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

Graham Bean was the FA’s ‘sleazebuster’ but also worked with a number of clubs in English football, most memorably at Leeds where he worked 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 homeland after going through more bosses in his 22 years at Cagliari than he’d had pepperoni pizzas, and it felt like he revelled in the notoriety.

I found myself parachuted into the eye of the storm inside Elland Road. Cellino had no experience of the English game and had already sacked the CEO and head of football administration within weeks of seizing control of the club. In effect, the club was rudderless.

Staff morale was the lowest I’d ever seen during my career. They didn’t like Cellino — and certainly didn’t trust him. They feared the consequences of getting on the wrong side of him. I once suggested he invest £50,000 into the staff wages budget to give them all a pay rise, seeing as they hadn’t had one in years, it would have given them a lift and made them more receptive to what he was doing in the club. Cellino shot me down in his usual tantrum manner, questioning why he should give them extra money.

Having bluntly refused my request he then asked about sourcing an Audi R8 sports car for his son’s birthday, as I had already secured a Mini for the same son some weeks earlier. He told me he was willing to pay up to £80,000! He wouldn’t share £50,000 between all those who worked so hard for him at the club, but would blow £80k on a vanity project for his spoiled and indulged 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*** out of my weight, with a string of insulting comments. This went down like a lead balloon but it was clear he was a very charismatic man with a brazen sense of humour. As the weeks and months went by it became blindingly obvious he was prone to serious mood swings and would frequently lose his temper, sometimes over the most trivial of matters. Then, almost immediately, he could turn the charm on again. It was like flicking a switch, so me and the other members of staff became very wary of his irrational side.

Working at Leeds was one of the most bizarre experiences of my professional career. At times it genuinely felt like I was working inside a madhouse and I seriously questioned continuing to work for him, due to his nasty temper tantrums, which were like dealing with a spoiled child. It was draining and stressful.

However, I quickly learned the only way to deal with him was to stand up to him and give as good as you got. He once blamed me for a costly mistake regarding a loan deal for Souleymane Doukara from Catania. He was ranting and raving but I’d not had any involvement in it. I snapped — it was one rant too many from him — and launched myself across the desk with my finger pointing close to his face, shouting “Don’t you ever f****** blame me for something that’s nothing to do with me. You f***** this up and nobody else.” Cellino s*** himself, quickly backed down and ended up blaming someone else!

Due to his volatile temper, it was difficult to separate when he was simply expressing himself with his passionate Italian personality and mannerisms and when he was actually losing his temper. But as time went on it was much easier to distinguish between the two.

I was the only person prepared to stand up to him, because everyone else at the club lived in fear of him. His temper was such that he would become irrational at times, raising his voice to the point of not being able to decipher what he was saying, building himself up into such a frenzy he would start frothing at the mouth.

He would be rude to many people without realising it, using offensive language, with 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 tended to agree with most of the time!

One of the biggest problems working for Cellino was that he didn’t seem to do mornings. He rarely turned up at Elland Road before lunchtime. This meant you were restricted in what you could actually get done, because his micromanagement was so intense that no one at the club dare do anything which might have caused an outburst from him.

He also had some weird and wonderful superstitions, like eliminating the number 17 from the club and not using the colour purple. One day he even told me to make sure I got high-earning goalkeeper Paddy Kenny out of the club because he was born on the 17th and that he just couldn’t risk him being at Leeds.

When I arranged the delivery of the Mini for his son, Cellino refused to allow it to be delivered on a Friday, because “Friday was a bad luck day for delivering cars”. 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 amounted to being a youth coach at Watford and Southampton, then four years of being manager of Forest Green Rovers when they were in the National League. From his first day it was obvious to me it would all end in tears.

I got on well with Dave and he was a really nice bloke, as was his assistant Junior Lewis, but the reality was they were both out of their depth at Leeds. Dave did, however, identify two outstanding players that would have transformed the club.

One was a certain Virgil van Dijk, then at Celtic. Unfortunately Cellino ignored him and signed Giuseppe Bellusci on loan from Italian Serie B side Catania. Known as “The Warrior” in his native Italy because of 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 improve much from there — he wasn’t liked by many of his teammates or the club staff.

