ELLAND ROAD may be a smoke-free zone, but Massimo Cellino’s press conference at Leeds United yesterday afternoon should have come complete with a code breaker, not a health warning.
Plenty of trademark passion, a few stories and a touch or two of charm were on show from United’s Italian owner in the Billy Bremner Suite, but little clarity on the big question of the day: whether Neil Redfearn will be head coach for 2015-16.
That burning unresolved issue was the first enquiry from the floor, prompting Cellino to ask if there was a reserve question and to ‘keep it for the last’ (question).
It was an evasive, unsatisfactory and slightly bewildering answer, but a sure sign of things to come.
You sense even the most formidable of inquisitors, including the Leeds-born man considered by many to be the greatest of the great in that regard in Jeremy Paxman would have struggled to permeate the walls of Cellino.
A furrowing of brows and a deep quizzical look would have ensued.
On this evidence, Cellino could hand a lesson or two to politicians wishing to graduate with honours in veering off the subject. In many respects, it was a masterpiece in saying plenty, but really saying very little at all.
The energy that Cellino put into his performance was such that he felt the neccessity to leave the stage for a smoke break outside Elland Road at one point in proceedings, which lasted over an hour-and-a-quarter with many none the wiser.
After feeding his craving for nicotine, the 58-year-old returned to speak to his audience, clutching a book entitled The Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United from author and journalist Anthony Clavane.
All that was needed was a pulpit, with Cellino’s words perhaps better served if they were delivered in sermon form rather than feeling the need to take questions from an inquisitive room full of journalists.
The print on the ticket described yesterday as a press conference, but other than Cellino stressing his commitment to Leeds by way of stating he would sell the club if promotion is not forthcoming within two years, there were precious few answers provided.
In truth, it was hard to truly fathom, in the benefit of hindsight, why it had actually been called in the first place if no definitive answers, specifically regarding Redfearn, were to be forthcoming.
Cellino in his early utterances said he was here to field questions. His audience delivered plenty, but the answers were often as cloudy as a room fugged with his tobacco smoke.
Sitting alongside Cellino was his new executive director and right-hand man Adam Pearson, who will have attended countless press conferences over the years during his association with Leeds first time around as commercial director – as well as at Hull City, Derby County and Hull FC.
None, you would venture though, were perhaps quite as bizarre as yesterday’s with Pearson left to field a barrage of questions concerning the club just a few days into the post, while his boss was having a cigarette at one point.
Pearson, to his credit, never ducked any questions and admirably attempted to be succinct and provide as much clarity as he could.
A considered and controlled figure, Pearson resembles in many ways the polar opposite to Cellino.
But maybe opposites do attract, with the former Leeds director’s words regarding his new boss warm and appreciative ones. He clearly feels business can be achieved between them.
It was Pearson’s words which perhaps went closest to explaining why Cellino should be afforded patience before settling the head coach issue. It was his way of saying give the boss a break.
Pearson said: “The owner has invested a lot of money and has the right to make those decisions in an orderly manner.
“He has been away for a couple of months. He has come back and is trying to get to grips with the situation and he’s taking advice from people myself included.
“At this minute, he wants to look at it as a process rather than rushing into another decision.
“Do you want the club to continue making knee-jerk reactions or do you want it to go through a process? That’s what it is going through.
“If you will be patient, I am sure it will come out in the coming weeks.”
The press conference no doubt amounted to a crash course in Cellino for Pearson, but forging a working relationship in the coming weeks ahead assumes far more importance than getting a message across and winning public relations points with supporters.
The arrival of Pearson is an eminently sensible one in the respect of freeing up Cellino’s workload, with both donning the equivalent of hard hats, complete with a mop and bucket, in their quest to clean up and fix the giant that is Leeds United.
Cellino said: “Adam ran Leeds in the good times apparently. Good luck is important. At the same time he’s got experience.
“I was told that Adam was the right person who understands football so we can work together without having board meetings and big briefings. I clean, you wash the floor.
“Before I was trying to find out who will wash the floor. It was still dirty after 20 meetings of the board. We have to start fixing this club. I always hear that we should go back in the Premier League, we are a sleeping giant but the giant was dead. It wasn’t sleeping anymore.
“It needed more time than I thought. Now our giant is awake. It’s not fit yet but it’s going in the right direction. We have to finish the job. It’s got to be healthy.
“Then it can go back where it should belong and where we’d like to go.”