Leeds United’s owner Massimo Cellino vowed to fight the FA and defend himself after discovering he was facing an 18-month ban over a forbidden payment made during the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham.
According to a report in yesterday’s Daily Mail, the FA is poised to hand the Italian an 18-month suspension and £250,000 fine over a breach of FA regulations in regards to the sale of McCormack in 2014.
An FA commission is also set to fine Leeds a further £250,000 after spending more than 12 months investigating allegations of an illegal payment authorised by the club during McCormack’s £10.75m transfer.
But a “surprised” Cellino insisted last night that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing, with the 60-year-old vowing to take the “right steps” to defend himself at a tribunal.
Leeds and Cellino were accused of agreeing to pay an unlicensed advisor of McCormack’s a six-figure fee on the back of the striker’s departure for Fulham in July 2014. FA rules forbid payments to unlicensed intermediaries as part of transfer deals involving English clubs. McCormack, who now plays for Aston Villa, was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Leeds pleaded guilty to breaking FA agent rules and will be fined £250,000, according to the Daily Mail report.
But Cellino denied a separate charge brought against him personally and contested it at a two-day hearing at Wembley in September. The independent commission which heard the case, headed by Nicholas Stewart QC, has spent two months handling the evidence.
The FA is yet to publish an official verdict and the governing body failed to respond to requests for comment last night as news of Cellino’s impending punishment spread.
Cellino said in a statement released by Leeds United last night: “I am surprised to read the news regarding the FA’s intentions to ban and fine me, as well as fine the club.
“I am not guilty and I will take the right steps to defend myself through the tribunal. I feel that I am guilty of one thing, protecting Leeds United since I took charge of the club. I ask the players, manager and my staff to continue to work with loyalty and professionalism and to keep fighting for the club everyday on and off the pitch.
“I am sure that the public in this country and the free press will take the time to look into this case and find the truth.”
McCormack’s transfer was one of the first concluded by Cellino after the former Cagliari owner’s takeover of Leeds in early 2014.
Cellino has fought numerous battles with England’s footballing authorities since launching a bid to buy a majority share in Leeds in early 2014 and he rode out a temporary ban imposed on him by the Football League for a breach of its Owners and Directors Test in January 2015.
That suspension ran for little over three months but an 18-month ban would prevent Cellino from exerting any influence at Elland Road until the middle of 2018. His latest penalty comes at a time when Cellino is locked in talks with Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani over the sale of a 50 per cent stake in United. Radrizzani, a founder of global media company MP & Silva, plans to buy half of Leeds through his investment firm Aser Media.
He and Cellino are believed to be on the verge of an agreement, although the Football League is yet to be asked to approve Radrizzani under its Owners and Directors Test.
The League is understood to be aware of Radrizzani’s intentions, however, and the 42-year-old is likely to pass the test without any difficulty.