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Massimo Cellino wins Leeds United takeover appeal UPDATED

Massimo Cellino.

Massimo Cellino.

  • by Phil Hay
 

Massimo Cellino will complete his takeover of Leeds United after a stunning victory over the Football League.

The Italian businessman has won his appeal against a bid by the Football League to bar him from buying the Elland Road club.

Cellino, who has been waiting since January to seal his takeover, successfully argued that a conviction for tax evasion in Italy did not breach the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test.

Under the terms of his deal, the 57-year-old will secure a 75 per cent stake from current club owner Gulf Finance House.

Speaking after today’s 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic, manager Brian McDermott - who was still to learn the outcome of the appeal - said: “I welcome stability from a man who’s got clout.

“I’ve spoken to (Cellino) on a number of occasions and the most important thing here is not the position of the manager or any individual player, it’s the future of the football club.”

In a statement, Cellino’s lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, said; “The Independent Chairman of the Football League’s Professional Conduct Committee has today released a decision that Mr Massimo Cellino is not subject to a Disqualifying Condition, overturning the Board of the Football League’s earlier decision.

“Mr Cellino is therefore now entitled to become a director and owner of Leeds United Football Club.”

A Football League spokesman said: “We are disappointed at the outcome of the appeal hearing, however we would like to thank the independent QC for his diligence in reviewing this decision.

“This was never about individual personalities, but instead was a matter in which we were obliged to uphold the integrity of our regulations having considered the issue in detail with our advisors.

“It was always an extremely complex matter in which a different interpretation of a judgment made under Italian law could lead to an entirely different outcome in the context of our regulations. Ultimately this has proven to be the case.

“The independent QC has concluded that Mr. Cellino’s recent conviction in the Sardinian Court did not involve conduct that would ‘reasonably be considered to be dishonest’ based on information available to him at the current time.

“The Football League will now consider the findings of the hearing.”

Mike Farnan, who heads up the Yorkshire-based Together Leeds consortium, said: “I’m delighted for Massimo.”

It was reported earlier this week that Cellino and Together Leeds would join forces and Farnan added: “Massimo’s lawyers have told us that we will continue our meeting next week. This is a joint opportunity.

“We can now look to work together to get the club moving forward again.This has been dragging on for too long.

“From the Football League standpoint, and I don’t know the ins and outs of all the legalities, it creates a lot of questions.

“We’ll have to wait and see what they decide to do.

“But let’s get moving. I’m really pleased for the fans. I’m so pleased for the fans. It’s an exciting package that we can put together.”

Leeds manager Brian McDermott, who Cellino attempted to sack at the end of January, welcomed Cellino’s appeal victory.

“I would recommened the stability of a man who has got clout,” said McDermott.

“I’ve spoken to him on a number of occasions and, for me, the most important thing is not the position of the manager, or any individual player, it’s Leeds United Football Club and that going forward.

“I can work with Massimo, we’ll see just wait and see what the outcome is. It’s a prerogative of any owner, in any situation, to choose the manager he wants to work with. I absolutely respect that.

Asked whether he thinks Cellino will be a good club owner, McDermott added: “ It’s like everything - it’s a time thing, we have to wait and see.

“But from what I know he’s a leader, he’s had a club for 22 years and he’s been consistent with that.

“From what I know he has clout, he has financial clout. Which is something we possibly haven’t had for many, many years.

“For me, it will be just great not to be able to speak about it (the ownership issue). Talk about football, players and systems and stuff like that. It will be a great relief not to be able to discuss that.

“I think there’s a lot to be done, off-the-field stuff as well. It’s a big job to be had. We have a lot to do, there’s no doubt about that.”

Leeds responded to Cellino winning his appeal with a report on the club’s official website which said Cellino had been granted approval to complete the purchase of a majority stake in Leeds and that the decision would see Eleonora Sport take a 75% stakeholding in the club while former majority shareholders GFH Capital and investors retained 25%.

It also said completion of the acquisition would see Cellino become Leeds president and that he would head-up a new-look board with the club’s managing director David Haigh becoming chief executive officer.

Haigh said: “This is a significant day in the history of Leeds United. Since GFH Capital took over the club in December 2012, the stated aim has always been to introduce strategic investors to ensure a sustainable future for the club.

“I have met with many potential investors and worked closely with them, and I realised very quickly that Massimo is someone who has the attributes to take this club forward.

“He has a proven track record in Italy, and I believe the introduction of Eleonora Sport, coupled with Massimo’s drive and determination, will be key to a successful and sustainable future for this great football club.

“I’d like to thank the Football League, GFH Capital, and of course, Massimo and Eleonora Sport for all their hard work over the past few weeks in ensuring that this deal was able to progress.”

 

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