Dave Hockaday’s 70 days in charge of Leeds United will be remembered as one of the most bizarre periods in the club’s history – and that’s saying something.
When Massimo Cellino took over the club in 2014, many supporters were already bracing themselves for madness and controversy. What they weren’t expecting was a former Forest Green manager.
We’ve taken a look back at Hockaday’s time in charge of the Whites and picked out some of the craziest details.
Cellino had already tried to sack Brian McDermott once by the time he eventually put the former Reading boss out of his misery at the end of 2013-14, but nobody could have predicted who would end up in the Elland Road hotseat as his replacement.
Reading academy manager Eamonn Dolan and former Leeds hero Gary McAllister had been linked with the post, but Cellino plumped for Hockaday after the former (unsuccessful) Forest Green boss was somehow recommended to the Italian.
The duo met at a London hotel, where Hockaday convinced Cellino he was the man for the job in a five-hour conversation about football. But there was still the awkward moment in the press unveiling when Cellino suggested McAllister wasn’t a viable option as he was already employed, only to be told that was not actually the case.
(A shoutout to @MoscowhiteTSB for the gif.)
Cellino-era Leeds can probably be summed up best by the pre-season under Hockaday, in which they travelled to Italy for two fixtures and some warm weather training.
The drama started when Ross McCormack, who was
fed up of all this shit subject to a bid from Fulham, failed to travel, and things did not quite go to plan from thereon.
Local side FC Gherdeina were perhaps not quite up to the standard required for a professional team preparing for a season in the Championship. Either that or Leeds played some of their best ever football as they ran out 16-0 winners – with Matt Smith scoring six times, Noel Hunt bagging a hat-trick and even Steve Morison getting on the scoresheet.
Romanian outfit FC Viitorul Constanta were supposed to provide a sterner test, but ultimately didn’t turn up, forcing Leeds to play…themselves. Leeds were 3-1 victors.
The trip was also notable for this picture of Dominic Poleon looking thoroughly miserable while being made to sit in a lake.
Leeds’ squad needed plenty of work after their form fell off a cliff during the second half of McDermott’s season in charge, during which McCormack was the only bright spark.
After scoring 29 goals in a poor side, McCormack was always likely to leave, especially with Cellino publicly criticising the striker. According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, Hockaday tried to ease the tension between the pair, only to be told to “shut the f*ck up” by Cellino.
Likewise, when Hockaday suggested Nigel Reo-Coker and Nile Ranger as potential signings, Cellino swiftly dismissed those options. In an interview with The Guardian, Hockaday has also suggested he put forward the names of Andre Gray, Virgil van Dijk, Conor Coady, Craig Cathcart and Mark Hudson only to be ignored.
Instead, a host of unknown quantities arrived in the form of Marco Silvestri, Tomasso Bianchi, Gaetano Berardi, Mirco Antenucci, Giuseppe Bellusci (described as a “pussy” by Hockaday to The Guardian), Casper Sloth and Souleymane Doukara.
Bellusci and Doukara initially arrived on loan, but their moves were quickly made permanent in order to make room for more temporary signings. Zan Benedicic, Dario Del Fabro, Adyran and Brian Montenegro filled those gaps. You can be forgiven for not remembering many of these names.
Highly-rated Roma midfielder Federico Viviani was also set to join, only to attend a 2-0 defeat at Mansfield in pre-season and decide to remain in Italy.
That defeat did at least seem to convince Cellino to allow Hockaday to sign some English players. Earlier that summer Leeds had released a statement confirming they had ended their interest in Chesterfield’s Liam Cooper, only to return and cough up for the defender. Billy Sharp and Nicky Ajose also joined.
After a pre-season win over Dundee United, Hockaday was called to see Cellino, who lectured his manager about his formation and tactics. According to Phil Hay, Cellino was “everywhere” during the opening day defeat at Milwall and also attempted to call the manager at half-time during a loss at Brighton.
There were also reports that Cellino tried to convince Hockaday not to select Stephen Warnock – a player he had seemingly taken an immediate dislike to but was in fact in the best form of his Leeds career – and had even phoned down to the bench in a drubbing at Watford to ask for the left-back to be substituted at half-time.
Hockaday actually stood up to Cellino in the case of Warnock, and the former England international went on to celebrate a winner against Bolton later in the season (by which point Hockaday was no longer in charge) by making a telephone and substitution gesture.
His first sacking
It didn’t take long for Cellino’s trigger-happy fingers to start twitching. Five matches, in fact.
After the aforementioned 4-1 defeat at Watford, in which Leeds were beaten 4-1 and ended the match with nine men, the Italian made up his mind…sort of.
“Yes, at Watford I decided to sack him,” Cellino told the Yorkshire Evening Post. “I said, ‘He’s finished.’
“But in my life I’ve learned that with your decisions, take 24 hours. Why should I blame the coach?
“The squad isn’t finished and that is my fault. Signing players has been harder than I thought so if I fire anyone, I should fire myself or else I’m a coward. I have to control my ego.”
The actual sacking
Of course, the only person Cellino didn’t ultimately sack was himself.
Hockaday managed to last until the next game, but Leeds were beaten 2-1 at Bradford City in the League Cup, despite taking the lead in the 82nd minute.
“I’m not a quitter, I’m a fighter,” he said after the defeat. “I feel as though not just myself, but the team at the moment, things just aren’t going our way.”
Cellino, however, had other ideas: “After the defeat at Bradford I realised that my decision to keep David at the club following the defeat at Watford was wrong and I had to change my mind on the coaches’ position.”
Seventy days. Six matches. Four defeats.
Still, Hockaday can at least take some solace from the fact he lasted longer than his replacement, Darko Milanic, who was afforded only 32 days in the post.
He even lasted longer than Brian Clough.