The risk to Neil Redfearn in becoming Leeds United head coach was borne out by his resignation.
There are many who will say that it was bound to end this way - and not just because of Massimo Cellino’s punishing critique of him two months ago.Cellino killed their relationship by attacking Redfearn in a Sunday Mirror interview on May 18 but Redfearn was in harm’s way from the moment he accepted his promotion from the academy last November.
He was asked back then how realistic his deal with Leeds was; whether it was genuinely feasible to think that if he did not survive as head coach beyond last season, the role of academy manager would remain open to him. “I’m realistic enough to know that things happen in football,” he said. “I could take the Under-11s and still enjoy myself.”
That is probably true, or it was when Leeds promoted him from within. But Redfearn’s humble opinion ignored certain facts of life: the most obvious being that if he was replaced as head coach this summer, somebody somewhere - and namely Cellino - would have taken issue with him, his performance or both. In those circumstances working relationships become awkward and jobs are lost. That’s how football always goes.
Certain sources close to Redfearn were honest enough to accept that Uwe Rosler, United’s new head coach, might not appreciate the presence of a popular ex-boss in the background day to day.
“If the season starts poorly,” one said, “it won’t help if supporters start chanting for Neil. If Rosler wanted a change then you’d understand.”
As it happened, Rosler and Redfearn spoke earlier in the summer and spoke amicably. None of this was Rosler’s responsibility and there is no bad blood between them. The conflict was purely between Redfearn and Cellino, even though they have not spoken for weeks and Adam Pearson, United’s executive director, was left to argue over the terms of a severance package once Cellino decided that a parting of ways was necessary.
A few weeks ago it seemed that a deal might be struck and Redfearn would move on with the standard website statement thanking him for his efforts and wishing him well. The last time he went to Thorp Arch, he met with Pearson and was told to return home.
Since then discussions have gone nowhere and his resignation today will bring about further court cases. Redfearn plans to seek damages and is likely to ask for an apology over the Sunday Mirror article in which Cellino called him “weak” and accused him of acting like “a baby”.
One reason for the absence of a settlement was Redfearn’s refusal to agree to a statement which implied that he was leaving the academy by mutual consent. In his mind he wasn’t. Leeds and Pearson in turn took umbrage with Redfearn’s decision to seek advice from Graham Bean, a former employee of the club who Cellino fell out with badly and sacked last year.
Precisely when Cellino’s relationship with Redfearn when the same way is difficult to say. Cellino was subject to a Football League disqualification for most of Redfearn’s tenure as head coach and spent most of the first half of 2015 in Miami. Even so, he was well aware of the controversy which stemmed from the suspension of Redfearn’s assistant, Steve Thompson, the saga of Mirco Antenucci’s contract and the withdrawal of six foreign players through injury before Leeds’ 2-1 defeat at Charlton Athletic in early April.
Cellino knew too that dissent from the public was aimed at him and that United’s support were siding in big numbers with Redfearn, suspecting that the 50-year-old was being deliberately undermined. On the last day of the season - when a protest was mooted but never materialised to any great extent - Cellino skipped Leeds’ game at home to Rotherham United and went scouting to Morecambe instead.
Some at Thorp Arch, including players like Sol Bamba, were annoyed by the circumstances in which Redfearn was being asked to cope and also with United’s failure to confirm whether or not his contract as head coach would be extended. Other staff, however, were equally unhappy about the insinuation in some quarters that the productivity of Leeds’ academy was purely down to Redfearn. Towards the end of last season, Redfearn himself was increasingly at pains to stress that the machine at Thorp Arch had more than one cog.
By that stage his fate was essentially sealed. Cellino’s view of him was made plain at the gruelling press conference staged by the Italian after his return from disqualification. Cellino was peppered with pointed questions about Redfearn and finished the briefing with mocking comments about the ‘Leeds salute’ and the issue of finance.
His message was clear enough: Redfearn might be Leeds, Leeds, Leeds but money makes the world go round and at Elland Road, the money comes from Cellino. Relegation battles and league position did not come into it.
What impact Redfearn’s departure will have on United’s academy is only possible to surmise at present. The output at Thorp Arch in two, five or 10 years’ time will be the gauge of how positively or negatively the many changes under Cellino have affected the production line.
That does not change the fact that many of the graduates who trained under him speak extremely highly of Redfearn’s influence.
Much of the work done by Leeds in the close season has been considered and good. Some of it has been better than good; impressive enough to build bridges with the public. Compared to all that, the handling of someone with Redfearn’s service feels sour and unbefitting of a good club; the sort of behaviour this regime still needs to grow out of altogether.