Leeds United fans opposed to Massimo Cellino’s running of the club are set to stage a protest after the Italian businessman was caught up in the corruption scandal engulfing English football.
Video footage released by the Daily Telegraph appears to show Cellino explaining to representatives of a fictitious Far East firm that they can circumvent FA and FIFA rules on third-party ownership by becoming club shareholders in order to receive a portion of players’ sell-on fees.
United have dismissed questions raised by the footage – obtained as part of the same Telegraph investigation that led to the downfall of England manager Sam Allardyce – as a “non-story”.
But the Time To Go Massimo fans’ group has seized on the newspaper’s findings, urging Cellino to “end his association with Leeds immediately”.
The group has also asked disgruntled supporters to attend a protest that will be held at Elland Road’s Billy Bremner statue ahead of United’s home game against Barnsley tomorrow.
A spokesman for Time To Go Massimo said yesterday: “We absolutely abhor the notion of corruption and unethical practices in football, considering hardworking fans fund the industry week in, week out.”
Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, called for all the matters reported this week by the Telegraph to be scrutinised by the relevant authorities.
He said: “The investigations by the Daily Telegraph have shone some light on some dark and unacceptable behaviour and attitudes in the higher echelons of English football.
“Each and every one of these must be fully and properly investigated as collectively they give a very bad impression and damage trust in the game.”
He added: “What people in Leeds want to see is genuine investment in the club accompanied by good governance and these latest reports will certainly not increase confidence that this is the case.”
Damian Collins, a Conservative MP and the acting chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, said Cellino’s comments underlined the need for a tightening of the FA rules that forbid ownership of players by third parties such as a company or agent.
United issued a strongly-worded statement late on Wednesday night in response to the Telegraph’s allegations.
Leeds said the paper had turned down a pre-publication request from their solicitors to provide a full transcript of the Cellino meeting as well as any related video and audio footage.
In their statement, United said: “The club has reviewed the supposed “evidence” that the Daily Telegraph have published tonight.
“At no time in this video clip has Mr Cellino suggested getting around the FA’s rules on third-party ownership of players.
“In complete contrast to what has been suggested, Mr Cellino has made a perfectly proper suggestion which is entirely consistent with the FA’s regulations, as the only parties entitled to take benefit from ownership of a player is the club itself.
“If a company commits money to a club by way of investment, taking on the potential for profit but also the risk for loss, then that is a normal, everyday corporate process.
“This is plainly not a suggestion as to how to circumvent the rules, but rather, an accurate albeit concise explanation of how to operate within the confines of the rules and effectively become “the club”.
“The club intends to make no further comment on this non-story.”