Leeds United: Cellino may turn down Elland Road invitation

Massimo Cellino
Massimo Cellino
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President Massimo Cellino retakes control of Leeds United on Monday morning claiming he has more problems to contend with than when he ‘went away’ three months ago. Phil Hay reports.

The Football League has granted Massimo Cellino permission to attend Saturday’s game against Rotherham United – but Leeds United’s disqualified owner is yet to decide if he will turn up.

The governing body confirmed today that it had authorised a request from Leeds for Cellino to be present at the last match of the Championship season, 24 hours before the end of his ownership ban.

Cellino was barred from running Leeds or exerting control over the club’s day-to-day affairs in January but his suspension expires this weekend, allowing him to retake control at Elland Road on Monday morning.

The 58-year-old told the YEP that he would be back at Leeds next week but admitted he was in two minds about whether to attend the Rotherham game or the club’s annual awards ceremony on Saturday night.

The Football League said Cellino would be permitted to be present at both events “on the basis that he is attending as a spectator only.”

The League’s regulations have banned the Italian from attending United’s first-team fixtures without specific permission throughout his disqualification.

Cellino has been officially absent from Elland Road since resigning his position as president on January 23, a week after losing an appeal against the League’s attempt to bar him.

He was found to be breach of the League’s Owners and Directors Test following his conviction for tax evasion in Italy. League rules forbid him from acting as a “relevant person” at Leeds.

Cellino is still attempting to overturn his disqualification via the Football Association’s arbitration process but he is into the final week of his penalty and the League have not opposed a request from United chairman Andrew Umbers for Cellino to watch Saturday’s fixture.

A spokesman for the Football League said: “It’s on the basis that he’s attending as a spectator only (and) not fulfilling any role that would lead to him being defined as a relevant person under League regulations.

“We’ve also confirmed he can attend the club’s end-of-season awards dinner.”

Speaking a week ago, Umbers said: “We’ve really tried to abide by everything that the Football League have told us to abide by – all their rules, all their regulations, all their unwritten rules. I think we’ve done it successfully.

“It’s the last game, I’ve asked the Football League whether he can come back.”

Umbers was appointed chairman on the day of Cellino’s resignation from the Elland Road board and the 50-year-old financier has been in charge of the day-to-day running of Leeds for the past three months.

Cellino spent much of that period abroad in Miami but he has returned to England at a time of much confusion and unrest at United.

Neil Redfearn, the club’s head coach, is one game away from the end of his contract and has still to be offered an extension, despite apparent support for him among the club’s fans. Redfearn lost his assistant, Steve Thompson, earlier this month when Thompson was unexpectedly suspended for reasons which have not been publicly explained.

The controversial withdrawal of six players through injury before a recent defeat at Charlton Athletic, meanwhile, sparked vociferous protests against Cellino from an away crowd of 3,000 at The Valley, including chants of “time to go Massimo” and “sell the club and f*** off home.” More muted dissent was heard during last weekend’s 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday and protests are likely during the Rotherham game.

Asked if he would attend Saturday’s match, Cellino said: “I don’t know. I haven’t decided.

“The Football League say I’m allowed to go but I don’t know what I’ll do. I need a clear head and I need to start again with everything next week. I’m not decided.”

Cellino said he was aware of anger towards him from United’s supporters after a turbulent first year as owner. “I know what’s been said, I know the fans say things, but supporters do this,” he said. “They come to the games, they watch the football, they say what they want to say.

“But no-one should use the fans as a weapon. I wouldn’t use them as a weapon.”

Cellino declined to comment on Redfearn’s future or other specific matters, saying he would “speak about it all when I’m back next week” but he said suggestions that Leeds were interested in appointing Burton manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as their new head coach were “just more talk. Forget it.”

The former Cagliari owner, however, said he was worried about the current situation at Leeds and claimed he was returning to “more problems than I had when I went away three months ago.”

“What you read and what you hear, it’s not good,” Cellino said. “I think it’s worse than before but I’ll only find out when I’m back in the club. There is a lot to do, I know that.

“What I’m happy about is that we’re still in the Championship. There was a time when we were in big trouble.”

The terms of Redfearn’s short-term deal state that Leeds must make a decision on his future before the end of this season but that deadline will pass without a resolution. Redfearn said last week that he expected to sit down for discussions with Cellino after the Italian’s disqualification formally ends on Sunday.

Redfearn’s contract also gives him the option of returning to his previous job as academy boss this summer but he cast doubt over his willingness to take up that position again after six months in charge of the first team

“I’ve got to have that conversation with the owner,” Redfearn said after Saturday’s win at Hillsborough. “With where the club is and with the talent we’ve got coming through the academy, I’d say I’m in the best place (as head coach) to develop that and harness that.

“Now if that opinion’s not shared, that’s no problem. That’s football. But then I’ll have to have a real, long hard think about what’s right for me.”