the square ball week: something beginning with…Back
According to Edoardo Cellino – on Twitter, of course – Leeds are signing three new players. The name of one of them begins with ‘A’.
“I can’t tell you that they are a goalkeeper, a Center defender and a left back, and this one are coming for sure,” he said, and one of them will play at the World Cup. One respondent guessed that the player beginning with A might be Cagliari’s Astori, and asked what he would win if he were right. “probably the premier ahahahah :)” said Edoarado.
That all sounds positive. Mysterious but nailed on new signings, one from the World Cup, good enough – with a wink – to win the Premier League. And the source couldn’t be better – it was confirmed this week that, since April 8th, 22 year old Edoardo has been on the board of directors at Leeds United.
That means that everything young Ed has tweeted since he began talking online on May 7th has been the words of an official with a vote on the running of the football club. That includes when he said this week, “I hate juve and juventus players, seriously I rather die than see players from juventus here,” and when he was asked if Brian was getting sacked and pretended not to know anybody by that name.
If only Edoardo’s – and his brother Ercole, somewhat quieter online since he told Poppy Farnan, “You make puke” on Instagram – elevation from internet annoyances to directors of the football club was the only weird thing to have happened at Leeds this week. We could talk about how bizarre it is to have two of our board members and their sister the subject of a less than complimentary verse in a rap song, Cagliarifornia. We’ll keep this family friendly, but that plank of wood with a face on it in the video is a stand in for Eleonora “Uccellino” – a pun on “chick” – and those young men aren’t being very polite about our Nora.
But at this point the Cellino kids, and even their father, are something of a sideshow. Last week Massimo rolled out one of his tortured similes about trying to push a 747 down a runway, but this week he could have tried a different tack: Leeds United doesn’t feel to me like an airliner struggling to take off, but like a jet in a tailspin with nobody who can take the controls.
We can skim past for now the fact the summer closure of Thorp Arch is being spoken of by Massimo as possibly permanent, the new date for the end of the summer break for players and coaches and Massimo’s admission that he hasn’t worked out what he’s going to do with them when they come back, and that money paid with credit or debit cards for season tickets is being withheld by the club’s merchant service provider pending the outcome of the winding-up petition, although we’ll come back to that.
David Haigh has been in jail in Dubai for five nights. He was arrested in Dubai this week at the prompting of his former employers Gulf Finance House, whose lawyer confirmed to Gulf News that they “lodged a lawsuit against the suspect for alleged embezzlement, swindling and breach of trust at Bur Dubai Police Station.” According to Haigh’s statement, around the same time they were lodging that complaint, GFH also invited David to travel from London to Dubai to discuss a new job, and he was arrested on arrival at their offices.
Haigh’s demeanour has always been so buffoonish that it’s hard not to laugh at the thought of him flying halfway around the world in his best suit with the latest version of his CV up to date in a nice new leather bound folder, only to walk into a trap and end up in jail. But there’s a darker side to the story.
The allegations relate to, “reported breach of trust and swindling funds [Dh20 million-Dh30 million or more] from Gulf Finance House (GFH) Capital during his tenure as deputy executive manager” – Dh30m equates to around £4.85 million. The reports reaching Leeds suggest that the alleged fraud has very much to do with his time at United, and to do with the sale to Cellino.
Haigh denies the charges – he is “stunned” and “horrified” and “clear that he has no case to answer.” What’s more, “He has every confidence that the authorities will see clearly the motives which lie behind these allegations and will act accordingly in bringing no charges against him.”
The crucial word there is “motives”. Haigh seems to be implying that this is a fit-up. Back in January, as Leeds fans wondered why Haigh was finding it so difficult to complete the apparently simple task of buying Leeds United from his own company, I drew the distinction between ‘David Haigh’ and ‘the owners.’ Haigh and GFH had become synonymous as ‘the owners’, but I wrote that, “What this month has proved is that there is no such single entity: there is David Haigh, and there are the owners, and when one does business with the other, trouble arises. It’s trouble we need to watch out for.”
In the next line I wrote, “David Haigh will be fine,” which given that the authorities in Dubai have extended their time for questioning until at least Sunday – meaning he’ll have spent a week in the clink – hasn’t quite turned out. The last bit of the article is a bit more like it. “An ex-MD might be a nobody, but that’s David Haigh’s problem. The power at Leeds United lies with somebody, and that problem remains ours.”
That same board of directors that contains Massimo, his advisor Daniel Arty, and his two sons, also must contain under the terms of the sale two “GFH Directors”, at present Salah Nooruddin and Salem Patel, unless they have been replaced ahead of paperwork reaching Companies House. The quorum for meetings of that board is two directors, of which at least one must be a GFH Director “if a Reserved Matter is to be considered”; there doesn’t appear to be any similar provision that a quorum must include ‘at least one’ Eleonara Sports director. A board meeting could consist of Salah and Salem, or even worse, of Salah and Edoardo.
In reality, Massimo is unlikely to allow such a board meeting to take place without his presence, although one would hope he has measures in place to prevent GFH acting the way he was able to act in their absence at the end of January for the occasions when he is away in Miami, where he is believed to be heading next week. The weight of the quorum in GFH’s favour is only one example of the influence our ‘former owners’ still hold.
Among the current difficulties facing Cellino are that he has found out, in his words, that he is “not allowed to raise the capital of the club.” This seems to be down to the Share Purchase Agreement too, which requires 85% agreement from the owners before any money can be injected into Leeds United. Cellino owns 75%. GFH and Nooruddin – who bought 5.71% of GFH in November – between them control the other 25%.
Piecing all this together, and not knowing the reasons why, it seems that our former owners and now part owners are a) alleging fraud on the part of the former club MD they employed, b) have laid a trap for him at their offices which has put him in jail for a week, c) are blocking Cellino’s attempts to put much needed capital into the club, d) capital that could be used to pay off the £950k loan to Sport Capital (Guernsey version) which has the club fighting a winding-up petition in June, with its bank accounts frozen and ability to receive credit or debit payment suspended in the meantime.
Cellino hasn’t given any reasons for fighting the winding-up petition, and one wonders if it has anything to do with Haigh’s subsequent arrest, and whether the loan is part of the fraud inquiry. That he can’t put capital into the club seems to have come as a surprise to him, though, suggesting he hadn’t properly thought through the implications of the contract he signed, and that he wasn’t looking at the same picture as GFH.
The troubling fact for Leeds United is that everything is on hold until either the winding-up petition is dismissed or the loan repaid to Sport Capital. Sport Capital have “strong links” to David Haigh – he operates as a director of the UK arm, but is not named as a director of the Guernsey company. David Haigh is in jail. Accusations by Gulf Finance House put him there. Gulf Finance House effectively have power of veto over Leeds United’s finances.
The image of David Haigh in jail pretty much eclipses the image of Eleonora Cellino being depicted in a rap video as a plank of wood, but it’s an image that might haunt Leeds United. The fans are 100% of the club, and Massimo Cellino owns 75% of it, but to ditch the jets for a moment and lend a new simile to Massimo for near-future use, we’re like a rowboat on a lake being sucked into a whirlpool caused by the out of control speedboat of the other 25%. And all we’ve got on our side are similes, rap songs, and players beginning with A.