Leeds United chairman Salah Nooruddin claimed the club had secured an owner with “football experience and financial capacity” after finalising the takeover by Italian businessman Massimo Cellino.
Cellino will fly into England from his Miami home next week to take his deal to the Football League with he and Leeds owner Gulf Finance House formally agreed on the terms of a 75 per cent buy-out.
Payment for GFH’s shares was made by Cellino on Thursday and he exchanged contracts with the Bahraini bank yesterday, leaving Football League approval as the last hurdle in front of him.
The 57-year-old, who has owned and controlled Serie A club Cagliari for the past two decades, is said to be confident of persuading the governing body to ratify his takeover despite the concerns raised about his suitability and the presence on his record of a conviction for fraud.
The possibility that the Football League might rejected his proposal offered encouragement to other parties bidding to take control of Leeds but GFH appeared to end the fight for ownership yesterday when they announced that they had received payment from Eleonora Sport Ltd, the firm which Cellino is using to purchase United.
Nooruddin, who is to stay on as Leeds chairman under Cellino, told the YEP: “He has football experience and financial capacity.
“He’s the right man in terms of football and the right man in terms of money.
“GFH has always looked for strategic investors who fit in with our plan, and what we want more than anything else is someone who adds value to the club. Massimo adds value and this will mean good things for Leeds United. Of that we are sure.”
Cellino’s takeover was agreed in principle last week but he courted controversy with United’s supporters by attempting to sack manager Brian McDermott within hours of striking that agreement.
McDermott was reinstated at the start of this week following intense protests and he remains in his job, though his future under Cellino is far from certain despite Nooruddin insisting that the Italian “believes McDermott should stay.”
GFH and United’s board have themselves come in for fierce criticism during the past month amid the collapse of one attempted takeover by the Sport Capital consortium, the confusion surrounding McDermott’s position and signs of growing financial distress at Elland Road.
Nooruddin said: “I do apologise to the supporters, sincerely.
“What’s gone on has not been easy. We’ve put the fans through a difficult situation.”
David Haigh, the current managing director of Leeds, is to become chief executive on Cellino’s watch.
Nooruddin said Cellino was “very confident” of gaining Football League approval, though the
League dampened expectations of an immediate decision by saying that it was still to receive full documentation from the two sides.
A statement from the League read: “At its meeting on Thursday, the board of directors of the Football League were appraised of the current situation regarding the ownership of Leeds United.
“The board were informed that the League is yet to receive all of the information it has requested from the relevant parties.
“The matter cannot be progressed further until the required information is forthcoming.”
A British and Irish consortium led by Mike Farnan fought throughout this week to present a rival offer to GFH and stop Cellino’s takeover but their hopes of resurrecting a deal now rest on the Football League.
Speaking last night, a defiant Farnan said: “Until the ink is dry and Football League approval is given, the club’s still not sold.
“(GFH) have made life very difficult for us for whatever reason. No-one knows. We’ve got strong funding behind this, institutional funding, and we’re talking to the Football League. We’re going to do everything we can to be heard.
“I’m doing this in the interests of the club because we can bring stability. We have funding but (GFH) are avoiding that.”
The Football League, meanwhile, have blocked the transfer of 23-year-old midfielder Andrea Tabanelli on loan from Cagliari to Leeds.
Tabanelli believed he had joined United on transfer deadline day in a move lined up by Cellino but the League’s statement said: “The Football League has refused the registration of Andrea Tabanelli as the transfer did not comply with League regulations.”