IT has been not only a long summer for Leeds United but also a largely bewildering one for supporters with their club often being the butt of the nation’s jokes.
Everything, it seems, has been fair game, right from the Elland Road players having to wash their own kit and bring packed lunches to training through to the quirky superstitions of owner Massimo Cellino and the appointment of a head coach who as recently as last weekend was being derided as ‘Mr Nobody’ by one national newspaper.
Never mind how much substance the stories have had – the packed lunches, for instance, were only needed on just the first day of pre-season due to the Thorp Arch canteen having been shut over the summer – they have been trotted out at regular intervals to give an impression of never-ending chaos at Elland Road.
Dave Hockaday, appointed in the summer as part of a new-look management set-up that is headed by Cellino and sporting director Nicola Salerno, has taken all the brick-bats in his stride and hardly blinked. “The mischief makers will do what they do but I just get my head down and work,” was the 56-year-old’s take on events yesterday.
That said, the Leeds head coach is delighted that the “business stuff” is about to start via tomorrow’s opening day trip to Millwall.
The pressure will be on, not least because of Cellino’s reputation as a man of little patience when results go against him – a notion backed up by the Italian having made 36 changes of coach in 22 years at the helm of Serie A side Cagliari.
But Hockaday insists his relationship with the United owner is good and that the new set-up will help the Yorkshire club hit the ground running.
“When I came on my first day,” said the former Hull City full-back, “I thought we had an Everest to climb. But it has not put us off and we are in the process of climbing it, getting towards the summit.
“We are well beyond base camp and I am delighted with the progress. The relationship (with Cellino) is fine, I really like the guy. I know there has been a little bit of conjecture but we get on fine.
“I talk to the president every day. I did yesterday, I will today and again tomorrow. I was given a specific job and I do that job.”
United, whose squad have responded well to the new head coach’s ideas and training, have made eight additions this summer under a transfer set-up that, Cellino made clear at Hockaday’s unveiling, involves the president and sporting director doing much of the work.
“He (Cellino) is very knowledgeable,” said Hockaday. “He has thrown names at me that I haven’t heard before. I have gone away to do my homework and then gone, ‘Wow!’ It is the European way and I’m comfortable with that. I am not the sort to go out and say, ‘I want this player’. That isn’t me.
“I will say we need a centre-half. There are a few names (suggested by Hockaday). They come up with a few names and then they go out and bring in the very best centre-half they can for Leeds United.”
Consternation was caused among United fans this week by comments from Cellino in the media that suggested he already had reservations about a coach he had plucked from “level five” (Hockaday’s last job was in the Conference).
True to form, though, Hockaday is unfazed. “I genuinely haven’t read the article,” he said. “All I know is what I know. And that I get on great with the president.
“He wants to build something special here, I want to be part of that.”