AS owner Massimo Cellino awaits the verdict of his appeal against being banned by the Football League, Leeds United head coach Neil Redfearn last night insisted the saga was not distracting the club from the target of getting out of relegation trouble.
The controversial Italian was barred from being an owner or director at Elland Road by the governing body late last year following his conviction for tax evasion.
Cellino’s appeal was heard yesterday by a three-person professional conduct committee and, if they choose to uphold the League’s decision, then United’s owner must cut all ties until mid-March, after which his conviction will be spent under UK law.
The outcome is unlikely to be known until after the weekend and Redfearn is adamant that the only focus for him and the players is beating Birmingham City tomorrow.
He said: “Whatever will happen, will happen. It will take its course. We have just got to concentrate on the football.
“No matter what is or isn’t happening (at a club), when you get to Saturday at three o’clock then that (the game) is the most important thing at the football club.
“There is still a lot of football to play and I want us to be playing well, to get some momentum. I want to get a run going.”
United sit just one point and one place above the relegation zone after a poor run that has yielded just 12 points from 17 matches.
Since Cellino was banned by the League just 48 hours after then leaders Derby County had been beaten at Elland Road, Leeds have lost five of seven games and claimed just two points.
Despite that, Redfearn is adamant that his players remain focused amid the off-field controversies.
He said: “It doesn’t seem apparent (that the players are being affected). This has been the case throughout the season, from my experience.
“They love training and they love working. They are enthusiastic about what they are doing.
“You can always see when they have had a result. It seems to show through the week and that has been the case this week (in the wake of a battling draw at Bolton).”
The circus that has surrounded United for much of this season shows no signs of abating, as underlined yesterday by Cellino having to make his case to the professional conduct committee in an attempt to overturn his ban by the League.
It is football matters, however, that most concern supporters, especially in the wake of captain Stephen Warnock yesterday completing his move to Derby County.
The former England international, one of Leeds’s more consistent performers this term, brought some much-needed Championship know-how to a squad that received a huge influx of foreign signings last summer.
Two of those – Brazilian play-maker Adryan and French striker Souleymane Doukara – were conspicuous by their absence from last week’s 1-1 draw at Bolton and Redfearn admits he had wanted to see more from the pair in what proved to be a wretched December.
United’s head coach said: “To be fair to Souleymane, he has worked hard and he has done extra. Adryan’s finding something extra in his game, which he probably didn’t know he had. That’s good. We are dragging it out of him. Sometimes it is tough but you have got to find that extra bit. They are learning about themselves now.
“It is a young side. Some of them have had their noses pushed out, so they have got to come up with the goods. That is the way forward.
“I haven’t got any favourites. If the lads are playing well then they get in, then the others have got to fight for a place. But that doesn’t mean I don’t rate the lads who aren’t in the team because I do.”
As for Leeds as a team, Redfearn added: “We have got to put a run together. We have got to get consistency, back-to-back results.
”We have done it before, but it won’t be easy against Birmingham, who have found some momentum. It will be a different Birmingham to the one that we played at their place (in September’s 1-1 draw).
“But we have found a bit of confidence and spirit ourselves. That said, we have got to the point where we need to start winning and be consistent.”
With Warnock having joined Derby and Cellino having ruled out a move for Redfearn’s own recommendation, Luciano Becchio, the need to strengthen in the window is becoming more acute.
Asked where Leeds were in terms of possible additions, Redfearn said: “I was asked to put names together and I have done. That’s where it’s at.
“Ultimately, we have an owner, a recruiter (Nicola Salerno) and it is not just one man. It is not just a manager bringing players in. I am head coach and I can only suggest players.
“We do need to bring players in, that’s a fact, and we have identified positions where we need to strengthen or cover.
“But I am more interested and focused on this Birmingham game. We had a great performance against Bolton where we showed togetherness, which is important at this time of year.
“There is still time in the window. In an ideal scenario, we would freshen things up, that goes without saying.
“But I’m head coach. I coach the players, my job is to prepare the team for Saturday.”