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leeds united: saturday night and sunday morning

leeds united: saturday night and sunday morning

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After the two big turnarounds at Elland Road on Saturday – first in the form of the team, then in the position of Brian McDermott – the frantic pace of the news about Leeds United has died down a little. Touch wood.

There have been developments since Leeds followed the 5-1 win over Huddersfield with the announcement that Brian McDermott is, as far as they are concerned, still the manager; although there has been no word on how McDermott feels about that.

UPDATE 9pm: Phil Hay of the YEP has rounded off the weekend by quietly posting an update that throws the takeover situation right back up in the air again:

Only thing to add about the TO tonight is that somebody reliable tells me GFH and Cellino are still to exchange contracts. Not quite done

— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 2, 2014

Earlier: Massimo Cellino has had plenty to say. The only direct quotes from Cellino have come through freelance journalist Simon Austin who, late on Friday night, communicated Cellino’s reasons for sacking McDermott; first in a series of tweets, then in an article at Sporting Intelligence:

In an exclusive interview, Cellino said: “I spoke with Brian earlier in the week and gave him the chance for the challenge. I don’t know him, but told him I would be coming in and he would have the chance to build something special and work with a lot of money.

“In the end we didn’t have any choice though because he did everything to get fired. He gave me no choice.

“He started an argument with everyone. He was talking with the papers, with everyone, which was not fair. He made it impossible. I want a coach for the club, not a manager.”

Cellino was cagey when asked whether former Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa, a close ally, would be replacing McDermott at the Yorkshire club on a permanent basis.

“Gianluca is a nice guy but he wasn’t in my plans before all of this … Leeds are a special club who have had difficult times. But what is beyond question is that the club’s fans are very, very special.”

Then late on Saturday night, in another interview with Simon Austin, Cellino changed his story to deny that he was responsible for sacking McDermott, and to say that he wants him back at Leeds:

“I want the coach back and have been trying to call him,” the Cagliari owner said. “I don’t mind this coach. How could I sack anyone anyway? I need the approval of the Football League before I own the club.

“GFH are still running Leeds United. They did not want Brian as manager but didn’t have the courage to sack him.”

UPDATE 4.00pm: More confusion about the ‘sacking’, that probably needs to be in inverted commas now; Adam Pope says the owners have repeated again today that they didn’t sack McDermott, while he and Phil Hay have been discussing on Twitter that letter that complemented the phone call that did – or didn’t – sack McDermott:

#lufc Owners have told me again today that they did not sack Brian McDermott. (1/2)

— Adam Pope (@APOPEY) February 2, 2014

#lufc I’m told club letter-headed paper was used by the IPS lawyer Chris Farnell with Massimo Cellino’s signature on it to dismiss McDermott

— Adam Pope (@APOPEY) February 2, 2014

@APOPEY I’m hearing that the letter was never sent to McDermott but numerous third parties have copies of the letter.

— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 2, 2014

@LeedsMad2012 @APOPEY oh the letter exists with Cellino’s signature on it. Apparently people have been trying to make it disappear.

— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 2, 2014

He also denied that Gianluca Festa, who watched from the East Stand on Saturday afternoon despite early indications that – as Cellino is believed to have wanted on Tuesday night against Ipswich – the former Middlesbrough defender would be in the dugout. 

“Festa was not here to coach the club, just to make the translation with the players,” he said. “Festa has never run a club before. I have never had him coach a team in Italy before, so why would I want him to coach a major club like Leeds?”

The swing in emphasis from Cellino – from claiming McDermott had been impossible to work with, to claiming that he didn’t have the approval required to work with him anyway, let alone sack him – seems like a response to the reaction of Leeds’ supporters to the events of the past week. The protests before Saturday’s game, and the chants for Brian McDermott all the way through it, can have left Cellino in doubt at what the Leeds public thought of McDermott’s sacking.

McDermott’s position is awkward; technically, because nobody with legal authority has fired him, he has a contractual obligation to continue working as Leeds manager as normal. The circumstances at Leeds are far from normal, however, and Brian would naturally be reluctant to return to work for either GFH or Cellino.

A resignation would affect his right to compensation due to him for the rest of a three year contract, and if Leeds fans have judged McDermott correctly, their passionate support of him at the Huddersfield game will also play on his mind as he decides his best course of action.

