MASSIMO CELLINO last night vowed to fight his latest ban from the Football League as it emerged further on-going court cases in Italy could lead to the Leeds United owner’s suspension being extended until at least 2017.
The Italian has been hit with a disqualification – his second since taking charge at Elland Road – after being found guilty of failing to pay tax on a Range Rover he imported from the United States to Italy.
Cellino, who was informed of the punishment by the League last Wednesday and has until October 28 to lodge an appeal, was fined €40,000 by a court in Sardinia last June and the vehicle confiscated.
His ban will run until the conviction is considered spent, which will be June 23, 2016.
It is understood that the 59-year-old plans to appeal. “We are doing everything that needs to be done,” he said last night. “I am tired but if I give up now, I believe the club will hurt badly.”
Despite the defiance, Cellino having three further court cases outstanding means yesterday’s ban, if upheld, may not be the end of his problems.
One concerns a tax dispute involving transfers made by Cagliari when the Leeds owner was in charge. Another has echoes of the case that led to last year’s ban with the Italian accused of importing a second yacht, Lucky 23, without paying tax. The two cases, which were heard in court last Friday, are due to resume in December and January respectively.
Finally, he is one of 11 people accused of various offences including embezzlement and forgery relating to the construction of the IS Arenas, a temporary stadium used by Cagliari during his tenure. Cellino denies any wrongdoing.
Under League rules, any conviction involving an owner is treated as a brand new case and, therefore, open to fresh punishment. This leaves the door open to future bans, something that would surely put Cellino’s future as majority shareholder at Leeds in grave doubt.
For now, Cellino is determined to fight the latest ban. If he loses, however, it is unclear who would take charge in the Italian’s absence with Adam Pearson having left the club last month. Director Andrew Umbers, who was at the helm during last season’s ban, has not been seen at the club lately.
News of Cellino’s latest ban was made public yesterday just two minutes after United confirmed the appointment of Steve Evans as Uwe Rosler’s successor until the end of the season.
Uwe Rosler had been informed of his sacking on Sunday night – a day after United had set an unwanted club record of 11 winless home games.
Evans, who left Rotherham United on September 28, has been joined at the club by assistant Paul Raynor and the pair oversaw training yesterday morning.
Explaining the thinking behind the 52-year-old Scot becoming the sixth manager of his often chaotic 18-month reign at Leeds, Cellino said: “Uwe was a gentleman.
“Maybe he was the right coach with the wrong team or something like that, I don’t know. But I was going to games with fear and worry because I didn’t like what I saw in the future.
“You have to trust what you are doing and with Uwe I didn’t any more. I wasn’t going to look to the sky for miracles. I had to help myself and help the club.
“Steve Evans, he has aggression and he will make this team fight. If you don’t fight, you don’t expect to win anything. We didn’t try enough.
“When we played Rotherham (while Evans was manager), they would fight us for everything. He doesn’t care about contracts or anything. He just wanted the opportunity to coach this club.”
Evans, meanwhile, is urging supporters to give him a chance ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Fulham.
“All I can ask the Leeds United supporters to do is to give me the benefit of the doubt,” said Evans, who will be unveiled to the media at Elland Road this lunchtime. “I was awake at 4am (yesterday), waiting to drive to Thorp Arch.
“Nerves, excitement, (a bit like) Christmas Eve. I don’t think there will be many managers outside the Premier League that would get a call at the weekend to say, ‘Would you like to be manager at Leeds United?’ that wouldn’t pinch themselves when they wake up.
“What an opportunity I have been given. I just need to grab it.”
On whether United supporters will get behind the Scot, Evans added: “A lot of people said about me, ‘Don’t give him the opportunity at Rotherham’. But I will go down in the record books at Rotherham for the right reasons.
“And I would rather not be a statistic at Leeds United, and (want to) go down in the record books here for the right reasons.
“Perhaps I wouldn’t be the chosen manager for many Leeds United fans. I can understand why they may think that, but the only thing that matters to me is what happens on the grass.
“As I proved at Rotherham and as I proved at Crawley, if I win football matches then people will embrace me. Give me a chance and I will get a team on the pitch that can win matches for what is a famous club world-wide.”