Leeds United co-owner Massimo Cellino will be banned from football until February of next year after seeing his Football Association suspension cut to 12 months on appeal.
An 18-month ban imposed on Cellino has been reduced after an appeal board reviewed claims that the he sanctioned an illegal payment during the sale of striker Ross McCormack from Leeds to Fulham in 2014.
The Italian’s suspension, which bars him from involvement in “all football and football related activity”, will begin on February 18, two weeks tomorrow.
Confirmation of the ban will force Cellino to resign from Leeds’ board of directors, the second time he has been banned from running the club in less than three years as a shareholder at United.
His first suspension, imposed by the Football League over an Italian tax conviction in 2015, ran for four months but the latest penalty will prevent Cellino from influencing affairs at Elland Road until the latter stages of next season.
A separate fine of £250,000 imposed on Cellino has been cut to £100,000 on appeal. Leeds, who pleaded guilty to breaching FA agent regulations during the McCormack transfer, have had a £250,000 fine reduced to £200,000.
In a statement, Leeds said they were “disappointed” by the outcome of Monday’s appeal hearing in London and “considering all options with (our) legal team.”
Cellino, meanwhile, hit out at the FA’s handling of the case and said he would appeal again via the governing body’s rule K arbitration process. He also hinted that High Court proceedings would be launched if a second challenge failed.
“Mr Cellino will take the matter further and will appeal this matter under rule K of the FA’s arbitration regulations,” his statement read. “Mr Cellino expected that the appeal would be successful but he is of the view that he will not receive true justice and a fair outcome until this matter ultimately reaches a High Court and a truly independent process and hearing.
“It is important to note that no other club official, director, chairman or owner have ever been joined in as a party to any other alleged FA agents regulations breaches. Also, no fines have ever been issued over and above £100,000.
“The original decision and now the appeal decision are so excessive and disproportionate that Mr Cellino feels, like he always has, duty bound to continue the fight against such injustice for the good of the club and its supporters.”
Cellino criticised what he called “consistent and numerous leaks of information connected to this matter to the media” and claimed the charges brought against him by the FA were related to his on-going attempt to challenge the Football League’s broadcast contract with Sky Sports.
United’s statement said: “Although the appeal has been successful, the club remains disappointed by the outcome and the size of the fine that remains.
“The club are also incredibly disappointed by the fine and ban imposed upon Mr Cellino, despite reductions following the appeal. Mr Cellino is responsible for significantly reducing the club’s debt and wage bill as well as the appointment of (head coach) Garry Monk. Mr Cellino has been the integral leader of the club’s re-emergence this season.”
A statement from the FA confirmed: “Massimo Cellino’s 18-month suspension for breaching the FA’s football agent Regulations has been reduced to 12 months following a successful appeal. The Leeds United owner also had his £250,000 fine reduced to £100,000.
“Cellino also appealed against the original decision of the independent regulatory commission to find the case proven. This part of his appeal was dismissed.
“A £250,000 fine issued to the club has also been reduced to £200,000 after an appeal board hearing.
“With effect from February 18, 2017, Cellino is suspended from all football and football related activity.”
When the original guilty verdict was announced by the FA in December, Cellino was ordered to attend an “FA education programme covering the duties and responsibilities of an owner and director of an English football club.”
The case against Cellino and Leeds centred on a payment of £185,000 which the club agreed to make to an unlicensed advisor of McCormack’s, Barry Hughes, in breach of FA rules which state that unlicensed third parties should not be paid during transfer deals.
Derek Day, the licensed agent who acted for McCormack in that deal, has also been banned from football for his role in the affair.
Cellino was majority shareholder of Leeds during his Football League suspension in 2015, at a time when the club’s squad were in a relegation fight, but the latest ban comes less than a month after he sold 50 per cent of United to co-owner Andrea Radrizzani and with Leeds in contention for promotion to the Premier League.
Radrizzani, who attended Wednesday’s league win over Blackburn Rovers without Cellino, said recently that plans were in place for the club to continue operating in Cellino’s absence should as appeal fail to overturn his ban.
Radrizzani’s investment deal included an option which could see him buy 100 per cent of Leeds at the end of the season, before Cellino’s suspension is served.