Massimo Cellino’s Leeds mad house! The Italian owner once rejected chance to sign Virgil van Dijk

0

Graham Bean was the FA ‘sleazebuster’ but also worked with a number of clubs in English football, most memorable in Leeds, working closely with the club’s controversial former owner…

Massimo Cellino’s reputation preceded him when he bought Leeds United. The controversial Italian businessman was known as the “Manager Eater” in his home country after having had more bosses than pepperoni pizza in his 22 years at Cagliari, and felt like he was enjoying the fame.

I found myself parachuting into the eye of the storm in Elland Road. Cellino had no experience with the English game and had fired the CEO and head of football administration within weeks of taking control of the club. In effect, the club was out of control.

Staff morale was the lowest I had ever seen in my career. They didn’t like Cellino—and certainly didn’t trust him. They feared the consequences if they got on the wrong side of him. I once suggested that he invest £50,000 in the staff salary budget to give them all a raise as they hadn’t had one in years, it would have given them a boost and made them more receptive to what he was doing at the club. Cellino shot me down in his usual tantrum and wondered why he would give them extra money.

Massimo Cellino's erratic nature made working at Leeds a bizarre experience

Massimo Cellino’s erratic nature made working at Leeds a bizarre experience

After flatly rejecting my request, he asked if I would like to buy an Audi R8 sports car for his son’s birthday, as I had already bought a Mini for the same son a few weeks earlier. He told me he was willing to pay up to £80,000! He would not share £50,000 with all those who worked so hard for him at the club, but squander £80k on a vanity project for his spoiled and spoiled son. It summed him up perfectly.

My first meeting with Cellino had been an eye opener. The first thing he did was take the p*** off my weight, with a series of insulting remarks. This went down like a lead balloon, but it was clear that he was a very charismatic man with a sassy sense of humour. As the weeks and months passed, it became blindingly clear that he was prone to severe mood swings and often lost his temper, sometimes over the most trivial matters. Then, almost immediately, he was able to turn the charm back on. It was like flipping a switch so me and the other staff became very wary of his irrational side.

Working at Leeds was one of the most bizarre experiences of my professional career. Sometimes it really felt like I was working in a madhouse and I seriously doubted I would continue working for him because of his nasty tantrums, which were akin to dealing with a spoiled child. It was exhausting and stressful.

However, I soon learned that the only way to deal with him was to stand up to him and give the best I could. He once blamed me for a costly mistake regarding a loan for Souleymane Doukara from Catania. He was ranting and ranting, but I hadn’t interfered in the least. I snapped — it was a rant too much for him — and threw myself across the desk pointing my finger at his face, yelling, “Never blame me for anything that has nothing to do with me. You’re ruining this and no one else.” .” Cellino s***ed herself, quickly backed off and finally blamed someone else!

The Italian clashed with Graham Bean over the signing of Souleymane Doukara

The Italian clashed with Graham Bean over the signing of Souleymane Doukara

The Italian clashed with Graham Bean over the signing of Souleymane Doukara

Because of his volatile temper, it was hard to part when he was just expressing himself with his passionate Italian personality and mannerisms and when he was actually losing his temper. But as time went on, it became much easier to distinguish between the two.

I was the only one willing to stand up to him because everyone in the club lived in fear of him. His temper was such that he became irrational at times, raised his voice so much that he was unable to decipher what he was saying, and became so agitated that he foamed at the mouth.

He would be rude to many people without realizing it, using abusive language, his most common phrases being “mother ******” and “****head”. Whenever I raised issues with him regarding the FA, his standard response was “F*** the Federation”, a sentiment I usually agreed with!

One of the biggest problems with working for Cellino was that he didn’t seem to do mornings. He rarely made it to Elland Road before lunchtime. This meant that you were limited in what you could do as his micromanagement was so intense that no one in the club dared to do anything that would have caused him to explode.

Goalkeeper Paddy Kenny was eliminated due to Cellino's superstition around the number 17

Goalkeeper Paddy Kenny was eliminated due to Cellino's superstition around the number 17

Goalkeeper Paddy Kenny was eliminated due to Cellino’s superstition around the number 17

He also had some weird and wonderful superstitions, such as removing the number 17 from the club and not using the color purple. One day he even told me to make sure I got the well-earning goalkeeper Paddy Kenny out of the club because he was born on the 17th and he just couldn’t risk being in Leeds.

