Leeds United: League set to probe closure of Thorp Arch

Ross McCormack and Matt Smith at Thorp Arch
Ross McCormack and Matt Smith at Thorp Arch
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Massimo Cellino will face questions from the Football League about the closure of Leeds United’s training ground next week as the governing body steps in to assess the impact on the club’s academy.

Football League officials are to travel to Leeds to discuss Cellino’s decision to shut Thorp Arch and examine whether the move is in breach of the newly-implemented Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).

EPPP is the youth development scheme initiated by the Premier League and applied to academies across the country.

United’s academy secured category two status – the second highest classification – towards the end of the recent Championship season and received £490,000 to spend on the production of junior players.

Leeds completed an audit prior to receiving category two status, meeting set criteria and outlining how the academy at Thorp Arch would be run in future.

The Football League is now investigating the effect that the summer closure of Thorp Arch could have on youth development and plans to check that United are still complying with EPPP.

Cellino announced that Thorp Arch would shut for the close-season last week, relocating several staff to Elland Road and effectively mothballing the facility near Wetherby.

Thorp Arch will open sporadically to allowed United’s youth teams to fulfil scheduled fixtures but it will not open fully until Leeds’ senior squad return for pre-season training.

The move is part of heavy cost-cutting by Cellino, who bought Leeds last month and is attempting to reduce monthly losses in excess of £1m. Lawyers from Mishcon de Reya in London were called into Elland Road on Tuesday to begin a round of redundancies.

A spokesman for the Football League confirmed that the organisation had arranged to meet with Leeds but denied that it was mounting a formal “investigation”.

He said the League was attempting to establish “what implications it (the closure of Thorp Arch) might have on the youth development programme.”

Cellino fought a bitter battle with the Football League during his fraught and protracted attempt to buy Leeds from previous owner Gulf Finance House.

The Italian was initially disqualified from taking over the club after the League ruled that a conviction for tax evasion in Sardinia broke its rules governing Owners and Directors.

But Cellino overturned the disqualification on appeal and formally bought United on April 7. An independent QC, Tim Kerr, ruled that Cellino’s conviction could not be classed as dishonest and therefore complied with League regulations.

The governing body could look to revisit that case when the judge responsible for ruling Cellino’s tax evasion case, Dr Sandra Lepore, releases a full written verdict. Her conclusion is due to be published by the middle of next month.

Cellino, meanwhile, is facing other court cases in Italy, including allegations that he failed to pay import duty on a Range Rover.

That matter was due to be heard in court next Thursday.

The 57-year-old, however, is already heavily committed to Leeds having paid off a series of bills and debts since acquiring his 75 per cent stake.

He announced a formal redundancy scheme at Elland Road on Wednesday and is currently fighting a winding-up petition served on the club by Sport Capital, a company which has links to former United managing director David Haigh and is owed more than £950,000.

United’s main bank account – understood to be managed by Barclays – has been frozen as a result of the petition and a payment due to Leeds’ casual staff was missed on Wednesday.

Cellino plans to contest Sport Capital’s petition and a judge in London will rule on the dispute on June 9.

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