Massimo Cellino was clinging to control of Leeds United last night after being hit with another Football League ownership ban – just minutes after confirming Steve Evans as the club’s new head coach.
Cellino looks set to be forced out of Elland Road for a second time later this month following a day of dramatic developments at Leeds.
The turmoil began with Cellino sacking former head coach Uwe Rosler, clearing the way for Evans to take charge as United’s new first team boss, but Leeds were threatened with more serious disarray by a ruling disqualifying Cellino from running the club until June of next year.
The Football League has punished Cellino after the 59-year-old – previously banned by the governing body last season – was found guilty of tax evasion by a court in Cagliari in June.
Cellino was convicted of failing to pay 40,000 Euros of VAT owed on a Range Rover he imported to Italy from the USA.
A Football League statement said it had “considered detailed legal advice and the court’s reasoned judgment” before finding him in breach of its Owners and Directors Test.
Cellino has until October 28 to an appeal to an independent panel and he indicated to the YEP last night that he would fight the punishment.
“We are doing everything that needs to be done,” Cellino said. “I’m tired but if I give up now I believe the club will hurt badly.”
The former Cagliari owner, who bought control of Leeds in April 2014, holds a majority stake in the club through his UK firm, Eleonora Sport Limited.
He has already completed one Football League ban, relinquishing day-to-day management of Leeds for three-and-a-half months earlier this year after being found guilty in a different Italian tax case relating to a private yacht. That suspension ran from January until May.
Barring a successful appeal, his latest ban will remain in place until his new conviction is classed as spent under English law on June 23, 2016, 12 months after the court in Cagliari found against him. Cellino, who saw executive director Adam Pearson resign unexpectedly last month, has not commented on who would run United in his absence but he is likely to come under renewed pressure to listen to takeover offers and sell his shares in the wake of yesterday’s announcement.
The League’s statement read: “The (Football League) board determined that the decision of the Italian court constitutes a disqualifying condition under the Owners and Directors Test.
“Mr Cellino has until October 28 to appeal against the board’s decision. Any such appeal would be heard by an independent panel.”
Cellino has been embroiled in a concerted battle with the Football League ever since he emerged as a prospective buyer of the club in January 2014.
The League attempted to bar his takeover on the grounds of his conviction for tax evasion in the case of the yacht ‘Nelie’ in March 2014 but was overruled on appeal the following month.
Cellino, however, was eventually disqualified for that offence - classed as “dishonest” and in breach of League rules - in January after the League secured the written court judgement from Cagliari’s Court of Appeal.
His suspension was extended from the middle of April to the end of last season as additional punishment for his failure to disclose documents relating to the ‘Nelie’ case.
Cellino is understood to have supplied the League with the necessary paperwork from his most recent conviction in June, prompting the League’s board to ban him again.
He continues to face future threats to his ownership with three other legal cases involving him currently ongoing in Italy.
The dramatic intervention by the Football League rounded off another day of chaos which started with Rosler’s departure after 12 games as head coach.
Rosler was fired following Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton and ex-Rotherham United manager Evans has replaced him on an initial contract to the end of the season.
Evans took training at Thorp Arch yesterday morning after holding talks with Cellino over the weekend. Confirmation of his appointment was posted by Leeds on Twitter exactly two minutes after Cellino’s ban was revealed.
Fifty-two-year-old Evans has taken on the job with United 18th in the Championship and three points above the relegation places.
Leeds will unveil him at a press conference at Elland Road this afternoon and his squad are due to face Fulham at Craven Cottage tomorrow.