Leeds United: League extends Cellino ban to end of season

Massimo Cellino.
Massimo Cellino.
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Massimo Cellino’s disqualification as owner of Leeds United has been extended to the end of this season after he and the club chose not to fight a misconduct charge brought against them by the Football League.

The Italian’s existing ban - originally due to end on April 10 - will now run to May 3, the day after Leeds finish their Championship campaign at home to Rotherham United.

Cellino was hit with a 79-day suspension by the Football League last month after the governing body ruled that his conviction for tax evasion in Italy last year breached its Owners and Directors Test.

The ban, which was upheld after an unsuccessful appeal by Cellino, barred him from exerting any influence over Leeds or acting as a ‘relevant person’ at Elland Road.

The governing body, however, also charged Cellino and Leeds with misconduct, claiming both parties had failed to disclose documents from his court case in Cagliari showing that Cellino was no longer compliant with its rules.

In a statement released tonight, the League said: “The club and Mr Cellino have decided in the interests of the club, its players and supporters not to contest this charge.

“As a result, Mr Cellino’s period of disqualification as a ‘relevant person’ has now been extended from April 10 until May 3, the day after the conclusion of the 2014-15 league season.”

The Football League has not imposed any punishment directly on the club.

Cellino, who could yet face further ownership bans with other court cases awaiting him in Italy, is effectively free to retake control of United immediately after the end of the season.

But speaking last week, the former Cagliari president claimed that he would not return to Elland Road in an official capacity until he had challenged his disqualification through the Football Association’s arbitration process.

Cellino has used Rule K in the FA’s regulations to ask the governing body to rule on whether his suspension by the Football League should stand.

The process is likely to take several months and could run well beyond May 3. A date for the hearing is yet to be announced.

The 58-year-old’s ban stems from a case in which he was found guilty of failing to pay VAT owed on a private yacht called Nelie.

The Football League tried to use that conviction to block his original 75 per cent takeover of Leeds last April but Cellino pushed through his buy-out after a successful appeal.

A full written verdict from the case - a document which the Football League was forced to secure through the Italian court of appeal - later gave the governing body grounds to seek to disqualify him again.

Cellino has complied with his ban by resigning as a director of both Leeds and Eleonora Sport, the majority shareholder at Elland Road. He has also sold a minority stake in the club to a trust belonging to his family.

Speaking last week, he said he would go through the FA’s arbitration process independently of Leeds in order to “protect the club from any sanctions.”

His announcement generated speculation that Cellino and Eleonora Sport might look to sell the firm’s 75 per cent stake in United but chairman Andrew Umbers - appointed in the wake of Cellino’s ban - has insisted repeated that the club are not for sale.