Massimo Cellino signalled his intention to appeal and clear his name after it emerged that Leeds United’s owner is facing an 18-month ban from football over an illegal payment made during the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham in 2014.
Cellino is set to be hit with a long suspension by the Football Association in the latest threat to his reign as majority shareholder as Elland Road.
The Italian, who has previously served an ownership ban imposed on him by the Football League, will be barred from any involvement in the English game following a breach of FA rules during McCormack’s move to Craven Cottage two-and-a-half years ago. He is also expected to be fined £250,000.
Leeds and Cellino were accused of agreeing to pay an unlicensed advisor of McCormack’s a six figure fee on the back of the striker’s £10.75m departure for Fulham in July 2014.
FA rules forbid payments to unlicensed intermediaries as part of transfer deals involving English clubs. McCormack, who now plays for Aston Villa, was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Leeds pleaded guilty to breaking FA agent rules and will be fined £250,000, according to a report in the Daily Mail.
Cellino denied a separate charge brought against him personally and contested it at a two-day hearing at Wembley in September. The independent commission which heard the case, headed by Nicholas Stewart QC, has spent two months handling the evidence.
The FA is yet to publish an official verdict and the governing body failed to respond to requests for comment tonight as news of Cellino’s impending punishment spread. But in a statement published on United’s official website, Cellino voiced pleaded his innocence and vowing to “defend himself” against any sanctions.
“I am surprised to read the news regarding the FA’s intentions to ban and fine me, as well as fine the club,” Cellino said. “I am not guilty and I will take the right steps to defend myself through the tribunal.
“I feel that I am guilty of one thing, protecting Leeds United since I took charge of the club. I ask the players, manager and my staff to continue to work with loyalty and professionalism and to keep fighting for the club everyday on and off the pitch.
“I am sure that the public in this country and the free press will take the time to look into this case and find the truth.”
McCormack’s transfer was one of the first concluded by Cellino after the former Cagliari owner’s takeover of Leeds in early 2014. Graham Bean, a senior employee at Elland Road at the time of the deal, gave evidence against him during September’s hearing.
Cellino has fought numerous battles with England’s footballing authorities since launching a bid to buy a majority share in Leeds in early 2014 and he rode out a temporary ban imposed on him by the Football League for a breach of its Owners and Directors Test in January 2015.
That suspension ran for little over three months but an 18-month ban would prevent Cellino from exerting any influence at Elland Road until the middle of 2018.
His latest penalty comes at a time when Cellino is locked in talks with Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani over the sale of a 50 per cent stake in United.
Radrizzani, a founder of global media company MP & Silva, plans to buy half of Leeds through his investment firm Aser Media.
He and Cellino are believed to be on the verge of an agreement, although the Football League is yet to be asked to approve Radrizzani under its Owners and Directors Test.
The League is understood to be aware of Radrizzani’s intentions, however, and the 42-year-old is likely to pass the test without any difficulty.
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