Friday, February 6 th, 2015
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Cellino, a "manager eater" at Leeds: is all this criticism fair?
After 22 years at Cagliari (and 36 managers), one of the most controversial presidents of Serie A is exporting his methods at Leeds. Because a leopard can't change its spots...
by Jack Atkinson
After a hectic 22 years at Cagliari in which 36 managers came and went, Massimo Cellino has moved onto English second-division club Leeds United. His casual approach to hiring and firing managers has drawn criticism from many, including ex-Leeds star Johnny Giles, but is the criticism justified?

When Cellino took over at Cagliari in 1992, the club was coming off the back of a second relegation-threatened season in Serie A. In the first season of his ownership they finished in 6th place with a place in European competition, and followed it up with a UEFA Cup semi-final the season after.

(1994 March 30, Cagliari-Inter 3-2. After reaching an unprecedented UEFA Cup semifinal, Cellino's club won the first leg vs Inter. Rossoblù's daydream ended abruptly in the second leg, when they lost for 3-0 at San Siro)

Since then, however, the club has failed to reach such highs, combining mid-table Serie A finishes with stints in Serie B, the last of these coming in the 2003-04 season.

The defining feature of Cellino’s ownership of Cagliari was his famous fickleness in dismissing managers, something that has showed on signs of abating at Leeds. The 2005-06 season saw the team’s fourth manager appointed by November, though Leeds are on their third already.

Neither Hockaday nor Milanič lasted a month as Leeds manager; at one point, Cellino said he was going to sack Hockaday, only to change his mind, though one game later he changed his mind back and sacked him anyway. Asked why he chose to hire Milanič, the Italian told Sky Sports, “I don’t know [why I’ve chosen him]. The coaches are like watermelons. You find out about them when you open them. His particular qualities? He’s good-looking, what can I tell you?” Leeds’ newest manager, Neil Redfearn, has been in the club’s youth coaching setup since 2009 and took charge for four games in between managers earlier this season, winning three of them. Perhaps his familiarity with the players and the owner will buy him more time in the hotseat.

Former player Johnny Giles, who spent 12 years at the club and won two Division One titles with them, told BBC Radio 5 live, “I think the best thing he [Cellino] could do is get out of the club and make way for a new owner who could work in the best interests of the fans. There's nobody going to stop him. He's in charge of the place. It's unfortunate for the fans he's taken over… If he has a history of it, he'll continue to do it. It's madness, and it's the fans who are suffering.”

A more recent former Leeds player, Ross McCormack, who left the club for Fulham late on this summer after a falling out with Cellino, posted a photo of Giles on Instagram and voiced his support for the comments: “Read this great man’s piece on the goings on at that great club in The Independent. Agree with absolutely everything he said.” He went on to say: “Doesn't stop the fact that when I retire me and my little man will have season tickets at Elland Road. He was born in Leeds and all he speaks about is Leeds. Just get it sorted please so it's premiership football!”.

It is this last sentence that is most telling; the club that reached the Champions League semi-final back in 2001 has been out of the top flight since their relegation in 2004, and has been battling against financial crisis since before then. Leeds have suffered massively as a result of a financial mess brought about by a reliance upon Champions League revenue, dropping to the third tier for three seasons, being asset stripped repeatedly, deducted points and even selling their stadium.

Ten years after their fall from grace, the memories of top flight football and being a famous club still linger in the minds of fans, along with a burning desire to call their club a Premier League one. Upon buying the club, Cellino set his sights on promotion by 2016, with the aim to establish the club in the top division. He also promised to buy Elland Road back for the club, and these promises are exactly what the Leeds fans want to hear, and more importantly want to see. For years now the club has been in a limbo, without the financial clout to push for promotion, and without a committed owner; this is what Cellino is bringing to Leeds that can make him a success.

After being pictured in the stands at a game with the rest of the Leeds fans, Cellino has won over some fans with his odd ways, though many still resent him for a perceived lack of stability; it’s worth noting the club has not been stable for some time, and despite the managerial changes, he has managed to keep Cagliari in Serie A for the last decade. If he can deliver on his promises and see Leeds promoted back to the Premier League for the first time in over ten years, and give the club back some of the status of old, there is no doubt the fans will appreciate his work.

So time will tell us whether he goes down in history as a hero or a villain, though it seems there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for Leeds fans; Cellino’s ownership offers financial stability and an owner with something in mind other than profits. Premiership football could finally be on its way back to Elland Road, and if it comes and stays for good, Cellino can be considered a huge success at Leeds United, regardless of how many managers lose their job in the process.

Thursday, November 6 th, 2014
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