Night of the long knives nears at Leeds as Mac and Cellino mull cull

United's manager Brian McDermott.

United's manager Brian McDermott.

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Massimo Cellino and Brian McDermott will begin the process of reshaping Leeds United’s squad next week when they meet to decide which players to cull and which to keep.

Cellino, who is at home in Miami after completing his takeover of Leeds 10 days ago, plans to discuss this summer’s retained list with McDermott once United complete their Easter schedule at home to Nottingham Forest on Monday.

The Italian businessman is due back in England in the next few days and Leeds are heading rapidly towards the end of the season with only two more Championship fixtures remaining after their televised meeting with Forest.

No fewer than nine senior professionals are out of contract in July, including El-Hadji Diouf and Michael Brown, and most are expected to move on after a season in which United have fallen a long way short of the play-offs.

But Cellino and McDermott will also speak about the wider reaches of a squad who command a wage bill of close to £20m but have failed to make a concerted push for promotion.

Leeds play Barnsley at Oakwell tomorrow with the play-offs far beyond them and relegation no longer a tangible threat, freeing Cellino to plan ahead for his first full season as owner.

McDermott hinted at his own expectation of surviving the changes brought on by the Italian’s buy-out, saying he was already thinking about the club’s pre-season programme and transfer strategy.

“We’ll be going into the summer with optimism because the ownership’s sorted,” McDermott said. “That’s a gimme. It means we can plan.

“We can start planning for pre-season training – where we’re going to go, the games we need to organise – and also for the players we need to bring in.

“We can do a lot of stuff which we couldn’t have done a few weeks ago.

“The first people who’ll hear about (the retained list) are the players because that’s the way it should be. But we will be having discussions about it soon and I’ll be speaking to Massimo next week when he comes back.

“I’ve been talking to him on the phone this week and we speak quite regularly. We’re always in contact. I’ve put my views to him and discussed them with him but those are private conversations.”

United’s results since August have put many players at risk of a summer departure from Elland Road, though McDermott is anticipating incoming offers for striker Ross McCormack after his exceptional spell of goalscoring.

The Scotland international – United’s captain for the past two months – is two goals away from reaching 30 for the season, and McDermott admitted that McCormack’s form would make interest in him inevitable.

But Leeds fended off offers from West Ham United and Cardiff City in the January – the second made on transfer deadline day – and McDermott is optimistic that the club’s resistance will continue under their new regime.

“I don’t think that’s changed,” he said. “Ross is the top goalscorer in the Championship so I’m sure there’ll be interest.”

McDermott, meanwhile, played down an interview with Cellino on Tuesday in which the Italian suggested that the tactical positioning of Luke Murphy in last weekend’s win over Blackpool was down to him.

Murphy scored twice in a 2-0 win – his first goals since the start of the season – and McDermott said: “The person who gets the credit is Luke Murphy. They were terrific goals and it’s always the players who cross the line.

“We give advice. I give advice, the coaches give advice, the owner gives advice but the players get the credit. Credit’s irrelevant to me, quite irrelevant.”

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