As the larger-than-life president and owner returns to the Elland Road hot seat this week, Leeds fans are bracing themselves for drama.
The relative tranquillity around Elland Road following Massimo Cellino's Football League ban for tax evasion in January saw the Yorkshire club go on their best run of the season on the field. Eight wins in 13 games were enough to lead Leeds into the safety of mid-table in the Sky Bet Championship, but that was all thrown in to chaos when head coach Neil Redfearn's assistant Steve Thompson was suspended on April 2nd.
Leeds lost five games in succession from that point and a string of other controversies saw the club lurch into crisis mode once again, and any positive momentum going into the close season was lost. Now, Leeds fans are paranoid that any signs of continuity and stability at the club are going to be ripped apart when Cellino returns to stamp his mark again. With Leeds finally forming the nucleus of a young and promising team, there are five things Cellino must do to arrest the instability behind the scenes and promote a focussed club at last heading in the right direction.
1. Address the head coach position for next season
Pretty much every Leeds fan wants Neil Redfearn to be retained for next season, having seen what he can do with a fair wind and everything settled behind him. Leeds' key players also want Redfearn in charge and he is absolutely central to everything that has worked at Leeds United this season. Twelve months ago, Brian McDermott was left to hang until well into the summer, and then it took Cellino several weeks after that to appoint Dave Hockaday as head coach. The situation cannot be allowed to fester yet again. If Redfearn remains Cellino's man then this can be addressed immediately, if, for whatever reason, Cellino decides that Redfearn must be replaced, this must be done quickly.
2. If Redfearn stays, Steve Thompson must be reinstated
If the sensible and logical move to give Neil Redfearn an extended contract is carried out, it is likely that a caveat to that is the return of Steve Thompson as his assistant. Clearly having the Redfearn/Thompson team in place worked, and the players and staff responded to it. While some players had their nose put out of joint when Thompson was instrumental in changing the team's formation, Cellino needs only to look at the results.
Confusion surrounds how and why Thompson was suspended, but the decision to reinstate him is likely to be based around Cellino's loyalties to Nicola Salerno, Leeds' football director who allegedly made the decision to suspend Thompson and has since resigned his position as a result. This therefore becomes a decision over whether Cellino sees Redfearn or Salerno as more important to himself and/or the club. If Cellino wants Redfearn in charge next season, Redfearn will probably only accept on the basis that Thompson returns. How Nicola Salerno fits in to that, Leeds fans will care little, but Cellino may care a lot more.
3. Secure Leeds' academy graduates on long-term contracts
Leeds' season ticket marketing campaign has played on the club's young players - Sam Byram, Charlie Taylor, Alex Mowatt and Lewis Cook - being part of a bright future. As season ticket renewal forms land on doormats throughout Leeds this week, if Cellino is expecting Leeds fans to buy-in to next season with hard cash he surely must secure all four players on long term contracts to make a statement of intent. For too long Leeds fans have seen key players and star names sold as short term fixes, with progress in football terms secondary. To ward off the inevitable rumours and to make a declaration that this time it is different, Cellino needs to secure the footballing future of the club.
4. Sort out the factions and cliques in the dressing room
Cellino may see Neil Redfearn and Steve Thompson as being inadvertently behind this, as many of the foreign signings made last summer have allegedly formed a dressing room clique as their first team chances have become limited, at the expense of more established Championship players. Even regular starters such as goalkeeper Marco Silvestri and defender Giuseppe Bellusci have been named as part of a group attempting to undermine the first team management. Again, what happens here is likely to be dependent on Neil Redfearn's situation, but if Redfearn is in charge Cellino must address the personnel issues in the dressing room.
Sol Bamba and Steve Morison have both spoken out about the need to have harmony in the dressing room, and Cellino needs to decide where his loyalties lie with players he signed, and how he can get to the root cause of some players' disenchantment. The situation with the 'injured six' players would appear to be irreversible with Neil Redfearn in charge, but if a new head coach was in the hot seat, it is hard to see Leeds fans accepting any of those six players appearing in a Leeds shirt again.
5. Establish some structure at the top of the club
Prior to Cellino's ban, the Italian had put Matt Child in place as a CEO of the club, looking after the day-to-day management of the business, a move that Cellino had never made before as he preferred to hold all the reins at the club, as he did previously at Cagliari. When Cellino left the club in January, he also had a director of football in Nicola Salerno and an assistant head coach in Steve Thompson. All three of these positions have been vacated in the last three months, and if you consider there is no Academy director in place either, the management of the club in key positions is very weak.
Of course, Cellino has an established preference to have sole responsibility for running the club at all levels, and has not responded well to a traditional management structure. However, it is possible he has learned in the last 12 months that Leeds United is a very different beast to any club he has run before and the appointment of Child was a significant concession to the pressures involved. As ever, the reasons behind Child - who appeared to be a very popular and successful employee - leaving his position in April are unclear, but to provide the club with a solid framework and allow Cellino to concentrate on key strategy he needs to address the gaps in management personnel throughout the club.