Hockaday, Milanic, Evans: Remembering Leeds United's Maddest Managerial Period

The Massimo Cellino era was utterly bonkers at Elland Road
07:00, 12 Feb 2023

Leeds United are searching for another manager. This time, it looks like Andoni Iraola could be the man for the job, but the club have been considered in their thinking. Iraola has taken Rayo Vallecano to fifth in La Liga, has an impressive CV and could be the perfect fit to steer Leeds away from danger. 

Whoever becomes the next boss - it’s a long way from the scattergun and chaotic approach to hiring and firing managers that the club employed under Massimo Cellino. The club, and the city, were placed into the hands of an Italian madman who would change things at the drop of a hat. He was deeply superstitious, and hated the number 17, so much so that he banned any player at the club from picking that number. 

So when it came to managers, the Italian businessman was equally as eccentric. As he took over the club in early 2014, Brian McDermott was the manager and reports quickly emerged that he had been sacked, however after missing a match against Huddersfield, he was reinstated. That gave the briefest of glimpses into how Cellino would treat his managers, and having taken control of the retained list in the summer, he managed to get rid of McDermott. 


He made drastic cuts. Players were told to bring their own packed lunch to training as the chefs had been fired, the recovery facilities such as the pool and sauna were shut and they were even told to buy their own socks. The man Cellino chose to be in charge of this sh*t show was Dave Hockaday - a man whose only other managerial experience had been with Forest Green Rovers - and he hadn’t been much good there. 

Saying Hockaday was a lamb to slaughter would be kind. He reportedly agreed to manage the team for just £90k a year, compared to the £750k McDermott was earning in the same role. He was also given no say in transfers and after one win in six matches, was sacked after just 70 days. 

Neil Redfearn steadied the ship under immense pressure, before in the summer of 2015, Uwe Rosler was appointed as the man to take Leeds United back to the Premier League. He was handed a two-year contract, which for Cellino was essentially a lifetime of matrimony. The German lasted 12 matches before divorce. 

Then the one that made Leeds fans think they had really reached the bottom of the barrel. Steve Evans was appointed. The man who had turned up at Elland Road in a sombrero and sandals having kept Rotheram in the division the year before was now the man in charge of proceedings at the most unstable club in the country. 

That’s 26 more than Brian Clough managed to be fair to him. 

His permanent replacement was Darko Milanic, who Leeds bought out of his contract at Sturm Graz. 36 days, six matches and zero wins later, he was sacked as well. Despite doing everything to save money, Cellino loved to wield the axe if things weren’t going his way. And things were never going the way of the madman.

There was no plan. There was no pattern. There was no thinking or consistency behind any of these appointments. By the time Cellino had sold half his stake at Leeds in January 2017, he had fired six different permanent managers in just two and a half years. Thankfully, Leeds have moved on from that chaotic era. 

Under Andrea Radrizzani, they have employed Thomas Christiansen (almost certainly a pointless answer in the category of Leeds United managers) and Paul Heckingbottom, a boss that has proved his worth at Sheffield United. 

Marcelo Bielsa made perfect sense. He was the appointment they got right and Leeds fans fell in love with his charisma, passion for the city and footballing philosophy. In many ways, the appointment of Jesse Marsch made sense in terms of footballing progression given his work with RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig, but ultimately it didn’t work out.  

Now Victor Orta is tasked with picking out the next successor. But one thing is for sure, whoever he picks will be a world away from Dave Hockaday.

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