Massimo Cellino delivered a defiant outburst in the wake of his Football League disqualification last night, saying his ban as owner of Leeds United “changes nothing” and claiming “someone else will sign the cheques for me.”
Cellino vowed to “abide by the rules” after failing with an appeal against a Football League ruling barring him from running Leeds until the second week of April but he said questions about his long-term future were “stupid”.
A Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) chaired by QC Tim Kerr enforced a 79-day ban of Cellino yesterday by ruling that his conviction for tax evasion in Italy last March was in breach of the Football League’s Owners and Directors’ Test. Cellino must resign from the board at Leeds by tomorrow and the PCC’s decision bars him from acting as a “relevant person” at Elland Road or influencing the club’s affairs in any way before his suspension ends on April 10.
The former Cagliari owner will meet with his legal team today to decide how power will be delegated in his absence but speaking to the YEP, Cellino said: “This changes nothing.
“I’ll abide by the rules, I’ll resign but then in April, finito, I’ll come back. I was signing the cheques before.
“Now someone else will sign them for me. The club has been looked after.
“The League say I must go but where do they want me to go? Miami or Cagliari? I’ll go where I like and I’m going nowhere. If I want to live in Leeds, I’ll live in Leeds. I’ll follow the rules but I’ll stay in Leeds.”
During Cellino’s appeal hearing last Thursday, another United board member - financier Andrew Umbers - told the PCC that Leeds would face a “real likelihood of insolvency” if the Italian’s ban was upheld.
Cellino, however, contradicted that comment, saying: “The club is healthy, it has wealth. It will pay its bills while I’m not here, that is no problem.”
Cellino’s existing conviction for tax evasion in Italy will be classed as spent under UK law by the time his ownership ban ends but he is facing further charges of a similar nature in Cagliari, charges which could lead to further Football League disqualifications.
The threat of repeated bans raised questions today about whether Cellino would look to retain the 75 per cent stake in United bought by his British firm, Eleonora Sport Limited, in April or seek to offload a club he has controlled for just nine months.
Despite the PCC’s judgement, the Football League has not instructed Cellino to give up his shareholding and the PCC did not rule on whether Cellino should be ordered to sell.
United are currently three places above the Championship’s relegation places ahead of tonight’s game against league leaders Bournemouth at Elland Road, and Cellino said: “Why talk about selling the club. It’s stupid. Can I sell this club in one week?
“If I try to sell and it takes six months then we’ll get relegated. I’m here and I’m thinking about the team. I think I’m going to get a reaction from them. They need to fight for me and the fans need to fight too. They need to show me how tough they are. We need to win games.”
Cellino, however, claimed three players - Souleymane Doukara, Casper Sloth and Tommaso Bianchi - had indicated their intention to quit Elland Road if his appeal failed and he insisted again that his ban was hindering attempts to sign new players.
“This disqualification kills us,” he said. “We have to persuade players to come and we have to persuade players not to leave us. A lot of the players want to leave.”
With his appeal over, Cellino and Leeds are still facing a misconduct charge for failing to supply the Football League with the court judgment from his tax case in Italy when it first became available in July.
The governing body was forced to wait until November for a copy of the written verdict and only secured it via a request to the court of appeal in Cagliari.
A date for the misconduct hearing, which will be handled by a Football Disciplinary Commission, is yet to be announced. Cellino could face an extended disqualification if he is found guilty.