MASSIMO CELLINO will today fly into England to get his Leeds United revolution under way.
The Italian won his battle for ownership of the Elland Road club over the weekend after successfully appealing against the Football League’s decision to block his £25m takeover.
A conviction for tax evasion last month in his native Sardinia had been behind Cellino failing the League’s owners and directors test.
That decision, though, was overturned by an independent QC, Tim Kerr, on Saturday, less than an hour after United had slipped to a fourth straight defeat courtesy of a first-half strike from Wigan’s Martyn Waghorn.
It means that unless the League appeal – and last night the governing body was remaining tight-lipped, other than to confirm that the matter will be discussed at this Thursday’s board meeting – Cellino’s takeover can now be ratified.
Under the terms of the deal, Eleonora Sport, Cellino’s family company, will take a 75 per cent shareholding in the Championship club. Gulf Finance House, the Bahrain-based bank that bought Leeds from Ken Bates in 2012, will retain a quarter stake.
Once the acquisition goes through, David Haigh, United’s managing director, will revert to the role of chief executive officer. Salah Nooruddin will remain as chairman, while Cellino will become club president.
The 57-year-old businessman, who also owns Serie A side Cagliari, is due to fly in from Italy today and plans to be at tomorrow night’s Championship game with Watford at Vicarage Road.
After two months of delays, Cellino will be keen to get to work. Chief among these tasks will be settling outstanding wages owed to the players, who have so far received only 65 per cent of their March salaries.
The future of Brian McDermott is also likely to be addressed. The Leeds manager has been a vociferous supporter of Cellino’s takeover getting the green light in recent weeks but results and performances have been poor.
United, abject in losing to Doncaster Rovers and Charlton Athletic last week, did put in an improved shift at Wigan. But a run of seven defeats from the last eight games has not impressed Celino, who was dismissive of the quality of the team during a conversation with a fan last week that was secretly recorded and then put on the internet.
For his part, McDermott is keen to work with United’s new owner. He said: “I welcome the stability of a man who has got clout and I have spoken to him on a number of occasions.
“For me, the most important thing is not the position of the manager or any individual player. It is Leeds United Football Club going forward.
“When I am not manager, I will come back and support Leeds United. Because it is a fantastic club. I am a Leeds fan now.
“I can work with Massimo. We will just wait and see what happens. It is the prerogative of any owner in any situation to choose the manager he wants to work with and I understand that.”
McDermott was famously sacked by Cellino on January 31 only to be reinstated two days later when GFH said the Italian had over-stepped the mark due to him not owning the club at the time.
Since then, the pair have spoken several times and McDermott added: “From what I know, he is a leader. He has owned another club for 22 years. From what I know and what I can gather, he has got clout – financial clout. That is something we haven’t had for many, many years here.”
The appeal victory took many by surprise but Kerr ruled that while Cellino was convicted under Italian law for failing to pay import duties on a luxury yacht, the conviction did not class as being dishonest.
With League rules stating that he could only be disqualified from taking charge of Leeds for an act that can “reasonably be considered to be dishonest”, Kerr QC ruled in the favour of Cellino.
A spokesman for the League said: “We are disappointed at the outcome of the appeal hearing, however we would like to thank the independent QC for his diligence in reviewing this decision.
“This was never about individual personalities, but instead a matter in which we were obliged to uphold the integrity of our regulations having considered the issue in detail with our advisors. The Football League will consider the findings of the hearing.”
Mike Farnan, who heads the Together Leeds group who have also been bidding to buy the club, is hoping to work with Cellino after a possible link-up was mooted last week and is hoping to meet him this week.