I’m not going to deny that Massimo Cellino has a grey, chequered background. It’s there for all to see – with a new conviction for tax evasion added to the list.
What I wonder, though, is whether his background means he can’t still make a success of Leeds United. I’ve thought about it a lot and I have to say that I’m not swayed by the argument that this guy would definitely be bad for the club.
To some extent, the Football League has analysed him so closely that it must be in a strong position to police him properly at Elland Road.
Whether that means examining the accounts, asking Cellino to meet strict demands for information at set dates or just making sure it has regular contact with Leeds, I don’t know. It’s a bit like the tax man – screw him over and he keeps checking up on you for years and years on end, making sure you’re whiter than white. Given the state of Leeds, a solution of that sort is surely better than leaving the club with no buyer at all.
I know what some will say to that. They’ll tell me that other people are out there, waiting and ready to take charge of the club. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are groups who would love to own and run Leeds but the club have been a potential investment for a long, long time and how many successful buyers have they managed to find?
New bids means new negotiations, new due diligence and a longer wait for clarity. I’m not saying that in the long run it might not be for the best but I do think it’s a big risk.
There’s been talk of administration around Elland Road and while the current owner – Gulf Finance House – says that won’t happen, I don’t think anyone would pretend that Leeds aren’t in need of serious cash.
That’s the thing about Cellino. He’s got money and he seems prepared to put it into the club. It’s not borrowed money, or not that we know, and it’s not coming from a bank or any other investment organisation.
There are reasons to reject him, obviously, but I don’t think it’s a given that Cellino at Leeds would be a disaster. To be brutally honest, I’d fancy him to do better than GFH.
The problem with GFH is that it doesn’t have money, or not enough that it’s willing to throw at Leeds.
The bank’s been trying to sell the club for a while now and I don’t see any way in which things can move forward for as long as they’re running the show.
What’s bizarre about all this – not least because of the attention on Cellino’s credentials – is that GFH has been in charge at Elland Road for just over a year.
It sounded like the bank was looking for new buyers within months of taking over. That calls into question the Football League’s approval process and highlights again the problems with its test.
As far as I’m aware, buyers of Football League clubs are supposed to submit financial plans for their first year in charge.
So what was GFH’s plan and why was the Football League convinced by it? Given that GFH has been trying to sell for so long, it clearly wasn’t the intention for the bank to hold a majority of shares for 12 months.
Was the Football League aware of its intentions?
Cellino has been the owner of Cagliari for more than 20 years so my hunch tells me that he might stick around longer at Leeds than GFH. And I don’t see what value he’d find in hanging about in the Championship for season after season. I’m pretty sure he’d have a good go at getting Leeds into the Premier League as quickly as possible.
This is my way of saying that I hope this process doesn’t leave Leeds worse off.
There are things about Cellino that don’t look good and I understand why people are against him. But you know fine well that someone just like him will roll up at another club one day, despite the rules and the regulations.
That’s my issue with the Owners and Directors Test and the approval process in general – it’s there for the right reasons but you’re never quite sure that it truly works.
What we’d all expect of the Football League from here on is that it looks at other would-be buyers as closely as it’s looked at Cellino.
And I’m crossing my fingers for the sake of everyone that the decision it takes does the club no harm.