Cuts to Leeds United’s day-to-day operations deepened last night as owner Massimo Cellino launched a formal process of redundancies at Elland Road.
United’s staff were warned of imminent sackings during 5pm meetings at the club’s stadium yesterday, the latest move by Cellino to reduce heavy monthly losses.
Lawyers from Mishcon de Reya – the legal firm responsible for mounting Cellino’s successful appeal against an attempt by the Football League to stop him buying Leeds – spent much of the past 48 hours at Elland Road, reviewing the club’s finances and setting in motion a redundancy scheme.
There is no indication of the numbers of staff facing the sack but Cellino was reported last week to be planning for around 70 redundancies from a workforce of around 200. A source told the YEP that the figure of 70 “might not be excessive.”
Speaking on Monday, Cellino appeared to play down the possibility of sweeping job losses, saying: “I don’t sack staff who want to work with me and who do what they’re paid to do.”
The move to dismiss employees came as it emerged that Leeds have missed payment of wages owed to casual staff as a result of a winding-up petition served on the club by Sport Capital three weeks ago.
The YEP has been told that the petition – issued by Sport Capital on April 25 – led the club’s bank to freeze their main account, preventing payment of scheduled bills.
Sport Capital, a Guernsey-based company with strong links to former Leeds managing director David Haigh, is attempting to reclaim a £950,000 loan given to United in November of last year.
The firm requested repayment at the start of last month but United failed to meet the demand before a deadline of April 24.
The winding-up petition was served on the club the following day and publicly advertised last week, and a judge at the Royal Courts of Justice in London is due to rule on Sport Capital’s claim on June 9.
Sources close to United say Cellino intends to contest the petition at that hearing but the club face a problem paying bills before then with their bank
account frozen. Monthly wages for United’s playing squad are owed on May 30.
Cellino – the president of Italian Serie A club Cagliari – has been engaged in substantial cost-cutting since his takeover of Leeds was confirmed on April 7.
He met an overdue tax bill and completed payment of deferred wages to United’s players and coaching staff during his first week as owner, and last week saw him unexpectedly close the club’s Thorp Arch training ground, a temporary step designed to lower overheads.
Thorp Arch, which has never been shut during the summer before, is expected to open again when the club’s squad return for pre-season training at the start of July.
The position of manager Brian McDermott, meanwhile, grows increasingly bizarre after Cellino revealed that he had written a letter to United’s boss, asking him to outline his plans for the playing squad and pre-season - and to explain why he was currently away on holiday.
McDermott’s job has been the subject of constant speculation since a failed attempt by Cellino to sack him in January – before the Italian’s 75 per cent takeover went through – and the pair have had virtually no verbal contact since the final game of the Championship season.
McDermott, who travelled to the south of England last week, was unavailable for comment when contacted by the YEP but it is understood that he has responded to Cellino’s letter in writing.
With the 53-year-old absent from Elland Road, Cellino has finalised United’s retained list with the help of Benito Carbone, the former Bradford City striker who recently joined the staff at Leeds’ academy.
Cellino met with both Carbone and development-squad coach Neil Redfearn this week, with Redfearn asked to advise on the club’s junior professionals.
United have until Saturday to offer new deals to any of their out-of-contract players.