Dave Hockaday worked with Boothroyd in that same season, a year when Leeds United were beaten by Watford in the play-off final, and any lessons he learned from Boothroyd’s capacity to surprise will be coming back to him. For the past two weeks, the 56-year-old has been ‘Dave Who?’ - the most obscure candidate for the job of running the senior squad at Leeds.
Hockaday is travelling to Yorkshire by train today with the expectation of becoming Massimo Cellino’s first head coach, or the first to be employed at Elland Road with the Italian’s blessing. United’s owner never warmed to Brian McDermott - too expensive, too tied up in matters away from the training ground, unsuited to Cellino’s model of ownership - but Hockaday is Cellino’s man; albeit his second choice.
Associates of Cellino says his tendency to change his mind overnight is a fundamental trait of the man but all around him were as convinced as they could be yesterday that Hockaday’s appointment would be confirmed this afternoon.
He was recommended to Cellino by one of several agents advising United’s president but the decision asks questions of Cellino’s own rationale. Confusion abounds about Hockaday’s pedigree, his qualifications and his suitability for a post which has eaten far bigger names than him.
When Cellino began looking for McDermott’s replacement, his specification was a coach rather than a manager. At a stroke, that distinction ruled out anyone who saw management as a role overseeing every aspect of a club. Cellino wanted someone to look after his squad, train them and stop at that. The fact that United have been assessing potential signings all summer is adequate evidence that Cellino is adverse to the employment of a coach who needs or demands full control over the transfer policy at Elland Road.
Eamonn Dolan is a coach - the long-serving academy manager at Reading - which is why he came to Cellino’s attention earlier this month. Cellino warmed to Dolan’s credentials and spoke with his brother Pat, the agent who negotiated McDermott’s severance from Leeds. Contact was also made with Reading but Reading’s board were resistant to the idea of losing Dolan. In the view of one of Cellino’s inner circle, the Berkshire club “overplayed their hand” by setting the level of compensation too high and scaring Cellino off at a stroke. Dolan would have cost around £500,000.
Amid those manoeuvres Hockaday was never forgotten. He was a serious option in Cellino’s eyes from the day McDermott left, though Cellino was annoyed to hear of heavy betting on Hockaday in the 24 hours after McDermott’s departure. It was only because of those wagers that Hockaday’s name appeared among the odds and slipped into the press. Google became the media’s friend and his Wikipedia page took a hammering.
As a right-back, Hockaday spent most of his playing career at Blackpool and Swindon. As a coach, he applied himself initially to youth development. Graham Taylor appointed him as Watford’s Under-18s coach in 2000 and Hockaday was promoted to the position of first-team coach in 2005, one of Boothroyd’s right-hand men.
Nigel Gibbs, Leeds’ existing assistant boss, was also part of that coaching team but did not survive for long under Boothroyd, or not as long as Hockaday. Gibbs’ association with Watford had spanned 24 years and his sacking was a deeply unpopular move. Gibbs is still employed by United, despite McDermott’s exit, but he was not responsible for recommending of Hockaday to Cellino. Much as Cellino wants Gibbs to remain at Elland Road, it is less than certain that he and Hockaday would be a compatible partnership.