The other target Dave suggested was Andre Gray but instead, Cellino sanctioned the signing of Mirco Antenucci from Ternana, who lasted just two seasons. Hockaday had identified two players that, had Cellino chosen to sign, would have seen Leeds make a huge profit in due course and may even have resulted in promotion.

I knew Hockaday wouldn’t last very long — and I was correct. After just 70 days he and Lewis were sacked. Cellino rang me and all he said was, “Sack Hockaday”.

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

Most normal club owners would have done the sensible thing and lined up a replacement manager before sacking their current one but Cellino was far from normal. In effect, he was playing a real life game of Football Manager.

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

Cellino then reverted to Plan C, which was to put academy manager Neil Redfearn in temporary charge while he sourced a permanent boss.

Remarkably, given the talent brought through at Leeds such as Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor, Sam Byram, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Alex Mowatt and Kalvin Phillips, Cellino had initially been intent on closing the academy down before he was convinced it was a viable concern.

Cellino had told Redfearn during one of his spells in charge of the first team to get rid of future England international Phillips because he “wasn’t good enough”. It shows just how poor Cellino’s judgment was over players.

With Redfearn in temporary charge, Cellino reverted to Plan D which was Gary Megson. I knew Gary well and set up a meeting at Cellino’s apartment in Leeds city centre the following day. However, about an hour before the meeting, Cellino rang to say he’d changed his mind and didn’t want Gary after all, so it was all cancelled. It was another example of how farcical things were becoming.

Things then went very quiet before a little known Serbian appeared on the scene called Darko Milanic. I’d never heard of him and neither had most Leeds fans. After listening to his first press conference, I knew he wasn’t going to last long — the only surprise was he lasted a month.

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  • 1 час, 16 минут назад 04.10.2022Sport
    Arsenal target Federico Chiesa makes return to training with Juventus after nine months out

    Juventus forward Federico Chiesa made his return to training with Juventus after nine-months out with a serious knee injury.

    The Italian was linked with a move to Arsenal prior to his setback, after a spell of superb form for club and country.

    Chiesa suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury during the Old Lady’s clash with Roma in January, just as his stock was rising following a superb showing in Italy’s Euro 2020 success last summer.

    Juventus’ official website said: “Federico Chiesa began a partial and gradual return to the group today.”

    The news will be a welcome sight to Juventus supporters who have seen their side make a stuttering start to the season.

    It remains to be seen whether Chiesa can make a return to the pitch before the World Cup kicks off in November.

    Italy failed to qualify for the showpiece tournament in Qatar, giving the talented 24-year-old enough time to get himself up to speed for the resumption of Serie A on January 4 – almost a year to the day that the injury occurred.

    Juventus will be hoping they are still in the Champions League by the time Chiesa regains full fitness.

    Max Allegri’s men currently sit third in group H having lost both of their games so far against Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica.

    Juventus face off against group minnows Maccabi Haifa in Turin on Wednesday before the return match in Israel next week and will need to pick up six points to have any chance of making the knockout stages in the spring.

    Sandwiched in between both games is a mammoth trip to champions AC Milan in Serie A on Saturday afternoon.

    Juve find themselves in seventh place, seven points adrift of leaders Napoli and a win at the San Siro next weekend would instil some much-needed belief in the 20-time Scudetto winners.

    Goals from Flip Kostic, Dusan Vlahovic and Arkadiusz Milik helped fire Juventus to a 3-0 win at home to Bologna on Sunday evening.

  • 1 час, 16 минут назад 04.10.2022Sport
    Anthony Martial SLAMS Man United’s ‘really bad’ start in the derby defeat to rivals Man City

    Manchester United attacker Anthony Martial has slammed his side for starting the 6-3 defeat against Manchester City ‘really badly’.

    The Red Devils were outclassed at the Etihad Stadium in the first half as Erling Haaland and Phil Foden both netted braces before halftime to put them in a comfortable 4-0 lead.

    Summer signing Antony gave United a goal back before both Foden and Haaland completed their hat tricks with 17 minutes left on the clock.

    This flurry of goals led to the home supporters chanting ‘we want ten’ as they wanted to further humiliate their local rivals.

    Martial, however, fired in two late consolation goals for United to restore some dignity before full time.

    After the game, the 26-year-old admitted that the poor start was made worse due to City’s efficiency in front of goal.

