“UNCHARTED TERRITORY” is how everyone describes the incendiary situation facing Leeds United and Massimo Cellino.
The Football League’s Owners and Directors Test has existed in its current form for several years but rarely have the rules produced a stand-off as complex or unclear.
In disqualifying Cellino from owning Leeds, the governing body has ordered the Italian to stand down from the club’s board within 28 days - by December 29 - but its five-page explanation left pertinent issues unaddressed.
Here, we look at the key questions facing the Football League:
Does the Football League expect Eleonora Sport Ltd to sell its shares in Leeds United?
Leeds United were bought in April from Gulf Finance House by Eleonora Sport Ltd. The company holds a 75 per cent shareholding in Leeds and has two directors - Cellino and his American financial advisor, Daniel Arty. Cellino says Eleonora Sport represents his family and that Leeds are owned by them, rather than him personally. While the League is insistent that the 58-year-old must resign as a club director and divorce himself from Elland Road, will it expect or order Eleonora Sport to relinquish its majority stake or actively seeks a buyer in the period while Cellino is disqualified? Given that Italian’s ban ends on March 18, 2015, does the League have the right to set a fixed timescale for a change of ownership? Birmingham City’s owner, Carsen Yeung, was jailed by a court in Hong Kong eight months ago but City are still controlled by Birmingham International Holdings, the company used by Yeung to purchase the club in 2009. Would the League allow a scenario where a minority shareholder at Leeds - GFH, for example - takes on a majority stake in the interim and returns it to Cellino in March? Or does it genuinely expect Cellino to sell up and walk away?
Who does the Football League expect to run Leeds United in Cellino’s absence?
Leeds have effectively been given a month to prepare for Cellino’s resignation. Even if he appeals and his appeal is pending, the Football League stated yesterday that Cellino’s ban would come into force at the end of a 28-day window. All it added by way of a caveat was that it would look to have any appeal heard before those 28 days are up. Cellino is United’s president and was named as their managing director in the Share Purchase Agreement he and GFH signed in February. He has no chief executive and the rest of the board at Elland Road has precious little experience of managing a football club. Moreover, the funding for United’s many costs, debts and liabilities has come solely from Eleonora Sport since Cellino bought out GFH on April 7. But he is now under pressure to set-up a management structure in which he has absolutely no influence. How does the League propose that the vacuum will be filled - not least because its rules specifically forbid shadow directors?
Is the Football League aware of other parties who wish to buy Leeds United?
There is always talk of potential investment at Leeds. Red Bull are the rumour of choice at the moment but there have been others in the past 12 months. Together Leeds, a consortium led by Mike Farnan, tried and failed to buy the club before Cellino’s takeover went through. Shortly before the Italian completed his buy-out, a Malaysian party was strongly rumoured to be trying in beating him to the punch. Members of Cellino’s inner circle believed then - and still believe now - that the Malaysians were pointed in GFH’s direction by Shaun Harvey, the Football League’s chief executive and United’s formerly CEO. Prior to yesterday’s announcement, had the League been made aware of any new or existing groups who want to buy Leeds from Cellino? Or has Cellino been disqualified without any prospect of a quick change of ownership? And if the League is not expecting a rapid sale, what it the purpose of the ban - other than to ensure the enforcement of its rules?
Did the Football League take advice about the potential impact of its decision on Leeds United before voting to ban Cellino?
Leeds said in a statement yesterday that barring Cellino for a period of four months would be “destabilising for the club, its supporters and sponsors.” Before voting to disqualify Cellino, did the Football League seek to establish the possible consequences of disqualifying the Italian as owner? Did it investigate the club’s financial position or the likely impact should Cellino and Eleonora Sport stop providing funding in the weeks to come? And can the League categorically say that it is safeguarding United by removing Cellino from Elland Road?
Does the Football League believe that its Owners and Directors Test is fit for purpose?
Cellino has owned and financed Leeds for seven months. Even before his buy-out went through, he was acting as United’s de facto owner - paying bills, providing capital, meeting costs that GFH was no longer prepared to meet. The League tried and failed to block his takeover in April, losing its case after Cellino appealed to the Professional Conduct Committee, and the Owners and Directors Test is now banning Cellino have first allowed him to plough millions of pounds into the club. Not only that, his period has owner has seen widespread redundancies and changes to personnel at Elland Road, the sale of certain players and the arrival of many more. Leeds are a very different outfit these days. Does the League accept that its test has caused unsatisfactory uncertainty and what will it do to avoid this situation again?