I had cheerfully absolved myself of needing to formally acknowledge Massimo Cellino’s departure from Leeds United; with the passing of the baton between him and new owner Andrea Radrizzani being a fairly seamless process (and the immediate impact the latter had made), I felt there was no real need to discuss it further. It was criminal how much we (as fans) felt obligated to discuss an owner whose shady business practices and unquenchable ego entirely eclipsed what being a football supporter should be about. So with a quiet piece of social-media based celebration, I elected to happily draw a line underneath a disasterous chapter and move on, head held high.
Then, months later, I stumbled on what can optimistically be called a “divisive” piece, where Cellino was thanked at-length for being the best Chairman Leeds have had in recent years (albeit against very weak opponents) and personally credited with bringing Andrea Radrizzani to the club. I felt such revulsion to this, such nauseous discomfort that a fellow fan could have endured the same 3 years I had and still attempt to make a legitimate argument in support of Cellino. I’d moved on with my life, or, I thought I had. Yet perhaps watching the club I’ve spent my life loving being torn apart from inside for 3 years is a wound too fresh to move on so swiftly from. I had no intention of bookending the Italian’s ownership of Leeds with a piece critical of his very essence, but needed to find an outlet for the vitriol ricocheting around my soul before my other half asks me how I am and she’s met with a lengthy speech about Thorp Arch, heritage, honour, dignity and god knows what else.
Cjay’s argument primarily boiled down to “Ken Bates was a bad owner, GFH were worse, Massimo stepped in and saved us, and delivered us to a good owner”. Which has the skeleton of a valid position, but cheerfully glosses over the very soul that Cellino ripped from the club. I don’t disagree with the entire post by any means – fan treatment of his family in particular was appalling, though I hold zero affection for any of them, the crimes of the father shouldn’t impact the family. Amusing as it was to see his daughter’s Instagram posts, showing her toned, tanned body on a sun-bed only to be angrily juxtaposed with “BUY SOME WINGERS” in the comments (and some more graphic requests I won’t repeat, but you can imagine).
I wholly reject the fact that Cellino’s many, many mistakes and deliberate destructive actions are permissible purely because he bought Leeds. It’s presented as if he altruistically threw himself before the proverbial truck to save the club when no other buyer would step forward, whereas the reality is more based in a reckless man purchasing a financial mess because he failed to do due diligence. He didn’t intend to buy Leeds to save them, he had that necessity thrust upon him by failing to act sensibly. Though this wouldn’t be the last time a notoriously erratic man would do harm by failing to follow normal process.
I also think it’s unforgivable for fans to even attempt to excuse the wholesale cultural destruction of Leeds United and much of what it entails purely because “he’s a footballing man trying to do his best”. The way people were treated at the club, the way playing and non-playing staff were handled, the way the facilities were neglected and condemned to decline… The incredulity to fire long-standing, reliable, loved, local people due to budgetary constraints only to spend £11m+ of the club’s money on legal battles he caused by being reckless. If I wished to spend the evening deconstructing his entire 3 years of ownership into a long list of appalling behaviour, I could. But I’m still clinging on to this thinly veiled lie that I’ve moved on from such annoyance and will resist the urge.
“Would Radrizzani have invested if he had to put up with what Massimo had?” is an interesting way to phrase a redundant question. Again, suggesting that the philanthropic, altruistic Massimo saved Leeds and glided them into the careful hands of Andrea Radrizzani and therefore deserving a key to the city.
I, again, reject the notion that he should be celebrated for selling to the right buyer. He deserves a modicum of credit for actually doing what he said he was going to do, such was his long and colourful history of breaking promises and boasting absolute works of fiction. But to suggest he carefully curated buyers and nurtured Andrea into owning this precious gem he had restored is laughable. More so if you consider the analogies that could apply here.
Supposing Peter Ridsdale bought a Ferrari, yet such a vehicle was way beyond his means to run properly. Gerald Krasner, a specialist in dealing with making high-maintenance vehicles run a little more cost effectively then purchased it, and while every effort was made to reduce the running costs, it was still ruinous to own. This vehicle ended up being repossessed. Ken Bates acquired it on the cheap and ran it poorly, doing the absolute minimum in terms of servicing, renting it out to other people to abuse, selling the genuine Ferrari seats and replacing them with ones from a Mondeo in a breaker’s yard. Eventually, old Kenneth found a group of foreign lads (GFH) who were willing to take the Ferrari off his hands, merely excited to own such a vehicle without any understanding of what that might entail. Suddenly they realised that it’s an expensive toy and quickly looked to find someone to share these costs. In steps Massimo Cellino, a car enthusiast who has owned many cars before. He glances through the closed window and kicks a single tyre, and agrees to pay for (and own) most of the vehicle, but allows the GFH lads to have ultimate veto rights on decisions, but also should he elect to restore this classic back to its prime, agrees that GFH should make money on this transformation too. Even if they did nothing to help.
