Neil Redfearn’s Leeds United future was in serious doubt last night following the suspension of his assistant, Steve Thompson, and a boardroom order instructing him not to play striker Mirco Antenucci.
Redfearn said he would have a “hard think” about his position as head coach in the aftermath of a bizarre chain of events in which Thompson – United’s assistant for the past three months –was effectively sacked and Antenucci’s first-team involvement came under threat. Leeds suspended Thompson yesterday morning, informing him via a letter from sporting director Nicola Salerno that he would relinquish his duties for the rest of the season and leave the club when his short-term contract expires in the summer.
A shocked Redfearn described himself as “bitterly disappointed”, saying the club had not made him aware of Thompson’s impending exit or explained the reasons behind it.
Asked if he might resign, the 49-year-old admitted that he was considering his options with his own contract due to expire in June and Leeds yet to offer him an extension. He and Thompson have overseen an impressive improvement in results from January onwards, leading United out of a worrying relegation battle which developed around Christmas.
Thompson’s appointment materialised on December 18, seven weeks after Redfearn became permanent head coach, but his involvement has ended after just 19 competitive games.
“I’ve got to have a real hard think,” Redfearn said. “Where before it (remaining as head coach) was a no-brainer, I’ve got to have a think now.
“Thommo’s been suspended - for what I don’t know. I don’t understand why. He’s been part of a successful team since the turn of the year. It’s seems a really strange decision and I’m bitterly disappointed. It’s undermining.”
Leeds, whose letter to Thompson is understood to have criticised the way in which he was “carrying out his duties”, issued a short statement saying: “The director of football, Nicola Salerno, has suspended the assistant coach Steve Thompson from his duties at the club.
“This is an internal matter and the club will make no further comment on this internal issue.”
Thompson has not commented on his sudden departure and he is understood to be receiving advice from the League Managers’ Association (LMA).
He was informed of his suspension ahead of training at Thorp Arch yesterday and did not involve himself in the first-team session.
Redfearn is expected to take training again this morning ahead of tomorrow’s match at home to Blackburn Rovers.
His preparation for that fixture, however, is being disrupted further by pressure from the board at Elland Road not to involve Antenucci heavily in the Championship run-in.
Antenucci, 30, is tied to Leeds until 2016 but a clause in his contract will earn him an additional 12 months if he scores 12 goals this season.
He struck for the 10th time away at Blackpool before the international break.
Leeds are believed to be reluctant to make a further commitment to the Italian and have told Redfearn not to limit his use of him in the seven games that remain.
United chairman Andrew Umbers - in day-to-day charge of Leeds in the absence of banned owner Massimo Cellino - was asked to comment by the YEP but did not respond.
Antenucci’s agent, Silvio Pagliari, said: “It is true that the 12th goal is an automatic extension of the contract.
“I’ve known Nicola Salerno for years and he assures me that this is definitely not the reason why (Antenucci) does not play. Only for technical reasons. I want to emphasise that this is a deal agreed with president Massimo Cellino in person.
“At the same time, it is certainly very strange that in the past two months the top scorer of the team has played very little. Mirco will continue, as a great professional, to give his best.”
Redfearn, meanwhile, is expected to be without Lewis Cook for the meeting with Blackburn after the youngster injured ankle ligaments on England Under-19 duty but United’s boss said scans had shown that the damage wasn’t severe.