CHANGE AT THE TOP BUT BOSS MONK STAYS CALM

The Football League Paper - - FLP FOCUS ON: LEEDS UNITED - By Chris Dunlavy

GARRY Monk strode into a view­ing gallery in Leeds’ Thorpe Arch train­ing com­plex, set­tled be­fore the ar­ray of mi­cro­phones and grinned.

“What are we go­ing to talk about to­day then?” said the Whites boss. He, like ev­ery­one else, knew per­fectly well that only one topic was on the agenda.

Three years and seven man­agers since Mas­simo Cellino swept into El­land Road like a tanned tor­nado of capri­cious chaos, the con­tro­ver­sial Ital­ian’s days fi­nally ap­pear num­bered.

An­drea Radriz­zani, an Ital­ian me­dia mogul who made his for­tune sell­ing foot­ball TV rights in China and the Far East, this week bought a 50 per cent stake in the club.

In pub­lic, the 42-year-old has made all the right noises about work­ing hand-in-hand with his com­pa­triot, who is due to start an 18-month ban in Fe­bru­ary for breach­ing FA agent reg­u­la­tions dur­ing Ross Mc­Cor­mack’s £11m trans­fer to Ful­ham in 2014.

De­lighted

“I am de­lighted and proud to have ac­quired a 50 per cent stake in such a pres­ti­gious foot­ball club,” he said. “I am ex­cited by the chal­lenge ahead and I will work along­side Mas­simo and every­body at the club to make Leeds United as suc­cess­ful as pos­si­ble.”

In re­al­ity, the deal in­cludes an op­tion to buy Cellino’s re­main­ing shares and that is ex­actly what Radriz­zani in­tends.

How com­pli­cated that han­dover ends up will largely de­pend on which di­vi­sion Leeds find them­selves play­ing in next sea­son.

Up­com­ing sanction aside, Cellino has twice been banned by the EFL and has grown weary of fight­ing the au­thor­i­ties in the Cham­pi­onship. Should the club fail to win pro­mo­tion, he is likely to step aside.

Yet Leeds’ sur­prise re­nais­sance un­der Monk has given the 60-year-old pause for thought. The Whites lie fifth in the ta­ble and, with a £170m prize for winning pro­mo­tion, Cellino is un­der­stand­ably re­luc­tant to bail out yet. That is why he has clung to his share of the club.

Where does that leave Monk and his squad? So far, Radriz­zani has said noth­ing re­gard­ing trans­fer funds, or plans to re­pur­chase ei­ther El­land Road or Thorpe Arch – a stated aim of Cellino when he took con­trol in 2014.

Nor are there any in­di­ca­tions that the new co-owner will even be based in the UK, or who Monk will an­swer to in this unique 50/50 split.

“I’ll find that out when I sit down with both of them this week and talk about how they want to ap­proach things,” said the former Swansea boss, whose side travel to Cam­bridge United in the FA Cup third round to­mor­row night.

“It’s not about what I want. It’s about what they want. They are the own­ers of the club and they’ll have a vi­sion – an idea of how to go for­ward. “I’ll give my views from the foot­ball side, which I’m sure they’ll want to hear. And what I’ll say is that it’s a a step-by-step process. Keep im­prov­ing, keep putting build­ing blocks in place.” So he hasn’t been promised a £20m wind­fall? “I don’t think the world works like that,” he smiled. “And even if it did, we’ve been pretty suc­cess­ful off a mod­est bud­get. “There are a lot of teams with a lot more money than us. But for me, it’s not about that. It’s about the foun­da­tions. The val­ues. They are key. Yes, we need one or two in Jan­uary but noth­ing more dras­tic than that – with or with­out money.”

Monk, nar­rowly beaten to the De­cem­ber man­ager of the month award by Brighton’s Chris Hughton, has worked mir­a­cles in his even months at El­land Road.

Mir­a­cles

Though slow off the blocks, the Whites have won 13 of the last 19 matches and dropped points at home only twice since Au­gust. Af­ter so many years of up­heaval and dis­ap­point­ment, both crowds and op­ti­mism are on the rise.

