Leeds United: GFH refuse to pay until appeal held

Massimo Cellino
Massimo Cellino
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Leeds United and owner Gulf Finance House will wait for the outcome of Massimo Cellino’s takeover appeal before completing payment of wages for March after hatching a deal to defer half of the money owed to the club’s first-team squad.

United’s players and coaching staff, including manager Brian McDermott and assistant Nigel Gibbs, agreed to accept 50 per cent of the wages owed to them this month after Leeds failed to pay them on time yesterday morning.

The delay, which did not affect non-playing staff at Elland Road, came as GFH and Cellino – the Italian businessman whose proposed buy-out of Leeds hinges on an appeal against the Football League – failed to resolve a bitter argument over which of them should pay the salary bill for March.

Cellino’s 75 per cent takeover was rejected by the Football League on Monday, with its eight-man board ruling that his recent conviction for tax evasion in Italy breached the governing body’s Owners and Directors Test, but the 57-year-old has appealed and his challenge could be heard by an independent QC as early as Monday or Tuesday.

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) was involved in easing the dispute over wages during a meeting at Thorp Arch yesterday, with United’s squad and backroom team agreeing to accept an immediate payment of half of their wages.

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said the rest would be paid “subject to how the appeals process goes.”

Taylor told the YEP: “The players are realistic and we’re optimistic that the issue can be resolved.

“It’s quite political at Leeds regarding the ownership but we’ve been in touch with our members and a solution’s being found. Everyone is satisfied with the way we’re going forward.

“Whilst we’re never happy to see these problems, we’re hopeful of seeing the situation resolved.”

Taylor said he believed the money paid to the players yesterday was “coming from the prospective owner (Cellino)” but said: “To be perfectly honest, I can’t say at this stage who will pay the whole balance.”

However, the YEP has been told that the wages for general staff at Leeds - all of whom were paid in full yesterday morning - and the 50 per cent paid to the players and coaches came from money left in United’s accounts.

A source said neither GFH nor Cellino had put fresh funds into the club in the past 48 hours, and the cash available to Leeds left them unable to meet more than half of the players’ wage bill.

Taylor played down the possibility of the PFA using its benevolent fund to temporarily loan Leeds money, saying: “It’s there to help players in times of hardship and it’s a last resort.

“I don’t think we’re at that stage yet but it’s a recourse that’s available to us.”

The League Managers Association (LMA), which assisted McDermott after his attempted sacking by Cellino in January, was approached for comment but have not responded.

GFH has said nothing about yesterday’s debacle but the stand-off between the Bahraini bank and Cellino has increased fears that United are on the verge of financial collapse.

Urgent talks involving lawyers representing Cellino and GFH chief executive Hisham Alrayes were arranged by United managing director David Haigh in London on Wednesday and continued throughout Thursday without securing a resolution.

GFH believes that the deal it agreed with Cellino for a £25m sale for Leeds included a provision that the Italian’s company, Eleonora Sport Limited, would meet the club’s operating costs for a six-month period from the end of January.

Cellino met that obligation for two months running but has grown increasingly reluctant to hand over more cash with his takeover under threat.

The Football League disqualified him from becoming owner of Leeds on Monday after a court in Sardinia found Cellino guilty of failing to pay around £300,000 of import duty on a yacht he bought in 2010.

Meanwhile Together Leeds consortium leader Mike Farnan says his group are still keen on buying the Whites.

Farnan said: “We are a very sound group. We are a very experienced group. We have the interests of the football club at heart. We do not want to the see the club going into administration.

“If Massimo Cellino fails with the appeal, we want to be the alternative choice to take this football club forwards.

“We believe we have the ability, the money, the will and the strategy to take the club from the starting line next year, equal terms to everybody else in the Championship, to give us a good shot at Premier League.”

Pontus Jansson.

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