hurt' that Redfearn wasn't involving him or giving him credit, and he publicly undermined him before failing to renew his contract. Could any manager effectively work under conditions like that, seriously?

4) Executives:

A frustration is that the Italian is capable of identifying talented staff. Matt Child was good and so too Adam Pearson. But he seems incapable of keeping them for any period of time.

Cellino admits one of his failings is that he wants to 'drive the bus', that he finds it almost impossible to delegate. This is having calamitous results. When Child was working in tandem with Redfearn, things looked bright. Ditto with Pearson and Rosler (off the pitch, anyway).

But they went after very short tenures and things, basically, went tits up.

5) Battles:

These are almost too numerable to mention, but here goes: Cellino v Football League, Sky, Graham Bean, Macron, Leeds Fans Utd, his lawyers, Cameron Stewart, Lucy Ward, Neil Redfearn, the fans, GFH.

And, of course, the one common denominator is him. These battles take a lot of time, energy and money. Cameron Stewart's contract was ripped up - and the club ended up having to pay him a season's salary and costs, all without the benefit of having him kick a ball in a Leeds shirt.

The battles also lead to the same conclusion - that other people are being blamed, when the blame actually lies closer to home. As we all know (and it's easier said than done) you need to control the controllables in life.

6: Recruitment:

When Cellino came in, he told me he had a worldwide network of scouts. And his former club, Cagliari, did uncover some gems, like Naingollan and Ibarbo.

But we've seen precious little evidence of that at Leeds. Cellino's first season was marked by a slew of (largely poor) imports from Italy, under the guidance of Nicola Salerno.

At the start of 2015/16, the recruitment policy seemed to be guided more by manager Rosler, and the focus was on players with experience of English football.

But the overall recruitment has been poor, even if the wage bill has been reduced. This is especially dangerous when you're selling very good players, like Ross McCormack and Sam Byram. If you can't adequately replace them, the effect is disastrous.

7: Neil Redfearn (and Lucy Ward):

Opinion seems to be split on Redfearn, which has surprised me. Leeds had their best (in fact only) good spell of form of the Cellino regime when he was in charge.

I think his success was down to the fact that, as former academy boss, he was able to capitalise on the club's third biggest asset (after its fans and history) - the youngsters. And Mowatt, Byram, Cook and Taylor thrived.

His managerial credentials might be unproven, but he understood Leeds and its fans. You lose someone like that at your peril. And to treat him as shabbily as Cellino did (sacking his assistant for no reason, slagging him off, making sure he left via the back door when he should have been cheered out of the front) meant the Italian lost any integrity he had in the eyes of the staff and fans.

Redfearn's partner, Lucy Ward, is currently taking Cellino to an employment tribunal for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination. She was also a long-serving member of Leeds staff, praised by former trainees such as Fabian Delph.

8: Sam Byram:

Again, opinion is divided on the full-back. Someone who was senior at the club last season tells me Byram was ready to sign a new contract. And his new manager, Slaven Bilic, says he believes he will become 'a great player.'

So to let his contract wind down to its final year left the club in a weak position in which they got half his true value from West Ham. And, again, for Cellino to slag him off in the press during negotiations, was classless at best.

9: Superstition:

This is perhaps part of human nature. But Cellino takes it to the nth degree and, again, it suggests someone who is failing to look at reality or rationality.

Getting the programmes reprinted to 16b, having the pitch blessed, retiring the 17 shirt: it's not really addressing the key issues at the club.

10: Fans:

Leeds United's biggest asset. Cellino has identified this himself. Yet, really, they've proven another pawn to be toyed with and fought against.

The fans ARE Leeds United. But really, Leeds United is being regarded as an extension of the owner. So we've had the pie tax, mistruths about fixture rearrangements, and then, last night, staff told not to speak to the press after a humiliating defeat.

What really should have happened was the manager coming out and apologising to all those who had traveled hundreds of miles to watch a completely abject display.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Return of the Mac

Brian McDermott says returning to Reading is like “going back to family” after his “bonkers” time at Leeds.

The 54-year-old has returned for a second stint at the Royals.

