THE future of Leeds United head coach Neil Redfearn looks increasingly uncertain this morning following the suspension of his assistant Steve Thompson – on yet another day of bewildering developments at Elland Road.
Thompson was dramatically suspended yesterday morning over an “internal issue”, with the club informing him via a letter from sporting director Nicola Salerno that his duties would be relinquished for the rest of the season and that he would leave when his contract expires in June.
The news came as a bombshell to Whites supporters and Redfearn who, alongside Thompson – a close friend for many years – had helped instigate an impressive on-pitch renaissance at Leeds this calendar year to stave off genuine relegation fears at the end of December.
Redfearn, whose own deal as head coach is up for renewal in the summer, admitted to being bitterly disappointed by developments and has pledged to have a “hard think” about his future, with the 49-year-old considering his options after another farcical chapter in the recent history of the club.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, it has emerged that Redfearn has been placed under boardroom pressure not to play striker Mirco Antenucci, with the board not wishing to trigger a clause in his contract which will hand him a further 12-month deal once he scores 12 goals.
The Italian forward, 3o, top-scorer with 10 goals this term, is contracted to the club until 2016.
On his own future, a clearly dismayed Redfearn said: “I’ve got to have a real hard think.
“Where before it (remaining as head coach) was a no-brainer, I’ve got to have a think now
“He (Thompson) has been suspended – for what, I don’t know. You’d have to find that out from the club. I don’t understand why.
“He’s been part of a successful team since the turn of the year.
“It seems a really strange decision and I’m bitterly disappointed. It’s very rare that people lose their jobs when they’ve been successful.
“I love this football club, I love everything it stands for. I was brought up with Leeds United as a kid, under the (Don) Revie years and what they stood for – the principles and beliefs. It shaped me as a footballer.
“There are lots of things about this football club which are really good. But this situation is a difficult situation for me.
“It’s unbalancing the stability we had. It’s undermining what we’re trying to do – to put something together under the belief that you’re getting the backing you need.
“You’re trying to put together a winning team and that includes the staff. The lads have been into what we’re doing here and you see that in the performances and results. They don’t lie. They are facts.
“This goes against everything we’re doing. We’re trying to put something together under the belief that we’ve got the backing we need.
“Steve’s in shock but he did as he was told. The letter said ‘with immediate effect’ so he didn’t take training (yesterday). I took it.
“Steve’s a mate, definitely, but he’s good football person. He understands the game and he understands the division we’re in. “We’ve been good for one another. We’ve worked well.
A short statement from Leeds said: “The director of football Nicola Salerno, has today (April 2) 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.”
The developments regarding Antenucci added to yesterday’s bizarre events at Leeds, with the club board understood to be keen for Redfearn to limit the involvement of Antenucci so as not to invoke another 12-month deal.
Meanwhile, Thompson, a former team-mate of Redfearn’s at the start of their playing days at Bolton Wanderers, is thought to be taking advice from the League Managers’ Association following today’s developments.
In the past 13 matches, Redfearn and Thompson had presided over eight wins, with the latter known to be a popular figure among players and credited as a big contributor in Leeds’s eye-catching upturn.
In total, Thompson, who only came to Leeds from near-neighbours Huddersfield Town after a protracted chain of events on December 18, spent 105 days at Leeds.
His tenure follows the short-lived stints of head coaches David Hockaday and Darko Milanic, whose reigns lasted 70 and 32 days respectively before they were relieved of their duties.
It remains to be seen who will assist Redfearn in the short term, starting with tomorrow’s Roses clash with visiting Blackburn Rovers.
Redfearn said: “On Saturday I’ll just make sure that for their sake and for the supporters who pay the money to come in, the lads are as professional and focused as they have been all season, and I’m sure they will be.
“But this just doesn’t help. The timing’s not ideal. It’s never ideal.”
United midfielder Lewis Cook is likely to miss tomorrow’s game with Blackburn at Elland Road after he injured ankle ligaments during the international break with England Under-19s.
But scans have shown that the damage is not serious and have allayed fears of a long lay-off for the 18-year-old.