    He told Canal+: ‘We started the game really badly and then they were really efficient with the chances they had.

    ‘It’s really complicated but it’s like that and we are going to do everything to be ready for the next match.

    “We are really frustrated. That’s not what we wanted to do but this result is the one and we are going to give everything to come back for the next game.’

    Martial has struggled for consistent game time this season due to hamstring and Achilles injuries, but has looked like his old self when he has been on the pitch.

    He is now happy to be back in the team ahead of the Red Devils’ Europa League clash with Cypriot side Omonia Nicosia and the Premier League fixture against Everton at Goodison Park.

    He added: ‘For sure, I would have preferred not to score and win this game, but it’s always good to come back on the grass and score.’

  • 1 час, 16 минут назад 04.10.2022Sport
    Phil Foden warns rivals his ‘new’ partnership with Erling Haaland will only get BETTER

    Phil Foden has insisted his partnership with Erling Haaland is only going to get better.

    The duo both scored hat-tricks in Sunday’s Manchester derby, with Haaland setting up two of Foden’s goals in the side’s 6-3 victory.

    Haaland only joined City in the summer, and Foden, speaking to mancity.com, was quick to remind rivals that the forwards are still forming a ‘new partnership’ at the Etihad.

    ‘We are definitely getting more used to Erling within the team,’ said the 22-year-old.

    ‘I am building a connection with him which is nice to see. I am just enjoying playing with him. It is still a new partnership.’

    Haaland has scored 14 goals in eight games already so far this season, including hat-tricks in City’s last three home games.

    The Norwegian could go onto break all sorts of records this year, and Foden was full of praise for the champions’ new star man.

    ‘He is such a new player and we are all still getting used to playing with him,’ he said.

    ‘There are a lot of things that we can improve and get better on. We have to build on this result now and keep getting better.

    ‘His attitude to football is fantastic. He is always doing the right things. He’s such a big talent.’

    Sunday marked Foden’s first senior hat-trick, coming off the back of comments from manager Pep Guardiola claiming the England international wasn’t playing his best football despite being a mainstay in the team.

    Foden thanked Guardiola after his three goals, branding the Spaniard’s trust as a key factor for his good form.

    ‘I have got a lot to thank him for, looking at the quality of the team and for him to trust me,’ he said.

    ‘I have got a lot to thank him for and I enjoy working for him every day.

    ‘To be able to score three was special for me. It’s been a long time coming. I have scored two goals a couple of times now but, thankfully, I am happy to score a hat-trick.

    ‘I have been dreaming about scoring against Manchester United.’

  • 1 час, 16 минут назад 04.10.2022Sport
    Liverpool starlet Sepp van den Berg ruled OUT until 2023 after serious ankle ligament injury

    Liverpool loanee Sepp van den Berg was taken to hospital on Sunday after he suffered a ‘serious’ ankle injury while playing for Schalke.

    The 20-year-old has been ruled out until 2023 after he was carried off not long into the second half of the Royal Blues’ 3-2 defeat to Augsburg.

    The centre back had attempted to block a shot from Augsburg forward Mergim Berisha and was subsequently taken to hospital, with the club confirming on Twitter that he had suffered a severe ankle ligament injury.

    The defender signed a long-term deal with Liverpool before moving to Schalke on a one-year loan agreement earlier this summer and has had a bright start to life in the Bundesliga.

    Van den Berg has started all four of Schalke’s league matches this season, while also making two appearances for Holland Under 21s.

    But the injury is a tough set back for Van den Berg, who was given treatment on the side of the pitch.

    Schalke tweeted: ‘Sepp van den Berg is on the way to the hospital with a suspected ankle injury. We keep our fingers crossed for you, Sepp!’

    But it was a difficult night for Schalke, who also lost midfielder Rodrigo Zalazar, after he suffered a broken metatarsal during the game.

    ‘This is really tough news,’ sporting director Rouven Schroder said.

    ‘We wish Sepp and Rodri a speedy recovery, and we will be supporting them fully during their recoveries so that they are back on the pitch as soon as possible.’

    Van den Berg joined Liverpool in 2019 from PEC Zwolle, before moving to Preston on loan in 2021, where he made 66 appearances for the club over two seasons.

