Leeds' Darko Days Are Brightening Up: There's Reason To Be Cheerful
Massimo Cellino, our maverick owner’s latest antics, standing with the Leeds fans at Brentford, jigging in the tunnel in the second half then giving random fans a lift into the city from Elland Road on Saturday and standing up and hating Man U at the Josh Warrington fight at the Leeds Arena added fuel to fiery debate raging between the pro and anti mobs.
I sit firmly in the pro camp and strongly believe Cellino is totally committed to bringing success to Leeds United, my only reservations are that the off field operational and commercial business - best described by multiple sources as "chaotic" - is in need of massive and rapid improvement in order to reach it’s potential.
His trust in sporting director Nicola Salerno looks to have paid off in many ways. The dynamic duo, not shy to mix and mingle with supporters on match days home and away have committed cash, time, energy and a huge amount of nous to building a squad that looks capable of challenging the proper teams in this division.
Salerno is without doubt Cellino’s best signing and was responsible for bringing in Darko Milanic, the new head coach. Milanic has a trophy laden management history, delivers calm gravitas in interviews and shows real commitment and passion on the touchline.
On the training ground the emphasis is more technical and has delivered a successful track record, albeit in Slovenia & Austria. As the players learn the new stuff the platform built by the outstanding work of Redfearn’s caretakership will be used to kick on and improve, that’s Darko’s quest. There is inevitable fallout and the Morison & Warnock sagas will run on, the big question is who will take these two highly paid misfits from previous regimes?
The first team squad is brimming with quality and plenty of players with a winning mentality, the mix of academy graduates and new, hungry, mainly young foreign lads has given the support real hope that something special is being built.
The top four picks from the new signings are as good as anything in this league in their positions. Silvestri is an outstanding goalkeeper, he has bonded with the fans and, along with his girlfriend, embraced life in his new home city. Bellusci is a cult figure already, a leader with outrageous skills for a centre back and a burning will to win. Bianchi is turning into one of the most effective midfielders in the division with an impressive pass completion rate and no fear of a tackle. Antenucci adds the pace and movement we have been lacking up front and never stops running.
Berardi is committed and a good footballer, prone to the odd rash moment... Well okay, he's an accident waiting to happen. Doukara alternates between destroyer and Bambi on ice, more game time will see him grow into the beast we crave. Cooper and Sharp are good players at this level, underlining our strength in depth. Sloth is young and consistency will come in time.
Established players like Pearce and Byram and the young lads who have broken through this season, Cook and Mowatt will only benefit from the new additions.
Milanic wants to play a high tempo pressing game with fast passing and pace in the last third, he is composed and professional with the media and passionate on the touchline, vastly superior to the unctuous Warnock, McDermott's "nice but soft" shtick and the disastrous Hockaday. The first team squad look good and Cellino will make sure that the link with Redfearn and the academy is maintained.
Redfearn and his team have been charged with getting some of the new acquisitions ready to step up to the battleground of the Championship. Watching the U21s playing a young Doncaster side at Elland Road on LUTV gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling and a reminder that the club is still nurturing players like a family.
Neil Redfearn has done a remarkable job with the academy, he has created a pyramid of success and this is a good side playing attractive, progressive football, Lucy Ward on co-commentary gave him a massive testimonial.
Lucy has been at Leeds since 1998 and if she decides to write a tell-all story when she retires exposing the Ridsdale era, financial implosion & relegation, Bates, GFH and Cellino regimes she has served, it is a guaranteed best seller.
Shining through the co-commentary was vast knowledge from a 23-year footballing career and detailed insight of the footballing and pastoral care given to the young professionals at the club. This was a real, detailed, incisive work, not the bland tosh the mainstream channels often serve up.
There were four stand out performers:
Adryan - pure class, still acclimatising and building himself up to deal with the intensity of the Championship - and Dawson - all pace, Riverdance footwork and spark; ready for first team squad now - were like a young Morecambe & Wise, on the same wavelength, perfect together.
Hunt and Montenegro linked well and hats-off to Hunt for putting in a top class performance and wanting to get a match under his belt. Monty looks a real prospect - a really exciting addition: fast, great touch, a trick up his sleeve, technically good and knows where the goal is.
The team were missing a few star performers, particularly up front, hence the space for the HuntMonty combo but coasted to a 6-0 win, played a midfield diamond including Thompson and Philips, both tidy and effective, given width by marauding full backs Booker and Denton. Del Faro looked young but promising and Benedicic has suffered injuries since he joined.
It was a real pleasure to watch, the opposition wasn't up to much but you can only beat whats put in front of you and this was comprehensive.
Cellino is passionate about the first team and academy working together and Milanic and Redfearn are both honest, professional men with the club's best interests at heart.
Football-wise, the future is looking bright at last.