Leeds United could be headed for supporter ownership after an under-fire Massimo Cellino offered to sell his shares to a leading fans group and walk away from Elland Road.
In a remarkable move which appeared to spell the beginning of the end of Cellino’s chaotic reign as owner, the 59-year-old last night struck a deal in principle to sell his majority stake to Leeds Fans United.
The organisation – formed earlier this year with the purpose of acquiring a shareholding in Leeds and securing supporter representation on the club’s board of directors – has been told by Cellino that he will trade his shareholding “without profit”, with the beleaguered Italian on the verge of admitting defeat.
Leeds Fans United, a group headed by chief executive and local entrepreneur Dylan Thwaites, has been raising funds via supporter donations and is understood to have amassed around £500,000. It is considering its next move and beginning the search for more substantial backing after Cellino made his surprise offer during talks at Elland Road yesterday.
The cost of buying out Cellino is likely to run to tens of millions of pounds.
Cellino bought Leeds in April 2014 but his time in charge has been overshadowed by on- and off-field problems.
He came in for sustained criticism from the home crowd during Leeds’s 2-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers on Thursday and put his proposal to Leeds Fans United in the wake of that abuse.
In an interview yesterday morning, a downbeat Cellino hinted that he was ready to quit the club amid growing dissent towards him.
“It’s like being at a party where you’re not welcome. It’s killing me,” he said.
“Every night I lie awake, asking myself, ‘Am I good enough?’ Life is not just about enjoyment. But I ask myself if it’s better if I leave. Only failing to make the fans happy can hurt me.”
Cellino’s stake in Leeds is held by Eleonora Sport Limited, a UK firm named after his daughter.
Gulf Finance House – United’s former owner who Cellino bought out last year – currently control a shareholding of close to 23 per cent. Comment: Page 4.