Friday, 18 July 2014

Cellino on new signings, Hockaday, Elland Road and packed lunches

I've interviewed Massimo Cellino for ITV Calendar and you can see some clips here.

It's impossible to capture a 45-minute interview in five one-minute chunks though, so I thought I'd expand.

I interviewed Cellino in the stands at Elland Road on Thursday and he was looking rather like a middle-aged rocker, with beige leather jacket, jeans and trainers, rather than his usual outfit of dark suit and open-necked shirt.

And he was in good form - energetic, open and positive.

Perhaps one reason was he was pleased with how pre-season has gone for his team. Admittedly, it's hard to draw too many conclusions from the matches Leeds played in Italy - beating a very poor FC Gherdina team 16-0 before two Leeds XIs went head to head after their Romanian opposition failed to turn up.

But the training sessions were tough, certainly proving too much for one player.

Jonathan Rossini was forced to pull up during one running drill because he just couldn't cope with the physical demands. Cellino had been keen to sign the Swiss defender, but his body and mind just didn't seem right (he has recently had to contend with some family issues), so it was decided best for Leeds to pull out of the deal to sign him.

There's been a back to basics approach at Leeds this summer. Hockaday is a tracksuit coach who's happiest putting his players through their paces on the training pitch, and Cellino insists he's struck up a good rapport with his new head coach.

"We speak the same language, the language of football," he says. "Dave really understands the game and so do I. In fact sometimes he doesn't even need to say anything for me to understand what he means."

Cellino has demanded humility from his players. He admits he deliberately closed the Thorp Arch canteen before the team left for Italy, because they were taking their privileges for granted .

"They were talking about their apple pie, their jacuzzi, their spinning classes before. You need to earn these things."

So they did have to make their own arrangements for lunch for a couple of days, with many of them bringing in packed lunches. And it was a shock to the system.

The Italian says he was impressed by what he saw during the pre-season tour to Italy though.

"In the hotel, they told me 'your best Cagliari team never behaved as good like these guys.'

"And this is why I was proud. A lot of English players drink and don't behave themselves.

"They worked three times a day and are really nice guys. They are driving really hard.

"A few of those are very beautiful players. I am very impressed. I saw Morrison, Hunt - they didn't play last year, but if you asked me now they are the last ones I would want to sell."

Someone who didn't meet Cellino's standards was goalkeeper Paddy Kenny though, who didn't even make the tour.

Cellino says the player's condition was poor when he turned up for pre-season in Leeds, and that he wasn't willing to meet the standards of the new regime when he was spoken to.

According to the 57-year-old, the goalkeeping position shouldn't be a problem this season.

Cellino says new signing Marco Silvestri is an absolute gem. He expects the 23-year-old to be the best keeper in the Championship and one of the very best in the whole country.

The other new signings are midfielder Tommaso Bianchi, forward Souleymane Doukara - who Cellino says is fast, skilful and will become a fans' favourite - and right back Gaetano Berardi, as well as another keeper, Stuart Taylor.

Cellino also said he was in advanced talks to sign two more defenders - one Scottish and one English, although he wouldn't give names.

Another good source at the club told me a deal is expected to go through for Roma midfielder Federico Viviani, although the player's agent has played down the link.

One player Cellino says won't be joining is former Newcastle striker Nile Ranger.

There clearly were some discussions about the striker, perhaps just between Cellino and Hockaday, who knew the player during his time at Swindon.

Cellino describes him as "the bad boy", which is certainly accurate when you consider his string of arrests and that infamous photo of him posing with a replica gun.

Cellino explains: "The players are like a family and I can't afford to spend too much time on one of them who has problems." So the transfer will not happen, he says.

Another player who won't be at Elland Road next season is, of course, Ross McCormack, the hero of the last campaign.

Cellino says the striker wanted to leave for Cardiff in January and that he stopped him at the 11th hour.

He says the player's agent then agitated for an improved contract and subsequently a move almost as soon as the season had ended.

When McCormack and his agent told Cellino, face to face, that he wanted to leave, the game was pretty much up.

However, Cellino still turned down a £10m offer from Fulham, eventually managing to get £10.75m for him.

"I didn't like that someone else from the Championship came to get our best player," he admits.

Money from the sale will be used to help buy back Elland Road though, which Cellino says will happen in November.

However, he's not so keen on Thorp Arch, which he says is "like an amusement park" and too far from the stadium. The Italian wants a training centre close to Elland Road which he can drive to within five minutes.

He's already actively looking for land for the new training centre.

The other big piece of news, which has been well reported by the excellent Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post, is that Cellino has reached an agreement with previous owners GFH to wipe out a lot of the debt at the club.

When the Italian purchased Leeds, he agreed to service a debt of £24m built up during GFH’s tenure as majority shareholder.

Cellino argued that GFH had not fully disclosed the state of the financial problems at Elland Road though, and demanded that they compromise on the agreement.

So under the terms of a new agreement, GFH is willing to wipe out half of the debt immediately and take repayment of the remaining money if and when Leeds are promoted to the Premier League.

So far so good perhaps, but the real days of judgement will come on the pitch, starting with Millwall away.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview Simon. It's really good to know we've got someone like you who's close to Cellino and can convey information about the club to the fans, asking the questions and getting the answers first hand. With yourself and Phil Hay keeping us supporters in the loop there seems to be a much needed transparency at the club where we actually know what is happening.
    Mick Ward