The drama at Leeds never seems to end after yet another turbulent week for the Elland Road club. It started on Monday when manager Uwe Rosler was sacked following a poor start to the new season. The likeable German only arrived at the club in May following the dismissal of previous boss Neil Redfearn but in the end was only given twelve games to show progress. Leeds 2-1 defeat to Brighton on Saturday which saw them slip down to 18th in the English Championship proved to be the final straw for owner Massimo Cellino who has a growing reputation for wielding the axe quickly and swiftly. It’s the sixth time that he has done so since taking over in early 2014. The colourful yet controversial Italian has dismissed Brian McDermott, Dave Hockaday, Neil Redfearn (twice), Darko Milanic and now Rosler in his search for the perfect manager that can lead Leeds back to the Premiership. Less than a day after Rosler left, Steve Evans was appointed by Cellino who himself hit the headlines again after being banned by the Football League for the second time in under a year.
Cellino’s reign at Leeds has been nothing short of disastrous with Leeds failing to make any progress towards stability. The nature of Cellino’s takeover is still under question, whilst his murky past which led him to fail the Football Leagues proper ownership test remains a principal concern. Added into this the nature in which Cellino has conducted himself at Leeds, often speaking badly about the club’s manager, sacking key members of the playing and backroom staff without the managers knowledge and appointing individuals to the club without clarification of role or responsibilities has left the fans dazed and confused. Cellino’s current ban should restrict him from damaging the club further yet the Italian’s tenticles are so entrenched in the club, including appointing his children as directors on the board that decoupling may be trickier than first feared.
To be fair to Cellino, Leeds problems started well before his arrival and their implosion began during Peter Risdale’s period as owner. Risdale, like many owners had dreams of conquering Europe and for a time it looked like that might be possible for Leeds. Under manager David O’Leary, Leeds became a challenger for European honours making it to the semi finals of the Champions League in the 2000-2001 season. That team, which included Rio Ferdinand, Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith, Robbie Keane and Harry Kewell would eventually be beaten by Valencia over two legs and that defeat would signal the beginning of the end. To reach that semi final, Risdale had done the unthinkable by taking out huge loans to chase the ultimate dream. When that dream collapsed, so did Leeds who quickly had to dismantle their star-studded team in order to pay off the debt. As the stars exited, Leeds on field performances began to suffer and eventually they fell into the deepest of slides, one which they still haven’t quite recovered from.
From a nostalgic prospective, seeing Leeds in this situation is heartbreaking to most English fans (except perhaps those on the red side of Manchester). Leeds United’s rich history in the English game sets them apart from others as one of the iconic teams of the British game. The belief that the club can recover and return to the Premiership is still there but the harsh reality is that organizationally Leeds are miles away from being ready. There are some glimmering lights however most notably the emergence of several promising players from the club’s youth system. Once a constant source of quality graduates, the Leeds Academy had appeared to have dried up in recent years but the promotion of Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt are the first real signs of recovery. Unfortunately for Evans, Leeds will remain as a selling club for the foreseeable future due to the nature of the current game. Holding on to these players will be difficult especially if they continue to impress. If they are to leave for substantial fees the club must redirect the monies raised back into the first team and youth development as that will be the bloodstream of the club going forward. Staying in the Championship is the goal for this season with the hope that stability can be restored in the long-term to the club. Once restored, Leeds can start to plan for the future with some positivity and aim to make it back to the Premiership where they rightly or wrongly believe they belong.
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