Massimo Cellino has told Leeds United’s board that he will comply with a Football League directive ordering him to quit as a director within 28 days to prevent the club from incurring sanctions during his appeal against disqualification.
United’s Italian owner is preparing to challenge a Football League ruling which banned him from running the club until March of next year and plans to submit an appeal in the coming days but he admitted last night that he would relinquish his seat on the board in the meantime amid the risk of further punishment.
Cellino was disqualified by the League on December 1 after the governing body announced that he was in breach of its Owners and Directors Test due to a tax conviction imposed on him by an Italian court in March.
The ban runs to March 18, 2015 – the date on which his conviction is spent under UK law - but the 58-year-old will fight the ruling, arguing that Italy’s judicial system considers him innocent until his tax case passes through two stages of appeal.
Cellino was given 14 days to submit a formal challenge to his Football League ban but the organisation also ordered him to resign as a United director within 28 days – two weeks on Monday – regardless of whether an appeal was pending.
Cellino’s representatives are believed to have asked the League for delay his disqualification until the matter is settled but Cellino said he had informed United’s other directors of his intention to quit during a board meeting at Elland Road on Tuesday.
Failure to comply with the League’s instructions could lead to a range of penalties against Cellino and the club.
Cellino said: “I’m prepared to resign if it’s what I have to do. I said to the other directors that I don’t want to bring any problems on the club so if I have to resign in 28 days and then wait to finish my appeal, I will.
“I’m fighting this and we think we will win so after the appeal I will be back. But I don’t want to give the League a reason to punish the club. So if I have to go then I’ll go.”
In its announcement banning Cellino, the League said it would attempt to ensure that his appeal was heard inside the 28-day window but receipt of his challenge on Monday would leave just a fortnight for the Professional Conduct Committee to rule on his disqualification.
Cellino is United’s president and the main representative of Eleonora Sport Limited, the company which bought Leeds from Gulf Finance House in April. It is not clear who responsibility for day-to-day operations at Elland Road would pass to in his absence.
Tuesday’s board meeting was attended by GFH representatives Jinesh Patel and Salem Patel - both of whom are directors of Leeds - following the recent agreement reached between the bank and Cellino.
The board was due to ratify a £23.5m cash injection and a restructuring of United’s debt on Tuesday but neither GFH nor Cellino has confirmed whether the deal was signed off as planned.
It is understood that the investment could be suspended until the outcome of Cellino’s appeal is known.