Massimo Cellino insisted last night that he would not consider selling his majority stake in Leeds United, despite the Football League’s dramatic decision to ban him as an owner and director of the club.
The Italian’s reign at Elland Road appears to be under severe threat after the Football League announced yesterday that Cellino had been disqualified from running United due to a breach of its Owners and Directors Test.
The League barred Cellino on the grounds of a tax conviction imposed on him by a court in Cagliari in March, declaring that the written judgement from that case proved his offence could “reasonably be considered to be dishonest.” The governing body had previously tried and failed to use that conviction to block Cellino’s 75 per cent buy-out of Leeds in March.
Its bid to prevent the original takeover was rejected on appeal by an independent QC, Tim Kerr. Kerr stated that the absence of a full written verdict from the judge in Cagliari meant he could not declare Cellino’s offence dishonest.
The League subsequently secured a copy of the judgement, however, and its board voted unanimously to ban Cellino at a meeting last week.
A statement issued by the League yesterday lunchtime said Cellino was now “subject to a disqualifying condition.”
The 58-year-old has 14 days to lodge an appeal to the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) but League rules give him just 28 days to resign as a director of Leeds and cut his ties with the Championship club.
Cellino’s disqualifying condition, however, only runs until March 18, 2015 – the date on which his tax conviction will be declared spent under UK law.
Cellino – United’s president – said he was yet to decide whether to challenge the ruling but confirmed that he would step away from the club for the next four months if the League’s decision stood.
“The club is not for sale,” Cellino said. “We are not selling the club, not because of this. This doesn’t change anything.
“Massimo Cellino does not own Leeds. My family company owns Leeds.
“It is my family’s money which bought the club, not my money.
“I don’t know if I’ll appeal. I need to speak with my lawyers and look through all the papers to see what the League has said about me. What is their problem?
“We pay our bills, we do things right. Nobody was paying anything here when I bought the club. What did the League do about that?
“If my family company asks me to step back for two or three months then I’ll step back. If that has to happen then I’ll do it. But we won’t be selling the club.”
Cellino bought Leeds through a company called Eleanora Sport Limited, buying 75 per cent of the club from previous owner Gulf Finance House (GFH).
The former Cagliari president is currently in Bahrain for talks with GFH, the Bahraini bank which continues to owns around 10 per cent of United and manages a 25 per cent stake.
Cellino said he was in the process of arranging an investment of £20million in Leeds and would inject that money regardless of the League’s announcement yesterday.
His relationship with GFH has been fractious in recent weeks but he claimed that the bank had agreed to contribute £5m of the £20m investment. He said the rest of the funds, £15m, would come from Eleanora Sport.
“I would not be investing capital if I was about to leave,” he said. “I’m trying to sort out the problems that were left behind.
“The League wants me gone, I don’t know why, but I’ve said before – come and look through the books at Leeds.
“We are not dishonest people.”