A PENSIVE Massimo Cellino admitted he was “worried for the club, not just the season” last night as he prepared to mount an appeal against his disqualification as owner of Leeds United.
The 58-year-old Italian warned that United could face serious financial damage if he is forced to resign as a director and said he was unsure whether a failed appear would lead to pressure from the Football League for him to sell the club.
Cellino was banned from owning Leeds by the Football League on December 1, the result of a conviction of tax evasion imposed on him by an Italian court last March, and his challenge against that ruling will be heard by a three-man panel in London today.
The former Cagliari owner was granted permission by the League to remain on United’s board until a verdict from his appeal is returned but he will have 48 hours to stand down if the governing body’s Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) upholds his disqualification.
Cellino said he expected the decision to come “quickly” and sources at Elland Road have indicated that the outcome of his appeal could be known as early as next week.
The dispute comes with Leeds in the grip of a relegation fight and the January transfer window already two weeks old.
Cellino claimed that the doubts about his ownership and the transfer embargo imposed on United for a breach of Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules - a restriction which limits the club’s spending power, rather than preventing signings altogether - was complicating attempts to bring new players in.
The club are yet to seal any incoming transfers and Cellino took the unexpected decision to allow captain Stephen Warnock to join Derby County this week.
Cellino said: “I worry for the club, not just the season. Tomorrow is a big day.
“If I’m not here, if I can’t help, then who looks after the club? If the League forces me out and tells me to sell, do I go or do I fight? I didn’t buy the club to sell and anyway, how long does it take to sell a club? I worry about what would happen in that time.
“This is hurting us. I try to sign players but many players want to know if I’ll be here and if not, what then? We have the embargo and that hurts us as well. We aren’t free to buy the players we want.
“A couple of new signings would help the team. New faces would take a little bit of pressure off. But I don’t want to make concessions or sign someone who is no good, just to show off. We need good players.”
The Football League has not instructed Cellino to sell the 75 per cent stake in Leeds owned by his UK firm, Eleonora Sport Ltd, but his position will come under renewed strain if he fails to overturn his disqualification.
Though Cellino’s existing tax conviction will be spent under UK law on March 17 - allowing him to return to Elland Road as owner and director before the end of the season - he faces other similar charges in Italy, raising the possbility of future Football League suspensions.
The PCC panel hearing his appeal today will be chaired Tim Kerr - the QC who sanctioned Cellino’s takeover of Leeds on appeal in April - and Football League directors Greg Clarke and Richard Bowker.
Cellino declined to comment on the contingency plan for managing Leeds if he is barred from holding any influence of the club