LEEDS UNITED’S protracted ownership saga has finally taken a decisive turn after Massimo Cellino formally agreed a deal to buy a majority stake in the Championship club.
The Italian, through his family’s company Eleonora Sport Ltd, will pay current owners Gulf Finance House £25m for a 75 per cent shareholding.
Football League approval remains the final hurdle for Cellino, the Miami-based 57-year-old who has already vowed to buy back Elland Road providing the deal goes through.
Before the club released the news yesterday afternoon that contracts had been exchanged between Eleonora Sport Ltd and GFH, the League had announced that they were still awaiting key documents – needed to pass the governing body’s Fit and Proper Persons’ Test – from the Italian’s camp.
That information will now have to be submitted to the League, who will then rule on the matter.
Initially, Cellino was expected to struggle to meet the League’s criteria for change of ownership.
However, it has since been revealed that one of his two well-documented previous convictions for fraud was overturned on appeal and the other is considered ‘spent’ under British law due to having taken place more than 10 years ago.
Providing Cellino passes the League’s ownership test, the £25m deal will be immediately finalised. Under plans revealed yesterday, chairman Salah Nooruddin will remain along with David Haigh, who will switch from being the club’s managing director to the role of chief executive.
The identity of the other board members is, as yet, unknown, but Cellino is expected to be very much in charge of the club.
That is likely to lead to intense speculation over the future of manager Brian McDermott, who was sacked eight days ago – allegedly on the say-so of Cellino – only to be reinstated last Monday.
The 52-year-old will take charge of this lunchtime’s Championship match with Yeovil Town at Huish Park
Beyond that, however, McDermott remains in the dark. He did, though, issue a plea in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post to be given a chance by whoever takes charge at Elland Road.
A statement from Nooruddin on United’s official website said: “I am delighted to announce that we have exchanged contracts for the sale of 75 per cent of the club to Eleonora Sport Ltd, subject to Football League approval.
“GFH Capital and its investors will retain a 25 per cent stake in Leeds United. I will remain the club chairman and David Haigh will be the club CEO.
“The board has always had as its principal aim the creation of a long-term ownership structure through partnership with sound and strategic investors to build on the foundations we have laid for sustainable success for this great club.”
Andrea Tabanelli – the Italian midfielder signed eight days ago on a chaotic final day of the transfer window – has had his registration turned down by the Football League due to the deal not complying with regulations.
Match preview: Page 3.