His tenure at Elland Road ended in farce after he was TWICE sacked by owner Massimo Cellino.

Now McDermott is back among friends — and loving it.

He said: “A lot of pals warned me ‘never go back’, but this feels right and I’m really enjoying it.

“I had a few opportunities to go back into management but they didn’t feel right. This is a bit like going back to family.

“Me and the director of football, Nicky Hammond, go back a long way.

“And I’ve known some of the players since they were kids of 10, 11 years old.

“If we can all pull in the same direction then we can get something alarming going here.”

McDermott first joined Reading as a scout in 2000 and went on to become manager.

He led the Royals back to the Premier League in 2012 before being controversially sacked by Anton Zingarevich in March 2013.

Now the club is under new Thai ownership and McDermott says every- thing is geared up for promotion again.

McDermott added: “The fanbase is there, the stadium is great and we are building a new training centre.

“The owners have good ideas and are ambitious. Everything here is Premier League. We just need to get momentum going by giving the fans something to get behind.”

This optimism contrasts with his final months at Leeds. Cellino fired McDermott in January 2014 — before he had even bought the club or met the manager.

He was reinstated the next day, only to be sacked for good four months later. McDermott said: “It was a bonkers time, no doubt about it.

“I’d never seen anything like that before and hopefully never will again. It was tough, really difficult. What got me was that we didn’t even know each other.

“I think you have to build a relation- ship with someone before you make a judgement on them. I think my track record justified more time.”

He has nothing but praise for the long-suffering Leeds fans. McDermott added: “Until you become a part of that club, you don’t realise how big it is.

“I remember we went to Slovenia in pre-season and were outside this little pub in the middle of nowhere. There must have been 1,200 Leeds fans there and I thought, ‘wow, this is big’.

“I was struck by everything about the place and envy the man who takes them back to the Premier League, because it will be huge.”

After leaving the Yorkshire giants, McDermott became chief scout at Arsenal and says it was an invaluable experience.

He added: “I was travelling to Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Portugal, it was a great job. The organisation there is top drawer and Arsene Wenger is obviously a fantastic football man.

“I learnt a lot from him and even identified a few players who might be useful to us here at Reading.”

This article first appeared in The Sun on January 23rd 2016.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

What was Cellino really like at Cagliari?

We know a lot about Massimo Cellino's ownership of Leeds, but I've always been a little hazy about his time at Cagliari.

What are the facts and what is folklore?

Because the past can help us to predict the future, I asked Corriere della Serra's Giuseppe Amisani about Cellino.

Amisani got to know the maverick Italian very well during his two decades at Cagliari, although he emphasises their relationship was one of professional respect, not friendship.

FAMILY:

Amisani: "The family business was founded by the father of Massimo Cellino, who was called Ercole and was from Piedmont. Gradually, the children took over the family business. Massimo - who I call Max - has two brothers, Alberto and Giorgio, and two sisters, Rossana and Lucina.

Rossana is a doctor. The other children participated in various capacities in family activities. With the passage of time, Massimo took over the shares of his brothers and sisters. In June 1992, he decided to buy Cagliari Calcio."

CAGLIARI:

"Cellino was a good owner of Cagliari and was able to enhance the team and find many unknown stars.

With the fans he has always had a relationship of love and hate, depending on the results of the team.

When Cagliari were fine, everyone was happy. When the team was losing, the fans challenged the president.

In his final years as president, his enthusiasm waned and so did his popularity, so he decided to sell everything.

He always tried to be on the side of the fans I would say, choosing to keep the prices of the tickets as low as he could.

He had so many sports directors and many coaches though, this is true. But the arrival of a large number of unknowns as Victor Ibarbo was possible thanks to his intuition.

He is a football expert, so his coaches always compared him to the technical director of the club."

PERSONAL:

"Max married his wife in 1983 after returning from Australia. He went there to get experience and to open a new market for the family business.

Speculation about his personal life? Well, the fans always focused only on the performance of the team. I'd say he was a good president, though perhaps a little eccentric. But he acted for the good of Cagliari.

Sometimes there were excesses and hasty decisions that he took on instinct. But this is Massimo Cellino."