“PEOPLE say Rome was not built in a day. But I want it built in 12 hours. That is my problem.”
Massimo Cellino, in typically forthright manner, is outlining the philosophy behind his running of Leeds United, a club that even by its own often chaotic standards has been a beacon of uncertainty and upheaval since the uncompromising Italian first arrived on the Elland Road scene at the start of the year.
The most recent major change to befall Leeds came just two days ago when Dave Hockaday was axed 70 days and six games after succeeding Brian McDermott, a manager who left United with the unenviable record of being shown the door twice in a matter of months.
Hockaday’s enforced departure followed not only a swathe of staff redundancies across all departments as Cellino battled to stem inherited monthly losses of more than £1m, but also top scorer Ross McCormack’s sale to Fulham for £11m.
Coming in the opposite direction to Elland Road since the end of last season have been a dozen new signings – with more planned before Monday’s transfer deadline – while the number of arrivals will be swelled further during the coming international break by whoever gets the nod as United’s new head coach.
No wonder, therefore, that supporters have had trouble keeping up with the often head-spinning developments at their club.
“So much has to change,” said Cellino, at the helm of the Championship club since April, when talking to The Yorkshire Post yesterday in one of the Elland Road executive boxes. “I don’t only mean the players and the staff, I mean the culture of the club.
“The more I think about it, the more angry I get. Too many when I arrived said they love Leeds but I think they loved more what being at Leeds was like for them.
“They would say they are passionate for Leeds, but they are not willing to sacrifice. They don’t give up holidays, they don’t give up their lunch, they don’t give up their free Wednesday, they don’t give up their Bank Holidays. They don’t give up anything.
“They (the players) work one hour a day for four days a week. Everyone wants a car, everyone wants a company telephone. They talk about Leeds and the power and the passion...but I don’t know.”
With this last point, Cellino bangs his chest before adding with a sigh: “I don’t pretend to love this club more but, to me, love is something you show and not something you say. If you love, you sacrifice and you do a lot of work.
“It isn’t just that (area) we have to change. Look at the club. The stadium belongs to someone else. Thorp Arch (the club’s training ground) belongs to someone else. Another company run the conference business. If I want a meal, I have to ask someone else’s permission. This is not right.”
Elland Road and Thorp Arch were both sold by the then United board late in 2004 to stave off one of several financial crises to hit the club since the heady days of competing in the Champions League.
Both have proved costly deals in the long-run with the combined annual rent this year alone coming to £2.3m.
Cellino has vowed to buy back Elland Road, the rent for which will rise by a further three per cent in October, before the end of the year, while he has been actively seeking alternative training bases in the club’s home city.
One potential site has, however, fallen through. “We can’t go to the University because it is not available at this time,” said the United president. “I have to work out what we do next as I don’t like Thorp Arch. No one is in control there. It is almost like we have one club at Thorp Arch and another club at Elland Road.”
Cellino, as charismatic in the flesh as he is undoubtedly ruthless, has also had to contend with a number of other problems inherited when buying a majority shareholding from GFH.
One of these is the on-going dispute between United and former chairman Ken Bates over GFH’s termination of his presidency. The case is due in court during the autumn.
“There is so much mess that my head is blowing,” said Cellino, who met Bates last week in an attempt to resolve the matter without adding further to the club’s legal costs.
“He (Bates) hasn’t done anything wrong to me and we met as two businessmen. He had a problem with GFH and is asking me to solve it.
“I don’t know who is right and who is wrong. My duty is to look after Leeds, anything else is not my problem.
“But we have spent a lot of money in the past (on court cases). I am trying to sort this one without throwing more money from the window. That would be just more of the same s***.
“Let’s look at the future, not the past.”
Cellino’s attempts to overhaul the Elland Road squad saw a 12th new face arrive this week in Danish midfielder Casper Sloth.
Another two deals are believed to be close to completion as Leeds look to bring in Brazilian playmaker Adryan and Paraguayan forward Brian Montenegro on season-long loan deals.
The challenge facing Hockaday’s successor will be to mould this double figure tally of new signings into a squad capable of competing in the Championship.
As for Cellino, his own task is to get United running along the lines of Cagliari, the Serie A club he ran for 22 years before selling up to take over at Elland Road.
Asked how long he expects that process to take, the Leeds president initially throws his arms out wide as if to suggest, ‘Who knows?’
“Cagliari was 22 years ago,” Cellino eventually responds. “It was so different.
“It was my country for a start and Cagliari were a small club. Here, I found the agents came in to give me advice and would try to take advantage.
“But they forgot I have had 22 years in this business. They think I have just come to Leeds from running a fish and chip shop. I say, ‘Listen guys, I know what is happening. What are you talking about? Don’t try to take advantage of me’.
“Time is going very fast so I have had to convince myself that this club needs time to change and get things right.”