LEEDS UNITED have expressed their disappointment at the Football League’s decision not to approve Massimo Cellino’s bid to take over the club - but insist they will continue to talk to league officials and Eleonora Sport in a bid to find a solution.
Cellino’s bid to buy a 75 per cent stake of the club was rejected by the league earlier today, representing a blow to club owners Gulf Finance House, who had been hoping for approval after agreeing a deal with the Italian last month.
The League acted following Cellino’s conviction last week in Italian court over unpaid tax, leaving the future of United shrouded in uncertainty.
A club statement said: “The club and its shareholders are disappointed at the decision of the Football League not to approve Massimo Cellino as a director of Leeds United FC.
“However, 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.
“Our shareholders continue to support the club directly or through additional investments as has always been the case.
“We would like to reassure the fans of the continuity of our great club.”
A statement from the Football League read: “At its meeting yesterday evening, the Board of The Football League considered the eligibility of Massimo Cellino under its Owners’ and Directors’ Test.
“The Board considered detailed legal advice with regard to the application of its regulations within the context of a decision made under Italian law.
“Mr. Cellino was recently found guilty beyond reasonable doubt by a Court in Sardinia of an offence under Italian tax legislation relating to the non-payment of import duties on a boat. This resulted in a fine of €600,000, an order for the payment of trial costs and the confiscation of the boat in question.
“Having fully considered the matter, the Board agreed unanimously that the decision of the Italian Court does constitute a disqualifying condition under its Owners’ and Directors’ Test.
“The relevant disqualifying condition being that Massimo Cellino has been convicted of an offence involving acts that would reasonably be considered to be dishonest.
“In line with Football League regulations, Massimo Cellino is entitled to appeal against the Board’s decision within 14 days. In such circumstances, The League would seek to expedite the process to deliver certainty to all parties in the shortest possible timeframe.”
The club’s whole future is now shrouded in uncertainty.
Current owners Gulf Finance House (GFH), a bank in Bahrain, had signed a deal for Cellino, the owner of Serie A club Cagliari, to buy 75% of Leeds.
Leeds have also being struggling with financial problems though GFH has insisted the club will not go into administration again.
Cellino’s lawyer had argued that as he is appealing against the Italian court’s decision, he should be viewed as innocent until that final sentence is passed.
The league’s board disagreed however, say in its decision that “if a competent Italian court (such as the Sardinian court in this case) finds a defendant guilty of a crime and specifies the sanctions to be imposed upon him then under Italian law the defendant is considered to have been convicted of a crime even if the judgement is not final because the defendant has the right to appeal”.
GFH said it had “no comment at this stage” on the decision.