Massimo Cellino has denied claims that he is ready to sell his majority stake in Leeds United amid growing expectation of a takeover bid by Formula One giants Red Bull.
Cellino said rumours of his impending exit from Elland Road were “disrespectful” and “100 per cent not true”, despite confirming that meetings have taken place with Red Bull representatives.
The soft drinks firm, which already controls three other football clubs, approached Leeds for talks earlier in the season, and the YEP has been told that the most recent discussions between the two sides took place at Elland Road last Thursday.
Red Bull is understood to be seeking full control of Leeds – a buy-out which the company thinks would cost it around £55m – but Cellino holds a 75 per cent share in the Championship side and insisted last night that he was not prepared to sell.
“I’m not selling Leeds United,” Cellino said. “These stories are 100 per cent not true.
“I don’t know where they came from but they’re disrespectful to me and the supporters. They’re disrespectful to the work I’m doing here. It just causes trouble.
“We talked with an agent who said he was working for Red Bull but I’d never met him before and I don’t know what Red Bull want to do. I’m not selling the club.
“When I owned Cagliari, I decided to sell and I told everyone that I was selling. If it was the same here, I’d say. But I didn’t come to Leeds and use my money to leave after six months. You must be joking.”
Cellino claims to have spent more than £35m since agreeing to buy a 75 per cent stake in Leeds from Gulf Finance House (GFH) at the start of April. The 58-year-old took on debts of almost £25m, though he and GFH later renegotiated their deal and agreed to waive around half of that sum.
Shortly after his takeover, Cellino promised to buy-back United’s Elland Road stadium – a ground the club have leased since 2004 – before the rent and the cost of repurchasing increased this month but he is unlikely to meet that target after failing to secure a mortgage to cover part of the £16m fee.
Sources close to the Italian say he would be open to the option of selling a minority shareholding in return for a substantial cash injection but would not consider offers for full control.
Red Bull, which is yet to table a proposal and is still considering whether to test Cellino with a formal bid, is unlikely to be interested in a partnership with the former Cagliari president or a deal which denies it complete control. Red Bull was reported over the weekend to be looking for sponsorship agreements with Leeds but a source told the YEP: “That’s not true. Red Bull wants the club.”
The YEP approached Red Bull for comment but the company has not responded.