Phil Hay looks back on a day of drama at Leeds United and attempts to answer some of your questions.
Why has Massimo Cellino has been banned again?
For the same reasons as his previous suspension. On June 23, Cellino was found guilty by a court in Sardinia of failing to pay VAT on a Range Rover he imported from the USA to Italy. He was fined 40,000 Euros and the car was seized by the authorities. After taking legal advice and studying the written judgement from the court, the Football League ruled that the offence constituted a ‘dishonest act’ and breached its Owners and Directors Test. Cellino has been disqualified as a result.
What does the ban mean in practice?
In practice, Cellino should have no influence on the day-to-day running of Leeds United for the duration of his ban. How strictly the Football League can police his involvement is another question altogether. There were suspicions during Cellino’s suspension last season that he was nowhere near as far away from the coal face as he was supposed to be - albeit without being present at Elland Road. But it has to be said that the League did not take issue with the way his ban was served.
When does the ban run to?
Cellino was convicted of tax evasion on June 23, 2015. Under English law, any conviction resulting in a financial penalty is considered spent after 12 months under recent changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Football League disqualifications can only apply to unspent convictions so Cellino will be free to return to Elland Road on June 23, 2016 - which is eight months away.
Can he appeal?
Yes. Cellino has until October 28 to notify the Football League of his intention to appeal and he intends to do so. That would delay the start of his ban until his appeal is ruled upon, potentially extending his suspension a few weeks beyond June 23, 2016. Last season, Cellino’s ban was announced on December 1. He appealed and the outcome of that appeal, unsuccessful in the end, was not revealed until January 19 (although the Christmas period caused a longer delay). Cellino eventually resigned as club president on January 23, almost two months after his disqualification was first imposed. So his departure on this occasion might not happen quickly - and won’t happen at all if he wins an appeal.
On what grounds will Cellino appeal?
It’s slightly difficult to say. This offence is similar to the case of the yacht ‘Nelie’ which earned Cellino his first ban last season. Both involved tax evasion on vehicles imported from the USA to Italy. But there are differences. The unpaid VAT in the Nelie case was significantly more than the sum owed on the Range Rover. And where the Range Rover is concerned, the court in Cagliari cleared Cellino of further customs offences because the money fell below Italy’s criminal threshold. It should be said, however, that the Football League studied the full written judgement before banning Cellino. He actually supplied the governing body with all the paperwork himself. It’s fair to say that he did not expect this punishment.
Does he have any other options?
Cellino does have the right to ask the Football Association to arbitrate in this dispute under FA Rule K. As it happens, he began that process after his previous disqualification last season but suspended it in July. It’s not clear why that decision was taken. But with his tenure as owner under threat once more, he could seek the help of the FA again. Essentially, Cellino wants the Association to rule that convictions in Italy are not classed as convictions until they have passed through every stage of appeal - which none of his offences have as yet. That argument has failed him previously.
So who would take responsibility for managing Leeds United in his absence?
Adam Pearson would have been tailor-made to run Leeds United but he quit as executive director last month. During Cellino’s suspension last season, former chairman Andrew Umbers and former chief operating officer Matt Child held the fort but Child (present as a spectator at Leeds’ recent defeat to Birmingham City) has long since resigned that post. Umbers is still listed as a United director but has not been seen at Elland Road for months and his time as chairman last season did not win him many admirers. The current board members include Cellino’s sons, Ercole and Eduardo, his American financial advisor Daniel Arty and Giampaolo Caboni, a representative of Eleonora Sport Limited who arrived in the aftermath of Cellino’s first ban. There is little or no football experience there. And you can discount any possibility of Cellino handing control to GFH reps Salem Patel and Jinesh Patel. The administrator with the most football knowledge at Elland Road might well be club secretary Stuart Hayton.