Leeds United and Massimo Cellino: Football's 'Red Adair' Graham Bean look's back on career of fighting fires

IF NEIL WARNOCK is the ‘Red Adair’ of football management, Graham Bean is surely the administrative equivalent.

In his case, it applied to some dysfunctional football clubs behind the scenes during his time in the domestic game.

Situations do not get more chaotic and surreal than his spell as a consultant at Leeds United during the infamous Massimo Cellino era.

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The Yorkshireman's run-ins with the controversial former Leeds owner are chronicled in his recently-released book "Bean There… Done That".

TESTING TIMES: Former Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino, whose tenure at the club is recalled in Graham Bean's autobiography of his career in football. Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeTESTING TIMES: Former Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino, whose tenure at the club is recalled in Graham Bean's autobiography of his career in football. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
TESTING TIMES: Former Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino, whose tenure at the club is recalled in Graham Bean's autobiography of his career in football. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

There are many tales to tell, as there are from the former South Yorkshire Police detective's time serving as the Football Association's first Compliance Officer where he was given the nickname of 'The Sleazebuster' by the tabloid press.

Bean investigated football wrongdoing on and off the pitch, covering everything from dissent towards match officials by players to alleged financial corruption in the boardroom by chairmen.

He would later go onto defend some of the biggest names in football such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez and earn their respect and friendship in the process.

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It's probably fair to say that Cellino and Bean are not on each other’s Christmas card list by contrast.

Graham Bean.Graham Bean.
Graham Bean.

There are not many people in Cellino's time in football who have stood up to him. Bean most definitely did and he was later called as the FA’s star witness in a case which led to the Italian receiving a ban from the governing body.

Barnsley-born Bean told The Yorkshire Post: "I had to pick the pieces up of all the mess left behind at the clubs I worked with. Leeds was a crisis club and a basket-case club. Newport were at the bottom of the league going nowhere in a ramshackle ground run by supporters in effect.

"Chesterfield was not an attractive proposition with their list of misdemeanours over the previous ten years and a crisis club. I was a bit of a Red Adair type."

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At Leeds, Bean was caught in the eye of a storm in the Cellino tenure. It culminated in an acrimonious split. Water has passed under the bridge since and it is to his credit that he can smile about some of those crazy times now.

He continued: "It was a bizarre, mad, surreal time. It was such a stressful period. Working with Cellino was so intensive and hands-on, 24/7. Having to deal with his whims and tantrums actually did become very tiresome and draining.

"Because he did not do mornings, you spend half your day wasting your time as you were waiting half a day before you could get anything done. It was just micro-management.

"Don't get me wrong, I think he is a clever man but I think that, in the past, there's not a lot of people who stood up to him. I broke the mould to a certain extent in that respect.

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"I talk to Neil Redfearn, who I am close friends with and Lucy Ward and you recall all the stress and strains of the way they were treated. But even now, we can still laugh about things that happened.

"You couldn't take away from the fact that he had a good sense of humour and at times, you were in fits of laughter at things that he did intentionally or unintentionally.

"I remember when he made it clear we could not have a car delivered as Friday was a bad luck day for deliveries.

"That was completely off the wall. Another time there was just me and him in the office and we were trying to convert a loan deal into a permanent transfer for Souleymane Doukara.

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"He'd done the deal in Italy when I wasn't there. It all started going wrong and he started to try and blame me for it and I'd had absolutely nothing to do with it.

"It was just a moment where I thought: 'I've had enough of this'. I went over the desk at him and got my finger in his face and gave him a right mouthful.

"What I also found amusing was when we signed Liam Cooper. We'd been tipped off about him and Cellino was not even at the game (Chesterfield v Leeds friendly). We signed him and he later did an interview and said he saw this player and just had to have him!

"He was playing a real-life game of Football Manager. The only thing he was not doing was sitting in the dug-out on a Saturday afternoon."

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At times, Cellino's judgment would make a teenager playing the computerised football simulation game blush with embarrassment.

He famously deemed a future England international Kalvin Phillips not to be good enough, while also turning down a move for Virgil van Dijk during David Hockaday's brief spell in charge - bringing in Giuseppe Bellusci instead.

While Hockaday lasted 70 days in charge in that crazy 2014-15 season, his permanent successor Darko Milanic did not last even half that - 32 days in fact - with Bean recalling how Cellino plumped for the little-known Slovenian after initially lining up Gary Megson.

He said: "He rang me up and said 'Do you know Gary Megson?' I knew Gary really well and he said he'd like to see him about the managers' job.

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"We'd got it all fixed up and an hour before the meeting, he just decided he was not going to go ahead with it. It would have been courteous to just go through with the interview to show willing..."

Cellino's idiosyncrasies were certainly legion. His aversion for anything coloured purple for instance and his belief that the number 17 was unlucky - famously prompting him to not to select Paddy Kenny after discovering that the goalkeeper’s birthday was on May 17.

Putting up with that and his unorthodox way of working was one thing. The poor way in which he treated many blue-collar every-day workers at Leeds was quite another for Bean.

Bean continued: "Due to the upbringing I have had, my mum and dad were strong Labour and trade unionist type people and I think I have got a lot of that in me.

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"I don't like to see the workers downtrodden by the authorities and I felt a lot of that was happening at Leeds at the time with the way he was treating people. I tended to stand up for them.

"But when it came to which side of the fence they wanted to be on, I felt let down by some in the end.."

Bean's time at Leeds thankfully did not define a successful career in football, where he has used his investigative skills and 'copper's instinct' to good and telling effect.

After leaving the FA, Bean started his own business ‘Football Factors’ and defended Ferguson on multiple occasions following FA charges alongside Benitez and other famous names.

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The pair may not have particularly got on together during their time as managers, but there will at least be unanimity in their appreciation of the abilities of Bean.He added: "I have a lot of pride that I had the opportunity to work with them and that they placed their trust in me to deal with their disciplinary issues.

"I was going in places at Manchester, Liverpool and Everton where supporters can only dream of being. The relationship I had was not just sitting down and going through their disciplinary stuff and angles, there was a lot of interaction about football generally and home life as well. Day to day things.

"As a former detective, you have got to have good communication skills and I think that helped me with my personality to interact with people. It says something when someone like Rafa willingly did the foreword for the book. You look at some of the clubs he managed – Liverpool, Real Madrid, Inter Milan."

On his decision to write a book, co-written with former Yorkshire Post journalist Jeremy Cross, he said: "I always thought that given the varied career I had in football, there was a book in me. It is something that I had rattled around over the years about doing. But it was never the right time.

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"But I got to a point where I was made redundant at Chesterfield and then later I lost my mum and dad in a short space of time of each other and the pandemic hit. I thought 'you know what, now is the right time as I think that my days in football are all about finished.’

"You never say never, but everyone has a shelf-life and the secret is knowing when that is up. I felt it was the right time to do it. I gathered all my papers together from over the years. It has been therapeutic."

Copies of “Bean There...Done That” are available to purchase online at https://www.empire-uk.com/btdt.html