When I arranged the delivery of the Mini for his son, Cellino refused to have it delivered on a Friday, because “Friday was a bad day for car deliveries”. Like I said, a madhouse.

A month after I joined Leeds, Cellino stunned club supporters by appointing the relatively unknown Dave Hockaday as the new first-team coach. Hockaday’s managerial experience was a youth coach at Watford and Southampton, then four years as manager of Forest Green Rovers when they played in the National League. From his first day it was clear to me that it would all end in tears.

I got on well with Dave and he was a really nice guy, as was his assistant Junior Lewis, but the reality was they were both not good enough in Leeds. However, Dave identified two outstanding players who would have transformed the club.

Cellino ignored a chance to sign Virgil van Dijk when the Dutchman was at Celtic

Cellino ignored a chance to sign Virgil van Dijk when the Dutchman was at Celtic

Cellino ignored a chance to sign Virgil van Dijk when the Dutchman was at Celtic

One of them was a certain Virgil van Dijk, then at Celtic. Unfortunately, Cellino ignored him and signed Giuseppe Bellusci on loan from Italy’s Serie B team Catania. Known as “The Warrior” in his native Italy for the way he played, Bellusci thrived on an undeserved hard-man reputation. He made his debut in a 4-1 defeat to Watford and things didn’t get much better after that – he was not liked by many of his teammates or the club staff.

The other target Dave suggested was Andre Gray, but instead Cellino endorsed Ternana’s Mirco Antenucci signing, which lasted only two seasons. Hockaday had identified two players who, if Cellino had chosen to sign, would have seen Leeds make huge profits in due course and possibly even lead to promotion.

I knew Hockaday wouldn’t last long – and I was right. After just 70 days, he and Lewis were fired. Cellino called me and all he said was “Sack Hockaday”.

I replied that he should do the decent thing and talk to Dave himself, but Cellino “didn’t like confrontation”, so he refused to do it.

Most normal club owners would have done the sensible thing and drafted a replacement manager before firing their current manager, but Cellino was far from normal. In fact, he was playing a real game of Football Manager.

Then Real Madrid assistant Paul Clement was Cellino's first choice to replace Dave Hockaday

Then Real Madrid assistant Paul Clement was Cellino's first choice to replace Dave Hockaday

Then Real Madrid assistant Paul Clement was Cellino’s first choice to replace Dave Hockaday

That same evening I was called to his office where he asked me who I thought we should appoint. I made it clear that I had no input and so Cellino decided there and then that he wanted Steve Clarke as the next boss. Clarke was not immediately interested, so Cellino resorted to Plan B and decided to want Paul Clement, who was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid. Cellino called Ancelotti and wanted to know what Clement’s salary was. When Ancelotti told him it was over a million euros a year, the talks quickly ended!

Cellino then returned to Plan C, which would temporarily put academy manager Neil Redfearn in charge while he sought a permanent boss.

Remarkably, given the talent brought forward in Leeds such as Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor, Sam Byram, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Alex Mowatt and Kalvin Phillips, Cellino initially planned to close the academy before being convinced that it was a viable concern.

The Italian didn't think future England star Kalvin Phillips was good enough for the Leeds first team

The Italian didn't think future England star Kalvin Phillips was good enough for the Leeds first team

The Italian didn’t think future England star Kalvin Phillips was good enough for the Leeds first team

Cellino had told Redfearn during one of his stints as first-team manager that he had to get rid of future England international Phillips because he was “not good enough”. It shows how bad Cellino’s judgment of players was.

With Redfearn in temporary leadership, Cellino returned to Plan D, which was Gary Megson. I knew Gary well and arranged an appointment the following day at Cellino’s apartment in central Leeds. But about an hour before the meeting, Cellino called to say he had changed his mind and Gary didn’t want it anyway, so it was all canceled. It was another example of how farcical things got.

After that, things got very quiet before a little-known Serb appeared on the scene, named Darko Milanic. I had never heard of him and most Leeds fans hadn’t either. After listening to his first press conference, I knew he wouldn’t last long – the only surprise was that he lasted a month.

.