In the absence of the main man it’s not always clear where ultimate authority at Leeds United lies. Andrew Umbers, the club’s chairman, has it in name.
Giorgio Altieri, an Italian lawyer who works for Massimo Cellino, is said to have more in practice. And Cellino himself is in the background, banished from Leeds but not oblivious or out of touch.
In the absence of the main man it’s not always clear where ultimate authority at Leeds United lies. Andrew Umbers, the club’s chairman, has it in name. Giorgio Altieri, an Italian lawyer who works for Massimo Cellino, is said to have more in practice. And Cellino himself is in the background, banished from Leeds but not oblivious or out of touch.
No longer president or a club director, Cellino was prevented from attending Tuesday’s board meeting at Elland Road. He is still in Miami, playing golf and killing time. But even without Cellino in the room, the meeting was by all accounts a delicate and confrontational affair.
His rationale for naming Umbers as chairman – an unforeseen promotion for the man who facilitated the sale of Leeds by Ken Bates to Gulf Finance House in 2012 – was that the 50-year-old financier was most capable among Leeds’ directors of handling the Football League and keeping it sweet for the duration of Cellino’s ownership ban. Umbers and Shaun Harvey, the League’s chief executive, worked on the GFH takeover together.
Umbers persuaded the Italian of his suitability in the days leading up to Cellino’s disqualification and Cellino left him behind as the head of the club when he quit as president on January 23. Altieri, who is not a director but attended Tuesday’s meeting as an observer, was nonetheless given final sign-off on major matters. Cellino wanted Umbers to manage and placate the governing body as his first priority.
In the seven weeks since, Umbers has been active and prominent. His profile increased and so did his influence. It began to stretch into footballing matters – most obvious last week when he all but dismissed Neil Redfearn’s request for loan signings – and in the eyes of those working on Cellino’s behalf, it began to stretch too far.
He has spoken more than once with Dylan Thwaites, the head of a fans group working towards supporter investment at Elland Road. Thwaites was a guest of Umbers’ during United’s win over Ipswich Town. Cellino is said to be sceptical about the plans of Leeds Fans LLP, though not entirely dismissive. At Tuesday’s board meeting, Umbers was politely instructed to keep his head down and stick to the original brief; “wings clipped” to quote one source. Don’t be surprised if his profile shrinks again.
This story strongly suggests that Cellino has not let control of United slip. He is thousands of miles away from it all but fairly close to the action. At Cagliari and in his time at Leeds, Cellino has never delegated authority willingly. He and Umbers are understood to have fallen out last year – only to resolve their differences – over Umbers’ desire to play a more prominent role at Elland Road than that of a financial advisor. Umbers eventually joined the club’s board in December.
It suggests too that Cellino has not given up, or not yet. There was no discussion on Tuesday about the sale of Eleonora Sport’s 75 per cent stake in Leeds or the shares held by GFH (who took part in the meeting via phone from Bahrain, even though Daniel Arty, Cellino’s financial advisor in the US, flew in from America to attend) and no order to actively look for buyers. That said, there was no resolution either on the future of Redfearn, a matter which looks likely to remain unresolved until Cellino’s Football League ban ends on May 3.
Redfearn’s position as head coach is, from the point of view of public perception, as strong as it has ever been. The numbers are on his side. Leeds expect a crowd of around 30,000 at today’s game against Nottingham Forest, their largest attendance of the season at a time when their season is effectively over. Forest have a scarce chance of the play-offs. Leeds, realistically, have none.
The match is category B and Forest have sold their full allocation but the take-up of tickets caught United by surprise. They have not cleared 30,000 at home for 14 months and their average crowds are down by 1,500 season on season.
The feeling is that United’s supporters are voting with their feet. In the same way that numbers dwindle when results drop off, tomorrow’s crowd appears to be a vote of confidence after seven wins from 10 games. It’s a vote of confidence in the squad and the coaching staff, rather than the club, and it shows again what happens when football is prominent and those who know the game best hold sway. Tuesday’s board meeting carried the theme of knowing your place and knowing your role. It would not be a bad club motto.