  • 1 час, 17 минут назад 04.10.2022Sport
    F1: Six things we learned from the Singapore Grand Prix

    Sergio Perez romped to a brilliant second victory of the season as he overtook pole sitter Charles Leclerc to win the Singapore Grand Prix.

    It was a fabulous drive from the Mexican, who proved he can be relied upon when Max Verstappen has the rare off day.

    Heading into the weekend, all the talk was on whether the stars would align for Verstappen to win his second consecutive world title, where he needed a series of unlikely events to fall in his favour to wrap it up at this early stage.

    However, the Dutchman had to settle for seventh after a series of mistakes cost him.

    Meanwhile, it was a day to forget for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton finishing ninth while George Russell ended up outside of the points in 14th.

    But what did we learn from the Singapore Grand Prix and Formula One’s return to the Marina Bay circuit for the first time since 2019?

    Sportsmail has a look at six key issues.

    What a win for Sergio Perez in what was easily one of his best performances in Formula One. The 32-year-old conquered the Marina Bay circuit and appears to enjoy the tight confines of the street circuits thrown at him.

    It was his second win of the season – and fourth of his career – with his previous victory this year coming at the Monaco Grand Prix back in May.

    He also came close to securing another place atop the podium at the Jeddah Grand Prix back in March – another street circuit – but had to settle for fourth.

    In 2021, his only win of the campaign came after round the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan – can you see the pattern here?

    While his wins at Monaco and Baku had quite a touch of fortune about them, Sunday’s race was masterful from start to finish.

    Having qualified on the front row, Perez overtook pole sitter Leclerc going into the first corner and didn’t look back, finishing 7.6 seconds ahead of the Ferrari driver.

    While he season has slightly tailed off, Perez has proven that he is a more than reliable back-up to Verstappen and is turning into a street-circuit specialist.

    It won’t be long before Max Verstappen is inevitably crowned as world champion for a second time (barring a tremendous collapse from now until the end of the season) but he will have to wait another week before getting his opportunity to do so.

    Ahead of Sunday’s race, Verstappen needed to outscore Leclerc by 22 points, team-mate Perez by 13 and six points ahead of George Russell to win the second-earliest title in F1 history.

    It wasn’t to be, though, after the 25-year-old had an evening to forget in the South East Asian city state.

    Having qualified eighth on the grid after a fuel issue the previous day, Verstappen ended back in 12th during the opening lap and then became a little too ambitious in recovering as he tried to overtake Lando Norris on cold tyres and brakes, which sent him into the run off while destroying the rubber in the process.

    That saw Verstappen pit to replace the tyres, leaving him at the back of the grid and all the work to do to get back into the points.

    And like the world champion that he is, he showed grit and determination to finish seventh.

    Verstappen has completely dominated the season so far and looks almost certain to retain his title but he’ll be happy move on from this performance promptly.

    From one world champion in Verstappen to a man who has won it seven times – this was also a race for Lewis Hamilton to forget, too.

    The Briton started third, slipped down to fourth off the line, and then twice fell off the racing line and finished ninth.

    On the first of those occasions, half-way through the race, he smashed into the wall after carrying too much speed as he battled with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz for third.

    He broke the advertising hoarding, reversed out, fell down a place and limped to the pits, getting his front wing replaced – which is lucky considering many drivers haven’t been so fortunate to return to their garage after a shunt like that.

    ‘I’m so sorry about that guys. I f***ed it up big time,’ said Hamilton over the radio.

    Hamilton then faltered again in the final few laps as he looked to pass Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, but missed the corner and let Verstappen through.

    Hamilton would finish ninth, just inside the points, and George Russell five places behind him on what was a woeful night for the reigning constructors’ champions.

    While Mercedes won’t have much home to write about, the same can’t be said for Aston Martin.

    Lance Stroll’s near-faultless drive saw him finish in sixth – a place ahead of Verstappen – while Vettel made Hamilton and the Dutchman really work in the final throes of the race.

    It was Vettel’s excellent defensive work that baited Hamilton into making a desperate lunge, making him lose the place to Verstappen in the process and he only lost his place to the Red Bull star on the final lap, making sure Stroll has finished in the top six.

    Vettel and Stroll’s combined 12-point haul from this one race saw Aston Martin leapfrog Haas and AlphaTauri into the seventh in the constructors standings from ninth, which could be crucial come the end of he season.

