Brian McDermott still Leeds manager - or is he?
Confusion reigns at Elland Road after an astounding 24 hours at the club
A Leeds United’s supporter shows her support for Brian McDermott during today’s 5-1 win over Huddersfield. Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.
Brian McDermott’s future as Leeds manager remains unresolved after an astounding 24 hours at Elland Road.
McDermott was on Friday night told he had been removed from his position by someone acting on behalf of the club’s prospective new owner, Massimo Cellino, who also owns Serie A club Cagliari.
Club sponsors said they would review their backing in protest and it appeared that Gianluca Festa, the former Middlesbrough defender and a long-term friend of Cellino, would take over the team, especially after Leeds’ owners confirmed they had agreed a sale to the 57-year-old agricultural entrepreneur.
Within a day, though, a side managed by McDermott’s assistant Nigel Gibbs had beaten Huddersfield 5-1 and Leeds released a statement saying McDermott had not been sacked after all.
Those were the headline incidents to run alongside a number of farcical and often comedic ones which were hard to keep abreast of, including McDermott declining a request to attend the match.
“The club would like to make it clear that Brian McDermott remains our first team manager,” a statement said.
“He has not been dismissed from his post as has been suggested and we look forward to him continuing in his role with us in taking Leeds United forwards.”
The statement caught everyone by surprise but should not have done after a crazy chain of events.
Earlier, the League Manager’s Association said it was waiting for clarification of the situation, with Cellino’s takeover still subject to Football League approval.
An LMA said: “Brian received a call last night from a solicitor informing him that Leeds United were terminating his contract as manager.
“This morning Brian received a further phone call from a director of the football club stating the company on whose behalf the solicitor had contacted Brian are not the owners of Leeds United.
“In the circumstances, Brian was asked by the directors of the club not to take the match today and we are awaiting clarification of the situation over the weekend.”
Gibbs, McDermott’s long-standing number two, answered the call to lead the team against Huddersfield in his place before facing the media afterwards.
“I was coming to the game anyway because I had not heard from the club,” Gibbs said.
“I was asked at 12.15pm. (Managing director) David Haigh asked me to take the team and I told the players.
“The team was prepared by Brian. It’s his team, his performance and his victory. It’s been unusual to say the least.”
Gibbs added that McDermott had called him to wish him luck before the game, but admitted he did not know what his boss would make of the club’s apparent olive branch.
At one stage it had looked as if Festa and not Gibbs would take the team but he chose to watch from an executive box instead.
Current owners Gulf Finance House Capital (GFH Capital) confirmed the news of Cellino’s offer in a statement ahead of the Huddersfield game, although Cellino had already made his presence felt before then by attempting to remove McDermott on Friday night.
McDermott had refused to allow Festa to sit with him in the dugout during the midweek draw with Ipswich, and also refused to take a number of Italian players given to him by Cellino.
The mayhem continued as two of the club’s main sponsors, Enterprise Insurance and Flamingo Land, said they would be withdrawing their backing.
And police were called to Elland Road on Friday as fans did their best to barricade Cellino inside the ground after some late-night talks. Those protests continued outside the ground ahead of kick-off.
None of that has stopped GFH Capital from choosing Cellino’s bid over one from rival consortium Together Leeds, though.
A statement read: “Following recent media reports and speculation, GFH Capital would like to confirm that it has agreed to sell a 75 per cent stake in the club to Eleonora Sport Ltd, a company owned by the Cellino family who have many years’ experience in football and who plan to invest substantially in the club including the re-acquisition of Elland Road.
“Eleonora will be working on completing the required Football League approval.”
Cellino became the number one bidder when on Thursday, a consortium of club managing director David Haigh and Enterprise Insurance boss Andrew Flowers collapsed after two months of exclusivity to buy the club under the guise of Sport Capital.
Cellino could still face opposition from the Football League — he has a previous conviction for fraud — while a consortium headed up by former Manchester United director Mike Farnan says it is refusing to go away despite the statement.
The Italian influence at Elland Road continues to grow despite that, though, with Cagliari confirming that Leeds had signed midfielder Andrea Tabanelli on loan from them, with Leeds later adding him to the squad list on their website. He was not named to face Town, though.