UPDATE 5.40pm: Phil Hay says Brian is still thinking it over:

Have asked around and the situation at the moment is that McDermott is still to decide whether he’ll be at Thorp Arch tomorrow

— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) February 2, 2014

His assistant Nigel Gibbs, who found out on Saturday lunchtime that he would be in charge, with Neil Redfearn, of the team less than three hours later, said after the 5-1 win that McDermott had phoned him to wish him luck and to discuss the line-up, despite being advised that for legal reasons he should not attend the game. 

Cellino also expressed his frustration – already – with the Football League approval process, which was confirmed in a standard statement from the League as being underway:

“I have already paid for the shares and the papers are with the Football League,” he said. There were players from Italy and France ready to join the club on Friday, the deals were agreed.

“I can’t do anything and I’m really p—— off,” he said.

The Football League’s owners and directors test appears to be the last remaining barrier to Cellino’s purchase from GFH, and there’s no clear view on whether he will pass it. Cellino has two prior convictions for fraud, one of which relates to player transfers at Cagliari in the early nineties, but these may be considered too old for consideration; a trial on charges for embezzlement and fraud relating to Cagliari’s stadium is currently pending, however, and the Football League may decide not to approve someone who could acquire a disqualifying conviction in the near future.

There may also be aspects of his behaviour at Leeds – before he has even been confirmed as owner – that could give the League, and its chief executive Shaun Harvey – reason to think carefully about whether Cellino is a ‘proper’ owner in this League. There remains the chance, though, that Cellino could sidestep any ruling by taking a backseat and only providing finance to another person who would actually run the club. Cellino’s son, Ercole, has been with him on visits to Leeds, and Miami based accountant Daniel Arty is named as co-director in Eleonora Sport Ltd, the company established on January 27th to which GFH have agreed to sell. The company is named after Cellino’s daughter; she has been passionately defending her father against people commenting on her Instagram account to demand information about her dad’s wealth and intentions.

If Cellino is allowed to take control, it’s understood that the remaining rival consortium, Mike Farnan and Gary Verity’s TogetherLeeds, will launch a legal challenge; for now they’re watching the situation develop and keeping their bid in place so they can step in. 

Need to keep calm today this is just another process that will fail for all of the reasons written about. #lufc

— Mike Farnan (@FarnanM) February 1, 2014

As per my statement we continue to seek dialogue and have substantial backing with offers of support increasing by the minute #keepthefaith

— Mike Farnan (@FarnanM) February 1, 2014

Other rumours on this day of rest suggest that the one signing Cellino did secure on transfer deadline day, Andrea Tabanelli, may not have been registered correctly in time to join Leeds, as his paperwork was not signed by anyone with authorisation. Tabanelli, whose Twitter profile picture suggests he is the world’s most beautiful human being, was believed to have signed on loan from Cagliari, but it looks as though he only joined Cagliari on loan from Serie B team Cesena seven days earlier.

Sunday’s papers have brought some excellent reporting and analysis on the events of the last few days; read all these and see if you can decide what’s going on. In the Telegraph, Henry Winter highlight’s Brian McDermott’s character in the midst of the chaos – "Whatever his strengths or weaknesses as a manager, McDermott exuded human qualities that the fans craved at a club that has lacked leadership for too long"; Michael Calvin at the Independent looks at the circular nature of the names involved, from Haigh to Harvey and back again; the blog 200% tends to cover clubs in crisis, so naturally they’ve a summary of our latest for their readers;  while Nick Harris highlights the worrying talk about United’s financial situation, which is pushing GFH into a sale: 

Sources with knowledge of the club’s financial position say debts are becoming ‘unmanageable’ and losses, projected to be in the ‘mid-teens of millions’ for the current season, are such that Leeds ‘may be not viable much longer without new cash’.

Another source suggested that unless a deal is completed quickly,  Leeds ‘could be about to go under, big time’. The club declined to make any official comment although a source close to the owners confirmed that ‘the financial pressures are telling’.

Last, but by no means least, let’s enjoy again how Rudy Austin helped McCormack celebrate his hat-trick by dropping him on his head. 

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