    Without a race seat for the 2023 season as it stands, Daniel Ricciardo showed with this display that he still has plenty to offer in Formula One.

    The Australian finished fifth after starting 16th on the grid, just behind team-mate Lando Norris as the McLaren team picked up a rare double top five finish.

    While six drivers were unable to finish the race, nothing should take away from Ricciardo’s drive.

    He was consistent in his performance and finally looked like he had some pace in a car he’s struggled to find any for large parts of the campaign.

    After the race he acknowledged that he benefited greatly from the timing of the safety car.

    ‘Obviously that’s let’s say good fortune but I think through our maturity we created some of that ourselves and then top five, somehow, someway,’ he told Sky Sports.

    ‘Saudi 2021 was the last time I had a top five, a year ago. Pretty sad I know.’

    ‘I’m still keen to be part of F1 and of course, “Plan A” would be to be on the grid,’ Ricciardo added.

    ‘So nothing’s changed but I don’t want to just jump at the first kind of seat available. I know the landscape probably changes as well at the end of next year, with contracts and whatever, so I don’t want to say remaining patient, but remaining open.’

    For Alpine to collect just 10 points in their last three races should be ringing some alarm bells back at the factory.

    After what has been a fine start to the season where they have consistently picked up points in nearly every race, Alpine seem to have taken their foot off the gas.

    Singapore saw Alpine suffer their first double retirement of the season, three weeks on from scoring no points in Italy after Esteban Ocon finished a place outside the points while Fernando Alonso was forced to retire despite starting sixth on the grid.

    It was much of the same in Singapore, with Ocon stopping on lap 27 because of a power unit issue while Alonso had to cut his race short six laps earlier, citing there was a problem with the engine.

    What makes it even more heartbreaking for the Spaniard was that it was his 350th grand prix start – from which he started fifth – but it was one he couldn’t finish.

    The result has seen Alpine slip in the constructors down to fifth and they’ll need to sort these engine issues quickly if they are to get back on track.

  • 1 час, 17 минут назад 04.10.2022Sport
    Graeme Souness hails Jack Grealish’s performance against Man United before night out reminder

    Graeme Souness has hailed Jack Grealish’s first half performance in Manchester City’s dominant 6-3 thrashing of Manchester United on Sunday.

    The Sky pundit praised Grealish’s display in the Manchester Derby, before reminding the England forward of their agreement to go on a night out together.

    The pair seemingly put an end to their supposed rivalry after Grealish accepted the Scottish legend’s offer, and jokingly suggested that they bring Paul Pogba along with them – the Frenchman being another midfielder to come in for criticism.

    The Liverpool icon told talkSPORT: ‘I thought he had a really good first half, I thought he did, he had a really good first-half.

    ‘I’m still waiting for the invitation Jack. My choice of restaurant, I choose the wines and you pick the tab up.’

    Souness has been outspoken in his appraisal of Grealish’s performances since his £100million move to Aston Villa ahead of the 2021-22 season, but their relationship seems to have transitioned from criticism to joking and banter.

    The England star suggested the Sky pundit had ‘a problem’ with him, questioning what gave him the right to criticise his performances so regularly.

    And the former Scotland international offered an olive branch after claims that he has a ‘vendetta’ against Grealish, saying: ‘And, really, Jack doesn’t have to listen to me, he doesn’t have to listen to anyone. The only opinion that should count for Grealish is his manager.

    ‘I just feel… don’t be so precious! I don’t have a vendetta against anyone at all. It’s my opinion at this time on Jack Grealish.

    ‘Jack has got the dribbling ability very few players have, and that kind of ability gets you on the edge of your seat, but you’ve got to deliver at the end of it.

    ‘I’m sure if I met Jack, I’d really like Jack. I think he’s a cheeky chappy. I’d like to have a night out at with him as well!’

    The 27-year-old appeared to take Souness up on his offer, too, quickly responding on Twitter with: ‘Let’s do it!! As long as I can bring Pogba as a +1.’

    Grealish’s performance against United on Sunday was potentially his best in the sky blue shirt of City, as he constantly had the beating of right-back Diogo Dalot.

    And he took to Instagram later on that day to share a picture of himself and two pals celebrating with the remains of a Chinese.

    ‘Great day at the office,’ he wrote. ‘Finish it off with a Chinese’.’

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