Cellino then looks under the bonnet and realises that the previous two owners have trashed it, the Italian V8 has been replaced by a 1.25 Fiesta engine at some point, the running gear is from an old Alfa and there’s an MOT fail list as long as your arm. His aspirations needed to be tempered; restoring this vehicle to concourse condition wouldn’t be quick, easy or cheap. Being an automotive expert he gets his mate Dave to do most of the work, but neglected to consider that Dave works at Kwik Fit and is way out of his depth. He chops and changes parts and mechanics so often it’s hard to tell if the car is actually any more driveable. Or if it’s even still a Ferrari. A group of Ferrari fans wish to buy the vehicle, hurt as they are to see a rare classic in such a state. Massimo agrees to sell it, but then changes his mind. Another Italian gentleman called Andrea shows interest and the vehicle is ultimately sold to him – only after due diligence and a period of co-owning the vehicle has allowed him to fully understand what’s needed. He then begins work in earnest to slowly but surely get this classic back to its best. He buys it a lovely garage to be housed in, and buys a workshop where it get be improved. And here we are.
In this scenario, the Ferrari finally being owned by a man who understands how special the vehicle is doesn’t reflect in any way on previous owners. The fact that the previous regimes neglected such a precious asset isn’t a barometer for future owners.
“Yes Massimo Cellino was a bit crazy, eccentric, a control freak… he cared, he was a football man, he wanted to take Leeds up, but he couldn’t for whatever reason, probably because when he said all these things about buying back Stadiums and training grounds he had no idea just how badly Leeds had been run for years”
Bobbins. I get angry when fans try to forgive endless broken promises by pinning them on previous regimes. It wasn’t Ken Bates or GFH’s fault that Massimo Cellino broke his repeated promises to buy Elland Road. They didn’t move his mouth and manipulate the words to fall from his face suggesting he would swagger to the bank and purchase the stadium. He spoke those words without prompt and failed to deliver on them. Multiple times. The club had been run poorly for many years, that much is abundantly true and that may have been a legitimate reason why he wasn’t able to purchase the stadium, but it was Cellino himself who elected to announce his intention to buy the ground. Had he not said anything, we wouldn’t have been lied to.
I also reject this notion of him being a “football man”, though this is often used as one of his most prized attributes. Football men don’t sign players without medicals. Football men don’t abandon/neglect training facilities. Football men don’t offer key players wage cuts while ensuring far worse new signings are on 3, 4 or 5 times that wage. Football men don’t get reckless with the welfare of the staff. Football men don’t make wild and unfounded assumptions about the quality of a league they’ve never seen. Football men don’t sell the best player in the league and replace them with C-grade dross with attitude problems. Football men don’t destroy football clubs for their own ego. It’s endless how much you could disassemble such laughable claims about Massimo Cellino.
“So Mr Cellino i thank you, I thank you for ridding us of GFH, I thank you for taking us on when most people wouldn’t have touched us with a barge pole”
The above is essentially thanking a lunatic for not conducting due diligence and understanding what he’s buying. If you think Cellino would have willingly bought into Leeds at the price he did had he fully understood the situation then you’re probably due a bit of fresh air and a little less glue. Yet, much like Justin Bieber, I think I actually hate his fans more than I hate him. The toughest component of Cellino’s ownership wasn’t the ridiculous, destructive things he did that made us a continued laughing stock of the entire footballing world. It was the fans that soul-bonded with him beyond any convincing. Fans who could find endless fault with anyone and everything but him. Fans who still to this day think he deserves a statue outside the ground for plucking us from the floor and guiding us towards the stars.
How they are able to ignore the destructive wake strewn for miles behind his clumsy, erratic stamping I’ll never know. But I’m repulsed that people could thank someone who pulled at the very threads of what makes Leeds great. “Side before self, every time” is a mantra every fan should have engrained in their very soul, yet we’re expected to celebrate someone who embodied the polar opposite of this? A man who made Leeds United a far worse thing purely to fuel his own satisfaction? Who would rubbish players publicly who failed to agree to his insulting terms. Not just players, but those we proudly called ‘our own’, lads who grew up in the Academy, nurtured by people this reckless owner had fired for imagined slights.
Sorry, Cjay, I cannot wish Massimo Cellino well, nor offer him thanks for anything other than finally leaving. It’s been so nice that we’ve been able to write about the football again and the only mentions of the owner are praising him for positive steps forward, undoing the damage done by Cellino’s regime.
I’m not old enough (at only 32) to have experienced the golden days of Revie’s Leeds, but I understand what it is to be Leeds. I can’t abide by someone who not only failed to grasp this very simple concept, but endeavoured to destroy what it stood for. And somehow did so to the soundtrack of dim-witted applause, by fans too mesmerised by the thin veneer of Cellino’s cool exterior to have any objectivity over what was being lost.
I truly and sincerely hope this is the last time I’ll ever need to think about Massimo Cellino again beyond referring to him anecdotally or tracing back current issues to his mistakes. I’m re-drawing that line under his ownership and moving on, but I cannot in good conscience accept that his ownership was a net positive. I’m not discounting the fact he will have done good things, but on the balance of it, he deserves to be condemned to the same period of history that Ken Bates and GFH will linger in. Not just forgettable, but actively hated.