Football Association charges allow a window of seven days to respond so Massimo Cellino, who has until the end of this week to admit or deny the latest accusations against him, will most likely have been notified of his disciplinary breach by the governing body last Friday.
The FA spent months investigating allegations of an illegal payment authorised by Leeds United during Ross McCormack’s transfer to Fulham in 2014 but the timing of its charges, less than 24 hours after the Football League announced that it would no longer ask Cellino to serve a 223-day ownership ban, was strangely convenient.
Cellino had been fighting his Football League ban through the League’s own appeals system and also via the FA’s arbitration process. Both of those battles were effectively rendered redundant last week when Italy’s Court of Appeal quashed Cellino’s most recent tax conviction, the offence used by the League to disqualify him under its Owners and Directors Test.
Cellino failed that test last October on the grounds that he had been found guilty of a ‘dishonest’ criminal offence but his acquittal prompted the League’s board to reverse its decision on Thursday, pending the arrival of court documents from Italy. Cellino has not served a day of his suspension and will now avoid it completely. The arrival of FA charges the following day begs the question of whether the closure of that case has opened the door to other disciplinary matters.
Cellino denies deliberately breaking FA rules with the deal which saw McCormack, Leeds’ club captain and top scorer at the time, join Fulham in a £10.75m deal in July 2014, but the governing body sees the offences by United, Cellino and McCormack’s licensed agent, Derek Day, as serious breaches of its regulations. Cellino and Day could face suspensions from football if found guilty. Leeds are more likely to receive a substantial fine. United and Cellino are accused of agreeing to pay Day a fee of £185,000, knowing that the agent, who runs Glasgow-based firm Shadow Brands, intended to pass the money to Scottish boxing promoter Barry Hughes, an advisor of McCormack’s.
Hughes is not licensed by the FA and the organisation’s rules on agents state that “a club must not directly or indirectly make any payments to any unauthorised agent in respect of any agency activity.” McCormack himself is not accused of wrongdoing.
Sources close to the case say the documents sanctioning the six-figure payment were personally signed by Cellino after McCormack’s sale to Fulham went through. Cellino said on Tuesday that he was “confused” about the allegations against him and implied that he would contest them. Day was asked to comment by the YEP but did not respond. However, last year he told Scotland’s Sunday Mail: “I had a contract with Leeds that was lodged with the FA for work that I carried out and was paid for accordingly. Shadow Brands has no connection with Barry Hughes and no money was paid to Barry Hughes. Any suggestion that they did is incorrect.”
Leeds and Day have both been charged with “breaching the FA’s football agent regulations”. A similar charge brought against Arsenal over the transfer of Calum Chambers from Southampton in 2014 led to a fine of £60,000 but the FA considers United’s offence to be more severe and is likely to look for a steeper financial punishment.
Cellino, meanwhile, is accused of “breaching FA rules”, a separate charge to that faced by Leeds and Day. The FA has not given any reason for the distinction or explained which specific part of its rules the Italian has broken, but having successfully avoided a suspension by one governing body last week, Cellino is now at risk of being banned by another.
Additional disciplinary action remains a possibility with the FA continuing to decide whether Leeds contravened rules on third-party ownership with their loan signing of Adryan from Flamengo in 2014. The FA has been looking at that case for the same length of time as it investigated McCormack’s transfer and its officials interviewed the Brazilian midfielder on April 30, 2015, shortly before the end of his time at Elland Road.
His loan from Flamengo was agreed with a view to a permanent deal, but Adryan’s limited impact in the Championship dissuaded United from taking up an option to sign him full time. The alleged breach of third-party rules is understood to relate to that part of the deal.
In an email sent by former United secretary Alison Royston to chairman Andrew Umbers in April 2015, a copy of which has been seen by the YEP, Royston described the issue as “potentially very serious” and said the FA had “very strong evidence to suggest that Mr Cellino/the club was aware of the third-party investment and by not declaring this to the FA at the time of signing Adryan the club breached the regulations.”
Cellino subsequently denied any wrongdoing, telling the YEP: “We did nothing wrong. We dealt with Flamengo and they are his club. We never paid any money to anyone else.”