Massimo Cellino is continuing to look for a way out of Leeds United after the bitter collapse of a proposed deal to sell the club to supporters group Leeds Fans United.
Cellino told the YEP that he was committed to ending his troubled reign as owner at Elland Road but insisted last night that he would not negotiate a takeover with Leeds Fans United (LFU) – just five days after inviting the group to bid for his majority stake.
The 59-year-old was accused of “insincerity” by LFU yesterday following his refusal to grant the organisation a period of exclusivity to perform due diligence and arrange a buy-out.
LFU estimated that the cost of purchasing Cellino’s 77 per cent shareholding would rise to a minimum of £30million and the group was still to secure funding for the deal when its chief executive, Dylan Thwaites, spoke with the Italian’s lawyers yesterday morning.
Cellino turned down the request for exclusivity and attacked LFU’s plan, describing it as “fairytales”. He criticised the group for courting publicity since he made a verbal offer to sell his stake during a meeting at Elland Road last Friday. The acrimony with LFU does not appear to have affected Cellino’s willingness to quit Leeds amid the threat of an imminent Football League ban and growing dissent towards him from the club’s supporters.
Sources close to Cellino claim he has been in contact with at least two other prospective buyers this week, including one in London on Monday.
Asked if he would push ahead with attempts to relinquish his shareholding and bring an end to his 18-month tenure, an under-fire Cellino said: “Yes. I’m very hurt and sad. I can’t take anymore.”
LFU claimed Cellino’s rapid u-turn had exposed the “transparency on his motives” but Cellino responded by saying: “They say a lot of fairytales. They really are like kids in a sweet shop.
“They talk too much. It is dangerous, this kind of publicity. My lawyers prefer to deal with buyers (who are) a little more reserved.”
Cellino’s clash with LFU is the latest bout of controversy in a spell as owner which will be suspended by the Football League in the coming weeks if Cellino fails to win an appeal against his latest disqualification.
The League banned him over a conviction for tax evasion imposed on him by a Sardinian court in June. He faces being disqualified from controlling Leeds until June 2016.
In a statement, LFU defended itself, saying: “Leeds Fans Utd has been informed by the lawyers of Massimo Cellino that he no longer wishes to sell to Leeds fans.
“Our insistence on him confirming his verbal offer of exclusivity in a legally-binding agreement has forced transparency on his motives. It is much better that we identify this insincerity now before we spend our shareholders’ money.
“This exercise has proved our capacity to adapt to any acquisition scenario very quickly. We now know we have the capacity to do both a minority and majority deal and it has shown that Leeds fans have a desire for fan ownership.
“We hope that Massimo will treat the club and fans with respect and honour.”
LFU has raised around £500,000 through the purchase of £100 shares in the group by supporters but Thwaites said in an interview on Tuesday night that he was confident of securing enough cash to finance a £30m buy-out via pledges and loans from wealthy fans.