Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino had a less than flattering nickname back in Italy. Due to his penchant for firing managers, he was given the title Il mangia-allenatori – ‘The Manager Eater’.
As if to live up that name, Cellino, on Monday morning, dispensed with boss Uwe Rösler after less than five months in the job. Rösler is the fifth manager to pass through the Elland Road exit since Cellino took charge of the club in early 2014 (and that’s not even including the time he tried to replace Brian McDermott with Gianluca Festa before he’d even formally taken the reins of the club).
Astonishingly, despite only presiding over twelve competitive matches, Rösler is actually one of the longer-serving managers of the Cellino era – his record is actually equal to the combined total of previous incumbents Dave Hockaday and Darko Milanič.
Cellino’s itchy trigger finger should come as a surprise to nobody, but it does sort of fly in the face of these comments he made when appraising Rösler’s performances in September:
“We are starting to build a team and a new mentality. We know that when you want to build something, you need to do the foundations and that takes more time,” he told the BBC.
Granted they have lost three matches in a row since, but considering those defeats came against three of the current top four in the Championship it was hardly a full-blown crisis. It certainly shouldn’t warrant firing a manager after only eleven league games.
Two wins from eleven is a poor return, but if anything what did it for Rösler was his admission that this Leeds side is not yet good enough for promotion. That’s the last thing a short-term thinker like Cellino wants to hear.
So now Cellino has turned to Steve Evans, who might possibly be the most unpopular appointment among the fan base in a number of years, and just comes across as Cellino once again trying to cut costs by hiring a cheap, underqualified manager.
Evans, you may remember, once referred to Leeds as a “circus run by puppets” and just last year was adamant that he could never work for Cellino. As turnarounds go, this is a pretty big one.
If the bookmakers are even running odds on Evans lasting the season, they needn’t bother. Evans’ “abrasive bordering on obnoxious” personality is unlikely to go down well with Cellino – and it definitely won’t go down well with the supporters – so this is a partnership that is not destined to last for very long.
Looking a bit longer-term though, how does Cellino expect to be successful this way? How does he expect the constant level of managerial upheaval to be conducive to overall success?
He went through 36 managers in 22 years at Cagliari and yet they were never anything more than a lower to mid-table Serie A club – and that’s what Leeds are at now, albeit a division lower.
Whether or not Rösler deserved to lose his job isn’t really that relevant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a symptom of a much wider problem. Cellino is either not very good at picking managers or he is desperately impatient – either way, there is a degree of culpability that should lie with him but he won’t accept it.
Every few months a new boss comes in with his own tactics, favoured players and systems and the playing staff have to get used to these new regimes over and over again. It just leads to widespread confusion and uncertainty – how is a manager supposed to operate knowing that a few bad results could see him lose his job?
It’s as if Cellino suddenly wakes up every so often and decides that stability is boring so he lobs a few grenades into the situation.
His decision to limit Leeds fans’ away match ticket allocation in protest at Sky’s moving around of fixtures for TV purposes, the decision to sack Rösler and the further action to replace him with such a troublesome figure as Evans all suggest that Cellino has little or no regard for the feelings of the supporters in all of this.
It is worth noting that they are more financially stable than they have been for some time, but is that enough for a club the size of Leeds? When a club like Birmingham – who were in such a mess recently and in 2014 stayed in the Championship on goal difference – were able to overtake them in less than a year, serious questions have to be asked about Cellino’s running of the club.
The Championship is a tough league to progress from but with the right signings and manager, not to mention a decent bit of forward planning, a play-off push is eminently doable for a sizeable number of teams in the division. It certainly should not be beyond the capabilities of a club of this stature.
Expect the cycle to continue though, and soon, because Steve Evans to Leeds is as close to a disaster as one can guarantee without the power of clairvoyance.
Simon O’Keeffe, Pundit Arena