New Leeds United chairman Andrew Umbers said Massimo Cellino would remain as the club’s long-term owner at the end of his disqualification as he spelled out what he called a “dramatically improving” financial situation at Elland Road.
In his first interview since his appointment as the head of United’s board, Umbers said Cellino would return to the club as planned when his Football League ban ends on April 10 and said the option of selling Leeds had not be raised prior to the Italian’s resignation as president.
Cellino stepped down from the board at Elland Road last week, beginning a 79-day ban imposed on him by the Football League following his conviction for tax evasion in Italy 10 months ago.
The 58-year-old was found guilty of failing to pay import duty on a private yacht, a crime which breached the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test.
Cellino has other court cases pending and media reports in Sardinia say he is due to stand trial on April 14 over allegations that he avoided VAT due on a Range Rover. A guilty verdict in that case could result in another Football League ban.
The risk to Cellino, whose firm Eleonora Sport Limited bought a 75 per cent stake in Leeds last April, of further suspensions raised the question of whether the Italian would feel compelled to relinquish control of United permanently, a suggestion he dismissed after failing with an appeal against the Football League’s ruling.
Asked whether Cellino could stay as Leeds’ owner in the long term, Umbers said: “I’m not a lawyer but the answer is yes. He’s back on April 10 and he’ll be running this football club. At the moment he has no day-to-day role.
“He’s decided to take his punishment. He doesn’t want the club to be disrespected in the Football League, as has been the case in the past, and we have to turn over a new leaf. However hurtful that is, he’s taken the responsible attitude. He’ll serve his penance and come back.
“Massimo has moved to Leeds (from Miami), his family are here and he’s put his daughter into university. He’s passionate about football and he’s enthusiastic, unorthodox, emotional. He’s got football at heart and Leeds at heart.
“In my experience, Leeds United could not want for a better owner or one who’s more capable of facing the financial issues we’ve faced in the past nine months.”
Umbers worked as an advisor to Cellino following Cellino’s takeover of Leeds and he took a seat on the club’s board last month. Cellino named him as chairman last Friday after quitting as a director.
“It’s a privileged position,” Umbers said. “I have complete jurisdiction across the board on everything. I answer to the board of directors.
“The governance of Leeds United is good and sound and completely in obeyence of Football League rules.”
Yorkshire-born Umbers - the man who helped push through the sale of Leeds by Ken Bates to Gulf Finance House in 2012 - has worked as a financier for over 30 years.
The 50-year-old said: “For the last three years my background has basically been in all sorts of the sports industry, in all sorts of matters - providing capital, finding capital, restructuring, mergers and acquisitions.
“I’m a Yorkshireman, my family have been involved at Yorkshire Cricket Club, we had a brewery in Barnsley and I’m a Leeds United fan. I went to my first game when I was seven, one-all against Crystal Palace.
“My involvement is to work day-to-day for the next 70 days and after that, when Massimo returns, to work as we’ve been doing before to complete the restructuring and our business plan. We’ve achieved a lot in a very short space of time.”