Leeds United have performed an astonishing u-turn by announcing that Brian McDermott had not been sacked and remained their first-team manager.
McDermott was on Friday told by a lawyer working on the instruction of Leeds’ prospective owner Massimo Cellino that he had been dismissed following a series of bizarre off-the-field incidents.
The 52-year-old was consequently absent from Saturday’s 5-1 win over Huddersfield which was watched by Gianluca Festa, the man it appeared Cellino had lined up to replace McDermott.
But to add more confusion it emerged McDermott had been invited to the game and declined, before the League Managers Association said on Saturday afternoon that McDermott had been sacked by someone who had no authority to do so. Leeds duly responded by saying the ex-Reading man remained in charge.
“The club would like to make it clear that Brian McDermott remains our first team manager,” a statement on the club website read.
“He has not been dismissed from his post as has been suggested and we look forward to him continuing in his role with us in taking Leeds United forwards.” The statement caught everyone by surprise but should not have done after a farcical 24 hours at Elland Road.
Earlier, the LMA said it was waiting for clarification, with the 75 per cent takeover of Cagliari owner Cellino still subject to Football League approval.
An LMA statement said: “Brian received a call last night from a solicitor informing him that Leeds United were terminating his contract as manager.
“This morning Brian received a further phone call from a director of the football club stating the company on whose behalf the solicitor had contacted Brian are not the owners of Leeds United.
“In the circumstances, Brian was asked by the directors of the club not to take the match today and we are awaiting clarification of the situation over the weekend.”
Nigel Gibbs, McDermott’s long-standing number two, answered the call to lead the team against Huddersfield in his place before facing the media afterwards.
“It’s a difficult period for us all and I’m sorry that it’s not Brian standing here as this is his team,” Gibbs said.
“I just spoke to Brian, he’s delighted with the result and the players. I’m aware of the statement but I haven’t had a chance to read it.”
It had looked as though Festa, a lifelong friend of Cellino, would be a controversial figure in the dugout after Leeds confirmed the Italian takeover was close.
Current owners Gulf Finance House Capital (GFH Capital) confirmed the news in a statement ahead of the Huddersfield game, although Cellino had already made his presence felt before then by attempting to remove McDermott on Friday night.
McDermott had refused to allow Festa to sit with him in the dugout during the midweek draw with Ipswich, and also refused to take a number of Italian players given to him by Cellino.
The mayhem continued as two of the club’s main sponsors, Enterprise Insurance and Flamingo Land, said they would be withdrawing their backing.
And police were called to Elland Road on Friday as fans did their best to barricade Cellino inside the ground after some late- night talks. Those protests continued outside the ground ahead of kick-off.
None of that has stopped GFH Capital from choosing Cellino’s bid over one from rival consortium Together Leeds, though.
A statement read: “Following recent media reports and speculation, GFH Capital would like to confirm that it has agreed to sell a 75 per cent stake in the club to Eleonora Sport Ltd, a company owned by the Cellino family who have many years’ experience in football and who plan to invest substantially in the club including the re-acquisition of Elland Road.
“Eleonora will be working on completing the required Football League approval.
“The Cellino family is a well known Italian sports family, who have owned Serie A side Cagliari since 1992. They come to English football with an ambition to support Leeds United financially to take it to the Premier League and a belief that the club can sustain top-flight status.
“Since the agreement, Leeds United is in discussion with Eleonora Sport Ltd on a number of issues concerning club matters, including the structure of the management of the first team.”
Cellino became the number one bidder when on Thursday, a consortium of club managing director David Haigh and Enterprise Insurance boss Andrew Flowers collapsed after two months of exclusivity to buy the club under the guise of Sport Capital.
Cellino could still face opposition from the Football League - he has a previous conviction for fraud - while a consortium headed up by former Manchester United director Mike Farnan says it is refusing to go away despite the statement.
The Italian influence at Elland Road continues to grow despite that, though, with Cagliari confirming that Leeds had signed midfielder Andrea Tabanelli on loan from them, with Leeds later adding him to the squad list on their website. He was not named to face Town, though.
Cellino, 57, is an agricultural entrepreneur and is known in Cagliari as ‘The King of Corn’. He has owned Cagliari for 20 years and had 36 managers in that time.