Say it quietly, but there is a feeling of genuine pre-season optimism around Leeds United for probably the first time in getting on for a decade.
As every Leeds fan knows, it has been a troublesome period for the club since the failure to get back into the Premier League in 2006 in the play-off final defeat to Watford in Cardiff.
However, slowly, things seem to be getting better following Massimo Cellino’s takeover. No-one is getting carried away, of course, and there are likely to be more peaks and troughs (probably more troughs if we’re being honest) to come but fans appear to finally be approaching a new season with a bit of excitement and a cautious optimism as to what the campaign could hold.
The disappointing departure of last season’s top-scorer Ross McCormack to Fulham has been tempered by the arrivals of several new players in the past few weeks. A lot of them are unproven in England but they come with some pedigree (mostly in Italy) and it is hoped they will be up for the fight in the Championship in the new campaign.
Midfielder Tommaso Bianchi and striker Souleymane Doukara are expected to add depth to the first-team squad, while Switzerland international defender Gaetano Berardi’s move from Sampdoria on a two-year deal has been widely welcomed. Goalkeeper Marco Silvestri, who has joined from Italian club Chievo, also looks like a good purchase with the former Italy Under-21 international long tipped to have a bright future in the game.
Cellino has said there will be further new signings ahead of the return of domestic football in early August – in fact it could be the busiest summer in years in terms of arrivals – with up to 10 new players tipped to be in the first-team squad come the big kick off. Exciting Roma prospect Federico Viviani is another name in the frame for a move to Elland Road, while experienced Napoli defender Alessandro Gamberini, who is 32 and has eight Italy caps, is believed to be weighing up an offer from the Whites.
A lot of fans are, quite rightly, questioning the wisdom of bringing in so many players from Italy but the deals so far come as no surprise as it is the market Cellino clearly knows best. It would be beneficial to add some proven Championship players into the mix as well and that could happen in the weeks to come before the new season gets underway.
There remain question marks, however, not least in the strange naming of relative unknown coach Dave Hockaday, who left minnows Forest Green Rovers last autumn following a run of poor results, as manager.
To some, he appears to be a deliberate low-key appointment and someone who will almost work under Cellino, with the Italian businessman taking a very hands-on approach at Elland Road so far. Critics say Hockaday will be merely a ‘yes man’ to Cellino but he has vast coaching experience at Leicester, Watford, Southampton and Cheltenham and has apparently made a good impression on players so far.
There has been far too much doom and gloom around the club in recent years but, finally, under Cellino things seem to be, tentatively at least, going in the right direction, even if a look at the latest football betting markets in the Championship have Leeds among the outsiders for a return to the Premier League next year.
Time will tell if the summer optimism is misplaced, but at least some fans are daring to dream again.
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