Leeds United, Cellino and Carbone’s Return To England

Posted on May 1, 2014

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This article originally appeared on these Football Times.

Leeds United Football Club has suffered more than most clubs over the past few years and 2013-14 has proved to be yet another tumultuous season. This season has seemingly been lifted directly from the script of the television drama Dream Team, and you would be forgiven for mistaking Leeds for Harchester United FC – minus the purple kit – such has been the fiasco at Elland Road.

Massimo Cellino’s takeover of the club from previous owners, Gulf Finance House, has been at the centre of the controversy. Cellino’s reign at Leeds had caused uproar before it had even begun with the sacking of manager Brian McDermott. McDermott had been shown the exit door prior to the takeover being ratified by the Football League and thus ended up reinstated as manager days later. Cellino then became the first prospective owner to fail the Football League’s ‘Fit and Proper Person’ test after he was charged by Italian courts for tax evasion in his home country. Initially it blocked the takeover.

Despite months of confusion, the Football League’s decision was reversed on appeal and Cellino was appointed Director of LUFC Holdings in early April. At that point, with the takeover completed and the promise of financial security, there was hope that some sort of normality would finally return to the once illustrious northern club.

Benito Carbone at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough Stadium

Benito Carbone at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium

The English media latched onto the story right from the start and have followed it closely ever since. The latest development sees former Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City forward, Benito Carbone enter the maelstrom at the club. The Daily Mail reported the initial story that McDermott’s future was in jeopardy once again and Carbone was being lined up to replace him as manager.

It was certainly an unexpected turn of events but one that was not completely out of the blue. Despite the fact Carbone has little managerial experience under his belt – he coached Italian side AS Varese 1910 in Serie B and most recently, Saint-Christophe Vallée d’Aoste in the Lega Pro Seconda Divisione – he had been linked with the Sheffield Wednesday job in late 2013 and has continually expressed an interest in managing in England one day. Carbone was quoted in The Star in October 2013, saying:

“I want to be a manager in England – I think it is the best for my career. The league is the best in the world. I think of England as my second home…

“I spent the best three years of my English career when I was with Wednesday and I was happy to be back. It is my dream to manage the club. This is just my vision, one day to manage the club where I used to play.”

Carbone went on to say how he was not short of offers to manage in Italy:

“I turned down three or four offers from teams in Italy, because my preference is to be a manager in England.”

Carbone’s presence at the Leeds training ground during such a turbulent time for the club will have only served to fuel the speculation reported by the Daily Mail.

Football is a cauldron that breeds extraordinary decisions but with the greatest of respect to Carbone, to replace Brian McDermott, a manager who led Reading to the Football League Championship title and secured promotion to the Premier League, with a managerial rookie, who has minimal experience in the Italian second division, is almost inconceivable.

As expected, it soon emerged that Carbone would not be taking over from McDermott as the manager of Leeds; the Italian joined the club in a completely different role with the youth academy at Thorp Arch. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that Carbone was joining as part of a project to renovate and rebuild the youth academy, thus stifling the rumours circulated by the press. The paper ran quotes from Cellino who stated:

“Benito knows English football. He wants to be a coach in England so he came to me and we spoke about him coming here, coaching the Under-21s.”

Coaching the Leeds Under-21 side seems a much more feasible undertaking for the Italian and the perfect opportunity for him to kick-start his coaching career in England. However, Cellino went onto say:

“The academy at Leeds, it costs us £2million a year and we don’t grow any players or [they’re] not enough. It’s not giving us enough, or anything. Benito will help me to rebuild the academy, to make it good, to make it better.”

This appears to be a sweeping statement from Cellino as the Leeds United academy has fostered a reputation for producing talented players such as James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Fabian Delph and Danny Rose, all of whom are products of the system and currently play in the Premier League. Cellino’s claim is further refuted by the fact that five players of the eighteen man squad which beat Birmingham City 3-1 on 26 April were academy products. This is all without mentioning Sam Byram who is hot property in the Football League and has been linked with a number of top clubs.

The Leeds academy has hardly floundered in recent years having been awarded category two status in line with the Football Association’s newly implemented Elite Player Performance Plan; and if Cellino’s “…£2 million a year…” claim holds any truth, then Leeds were close to fulfilling the criteria to achieve category one status. Moreover, Richard Naylor managed the Leeds under-18’s side to their respective division title last season. Not exactly signs of failure.

Carbone’s arrival could be the start of a massive overhaul of the Leeds backroom coaching staff as the season comes to a close and Cellino has obviously begun laying his plans for the future. One of the more surprising aspects of Carbone’s appointment is the fact that the Italian coach is expected to go without pay for at least six months. It is possible that this is a sign of the tough financial situation faced by Leeds. The Yorkshire Evening Post further quoted Cellino who came up with a fitting analogy:

“We are not a rich club. I have money but this club, it loses money. It’s like an ex-rich man but instead of eating cheese, it still eats caviar.”

Cellino went onto expand on his deal with Carbone, explaining he’d pay for his living costs:

“When I spoke to Benito, we didn’t worry about money. I’ll pay what it costs for him to live with me here and in six months, if we’re a rich club again, then we talk money. It doesn’t matter, it’s not a problem.”

While it’s indeed peculiar for a coach at a Championship side to work for free, Carbone has plenty of playing experience to impart on the young players at Leeds and his impact could prove very positive. As a player, Carbone was a journeyman forward, both in Italy and in England. He spent time most notably at Napoli and Inter Milan amongst others before moving to England with Sheffield Wednesday in the Premier League and then onto Aston Villa for 1999-00 season. From my memory, I remember Carbone for his time at Bradford City.

Carbone playing for Bradford City during their Premier League years

Carbone playing for Bradford City during their Premier League years

He became City’s marquee signing in the summer of 2000; he was expected to bring a touch of flair to the team and help to establish the Bantams as a mid-table Premier League side following their spectacular relegation survival in the 1999-00 season. However, the Italian’s £40,000-a-week wages were beyond Bradford’s finances at the time and the club were relegated in Carbone’s first season.

Despite Bradford’s struggles in their second Premier League season and his consistent injuries, Carbone was by some distance the most gifted footballer in the side, with hard work to match his flair. As a player, he left several lasting memories with Bradford fans including his goal against Chelsea in a historic 2-0 victory at Valley Parade, a lobbed finish over Saša Ilić in the Charlton goal in another 2-0 win and finally, his unbelievable free-kick in a 1-3 defeat to Ipswich town.

The circumstances surrounding Carbone’s appointment at Leeds are more than a little ambiguous, if not completely misleading. However it’s encouraging to see Cellino is concentrating on improving the youth academy and Carbone has lots of playing expertise and some managerial experience to offer in this capacity. For Carbone himself, this could be the perfect opportunity to take his first steps on the path to a managerial career in England.

By Jamie Allen

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Posted in: Football