Leeds United: Cellino caught up in Telegraph corruption investigation - but Whites dismiss 'non-story'

Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino was tonight at the centre of fresh corruption allegations after being filmed by the Daily Telegraph offering an investment deal as a way of avoiding Football Association rules on third-party ownership of players.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 28th September 2016, 11:08 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 1:47 pm
Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino
Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino

The video, which was published by the Telegraph as part of the same football investigation which led to the downfall of former England manager Sam Allardyce this week, appears to show Cellino proposing to sell a stake in Leeds to a fictitious investment firm with the promise that money would be paid back to them in sell-on fees earned through future transfers.

During the conversation with undercover reporters from the Telegraph, Cellino suggests selling 20 per cent of shares in United in return for “20 per cent of the profit of the player.”

The Italian, who along with Leeds is currently facing charges from the FA over allegations that an illegal payment was made to an unlicensed advisor of Ross McCormack’s during the striker’s transfer from United to Fulham in 2014, claimed the arrangement “doesn’t expose you to any risk with the Football League or anyone.”

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In the short video, taken in the offices of Elland Road, Cellino - believing that he was speaking to representatives of a Far East company - said: “I’m telling you not with Massimo Cellino lips but I’m giving you the recipe to a job that covers you and doesn’t expose you to any risk with the Football League or anyone.

“If you can partner with me, I tell you I spend eight million (pounds) this year on new players. You want to finance that? You want to come 20 per cent in that? You got 20 per cent profit of the player.”

The Telegraph also quoted the 60-year-old as saying: “You’ve got something, a logic to become partners. Because you are financing the club with £12 m and you got 20 per cent of the sell-on of the players.”

Cellino goes on to say: “Is the only way, with me or someone else - other people like me or better. I’m not telling you I’m the only one. As a shareholder you can finance the club asking everything you want - percentage. You are allowed to do it in England.”

Cellino, however, stressed that he could not simply pay money earned from player sales to an outside company.

"You know that by the rules here, and everywhere now, it’s become every day more difficult," he said. "I cannot allow myself to make a mistake in England. I don’t want to be the one that breach the rules."

The FA’s rules strictly forbid any payment to third-party owners as part of transfer deals involving clubs in England.

Leeds tonight dismissed the Telegraph's report as a "non-story", insisting that Cellino had breached no regulations during the conversation.

A club statement read: "The club has reviewed the supposed 'evidence' that the Daily Telegraph have published tonight. At no time in this video clip has Mr Cellino suggested getting around the FA's rules on third-party ownership of players.

"In complete contrast to what has been suggested, Mr Cellino has made a perfectly proper suggestion which is entirely consistent with the FA's regulations, as the only parties entitled to take benefit from ownership of a player is the club itself.

"If a company commits money to a club by way of investment, taking on the potential for profit but also the risk for loss, then that is a normal, every-day corporate process.

"This is plainly not a suggestion as to how to circumvent the rules, but rather an accurate albeit concise explanation of how to operate within the confines of the rules and effectively become the club.

"The club intends to make no further comment on this non-story."

The newspaper’s wide-reaching investigation, however, has already cost Allardyce his job as England boss after he was was filmed discussing ways around third-party rules with undercover reporters posing as investors from the Far East.

Queens Park Rangers manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Barnsley assistant Tommy Wright, both former Leeds players, have also been caught up in a growing scandal. Wright, who is accused of accepting a £5,000 'bung', was suspended by Barnsley tonight, just three days before the Tykes are due to visit Elland Road for a Championship match.

The claims against Wright, none of which involve Leeds or Cellino, also make mention of Francesco Marroccu, a man who worked as sporting director for Cellino at Serie A club Cagliari and who was pictured with United’s owner at Elland Road earlier this month. Marroccu has also been present at United’s Thorp Arch training ground and is tipped to become Leeds’ sporting director.

Cellino has been a controversial figure throughout his two-and-a-half year reign as owner of United - temporarily banned from running the club by the Football League in 2014 following a conviction for tax in Italy - and he and Leeds are already at risk of punishment in the McCormack case.

United are understood to have pleaded guilty to a breach of agent regulations over a payment of £185,000 which the club allegedly agreed to pay to unlicensed businessman Barry Hughes through McCormack’s licensed agent, Derek Day. McCormack is not accused of any wrongdoing as part of that £10.75m transfer.

Cellino was charged with a separate breach of FA rules but he denied the offence and contested it at a two-day hearing at Wembley earlier this month. A disciplinary panel are expected to rule on the case shortly.

Leeds, meanwhile, were also investigated by the FA in 2015 over suspicions that their loan signing of Brazilian playmaker Adryan the previous year breached rules on third-party ownership. As yet, no charges have been brought against the club.

In a joint statement issued to the Telegraph, the FA, the Football League and the Premier League said: “Any substantive allegations will be investigated with the full force of the rules at our disposal, which are wide-ranging and well-developed.

“In addition, should we find any evidence of criminality we would inform and seek the support of the appropriate statutory authorities.”