In­deed, while heads are likely to roll in he board­room as Radriz­zani in­stalls time­honoured lieu­tenants, the new co-owner made it clear that he was “very im­pressed” by Monk’s ef­forts in the du­gout. Which, ac­cord­ing to winger Stu­art Dal­las, is just as well.

“What the man­ager does on the train­ing pitch is ob­vi­ously im­por­tant,” said the North­ern Ire­land in­ter­na­tional, set to make his 19th ap­pear­ance of an in­jury-hit sea­son to­mor­row.

“But the main things is his be­lief in us. He told us on day one that we were a good group of play­ers – that he knew what we could do and that we didn’t be­lieve in our­selves enough.

“Last year, it was maybe the case that we won two matches and then lost the third. It was almost like we’d done enough. He’s changed that men­tal­ity com­pletely.”

By way of ex­am­ple, Dal­las points to that for­mi­da­ble home record – a stark con­trast to last term when they won just seven times at El­land Road all sea­son.

“When I first came – and be­fore that – we’d re­ally strug­gled at home,” adds the 25year-old, a £1.3m cap­ture from Brentford in 2015.

“It’s hard to pin­point why. Per­haps los­ing bred a lack of con­fi­dence. Again, the man­ager just gave us the be­lief that we were good enough to play here, that the fans would back us if we got it right.

“And he was right. Now it’s a fortress. No­body likes com­ing here any­more. Those fans have got us over the line in re­cent weeks. The crowds are get­ting big­ger ev­ery week be­cause they can see we’ve got some­thing spe­cial here.”

So will Cellino and Radriz­zani have a Premier League club to fight over in May?

“If peo­ple wants to talk us up they can,” added Dal­las. “But we know what we’re about and we know how good we can be. We’ll go about our busi­ness qui­etly and see where it takes us. But the be­lief here is sky high right now.”

WITH Leeds United’s Cham­pi­onship play-off push well and truly on course, Cam­bridge United cap­tain Leon Legge is aware of the stern battle his side face in their Emi­rates FA Cup clash to­mor­row night.

But he claims that doesn’t mean the U’s aren’t up for the chal­lenge that lies in wait at the Abbey Sta­dium.

The Whites are fly­ing high in the sec­ond tier, claim­ing four wins from their last five games in pur­suit of a long-awaited re­turn to the top flight.

But U’s boss Shaun Derry – who made 78 ap­pear­ances for the York­shire out­fit dur­ing his play­ing days – has seen his side go un­beaten in their last seven league games, and is con­fi­dent the magic of the cup can strike in their favour.

“At the mo­ment we’re on a good run and the home form is get­ting a lot bet­ter.

“I’m an­tic­i­pat­ing a very good game against Leeds United and look­ing for­ward to it,” said 31-year-old de­fender Legge.

“This is the FA Cup, it throws up all sorts. Any­thing can hap­pen and that’s why it’s prob­a­bly one of the most pres­ti­gious cups in the world re­ally. “A win would be great, but we’re just hop­ing for a re­ally good game to see what hap­pens.

“They have got a good man­ager in Garry Monk who seems to have stead­ied the ship.

“You al­ways want to chal­lenge your­self against some of the best.” And while Leeds boss Monk has seen his side’s for­tunes change in re­cent months, he knows they face a stiff fight for a fourth-round spot.

“There is al­ways a chance of an upset, but we are fo­cused on putting as much de­ter­mi­na­tion, pas­sion and de­sire, along with our best foot­ball, on to the field like we do in ev­ery other game,” he said.

“It’s a tight ground, there will be an at­mos­phere, but we have to con­cen­trate on our­selves. No games are easy.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tio

BE­LIEF: Stu­art Dal­las BE­FORE THE STORM: Leed United chairm Mas­simo Ce poses with th

DE­TER­MINED: Cam­bridge skip­per Leon Legge

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