club overboard: yachtgate denies cellino in football league decisionBack
The Football League has delivered its ruling on Massimo Cellino’s eligibility to take over at Leeds United, and the decision has not gone in favour of Leeds United’s Italian owner-elect.
Whether the decision has gone in Leeds United’s favour will very much depend on the next steps taken by owners Gulf Finance House.
UPDATE 9pm: This afternoon’s original report on the Football League’s decision is preserved in its entirety below, as a kind of historical artefact of what life was like at Leeds United around 2pm on Monday, March 24th 2014. Naturally it’s been a few hours so everything has changed again.
Leeds United did release a statement in response to the decision, expressing the "disappointment" of "the club and its shareholders." They also announced that they’re not taking the decision as final: "The Board and Executive Management of the club, will continue discussions with the Football League and Eleonora Sport to find a solution that is suitable to all parties." The statement added that the club’s shareholders will "Continue to support the club directly or through additional investments as has always been the case," and ended by assuring fans of "the continuity of our great club."
Massimo Cellino has also spoken out, to Adam Pope of the BBC; after saying at the weekend that he would "100% not" appeal if the Football League’s decision went against him, it now seems that he will. "Having spoken to him I have no doubt he will [appeal] now," tweeted Adam, "but I don’t see the FL shifting on their decision tbh."
Cellino has said much more to BBC Sport, claiming that, "There are hours not the next few days. Leeds needs help, blood and money. Leeds can’t wait. What worries me is I am the only one worrying about it. It’s embarrassing. I am not worrying about the money I have already paid and maybe am going to lose."
There are more quotes on Adam Pope’s Twitter timeline, including: "The club has nothing else. They sold their stadium, their banqueting, training station, they own nothing… Why I bought the club is because it has big potential, good history & it’s a big challenge because they’ve lot of fans. The people who ran the club, they didn’t do it on purpose, but they didn’t know anything about soccer." Cellino later added that ‘the club owns nothing & "would not even pay for washing powder."’
About his appeal, Cellino said, "I have to appeal. I feel a responsibility to the fans who I am proud to say wanted me." One point in Cellino’s favour might be that any appeal would not be heard by the same board that failed him; he has fourteen days to make his case.
As stated in the original report below, movement is expected from the TogetherLeeds consortium in the next 24-48 hours.
Meanwhile, even loaning a player isn’t simple at Leeds; a shortage of strikers – or good ones, anyway – has led to Connor Wickham’s recall to Sunderland, while the loan move of Lee Peltier, which was confirmed by both clubs, appears to have been cancelled now that Neil Warnock has turned down the job of Nottingham Forest manager. Where that leaves Peltier isn’t clear, with both clubs claiming this evening that he is with the other.
As yet there has been no official comment from the club on this morning’s announcement from the League. Managing director David Haigh tweeted on Monday March 17th that it was “The start of a very important week. I have everything crossed. As soon as we have news we will release a statement.”
Since then Cellino has been found guilty of tax evasion in a Sardinian court; letters have been sent from the club to the Football League asking for a quick approval to avoid “potentially irreparable damage to the club”; and now Cellino has been turned down, all without a statement from the club or its owners.
The Football League’s decision is based on “detailed legal advice with regard to the application of its regulations within the context of a decision made under Italian law.” The League board agreed “unanimously” that Cellino was found guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” for the offence of evading import duties on his yacht, Nesie.
The League’s detailed decision discusses whether the Italian appeals process renders Cellino innocent pending an appeal, but concludes: “Given that Italian sports bodies treat such a ‘non-final’ first instance conviction as a sufficient trigger for exclusion from sporting office, the League sees no reason to take a different approach.”
The decision also notes that the Owners’ and Directors’ Declaration Form affirming that Massimo Cellino was not subject to any “Disqualifyng Condition”, signed by Cellino and David Haigh, was submitted to the Football League on Wednesday March 19th – the day after the verdict of the Sardinian court – a submission to which the League had five working days to respond.
Cellino has fourteen days to appeal the League’s decision, and is understood to be appealing the Nelie conviction; however Simon Austin, Cellino’s usual outlet in England, has tweeted that “I spoke to Cellino on Saturday and Sunday and he was adamant he would not appeal if rejected by Football League ‘100% not’ he said.”
Austin also quoted Cellino on Sunday night: “Cellino could only talk very quickly before boarding plane. Just said ‘I’m sick of this. It’s been two months.’”
Assuming Cellino sticks to his word and does not contest the decision, it is now up to GFH to continue active ownership of a club that has been supported over the past few months through loans from Andrew Flowers of Enterprise Insurance, David Haigh, and Massimo Cellino; the last of whom will presumably now want his money back. Flowers recently had to issue a winding up petition against the club to get back a £1.5million loan.
Both Salem Patel of GFH, and David Haigh, who no longer works for the Bahrain bank but remains in post as managing director at Elland Road, have confirmed in recent weeks that Leeds United is losing money; the amount is believed to be around £1m a month, fuelling rumours – strongly denied by Haigh – that the club could be heading for administration.
Avoiding that depends largely on GFH’s ability or willingness to continue paying the club’s bills; or on the bank’s ability to quickly conclude a sale of the club to another group. Together Leeds, the consortium led by Gary Verity, Mike Farnan, Adam Pearson and Frank Devoy, and said last week to be backed largely by “high net worth individuals” from Yorkshire, first declared their interest in buying the club in late November, but have complained of being unable to get a fair hearing from GFH.
The BBC’s Adam Pope tweeted this afternoon that: “TogetherLeeds are set to make a statement in next 24–48 hours re a bid for club.”
The Football League’s decision is only snippet of LUFC news on a day that has seen Saturday’s win over Millwall fade into the background already; Gus Poyet recalled Connor Wickham from his loan spell last night, and this afternoon Lee Peltier has also left on loan to Nottingham Forest, who sacked manager Billy Davies today and are believed to be lining up Neil Warnock as his replacement.
More from The City Talking: