THE Football League last night stood firm and resisted demands from Leeds United for a decision on Massimo Cellino’s proposed takeover of the club.
Italian businessman Cellino is facing an anxious wait to discover if the governing body will approve his £25m deal for a majority stake following his conviction earlier this week for tax evasion.
Cellino’s planned purchase, which would be made through his family firm Eleonora Sports Ltd, has been discussed several times by the League board.
Last week, a 10-day deadline was set for a final decision to be made.
That is not due to expire until Sunday night, but yesterday morning Gulf Finance House, the Bahrain bank that bought United from Ken Bates late in 2012, wrote to the League demanding a decision by the end of the day.
In the missive, GFH attacked the League for a delay that was causing “potentially irreparable damage to the club and, therefore, to our (GFH’s) investment”.
The letter added: “Neither we nor our client are aware of any other instances in which you have applied such rigour, which we note is against the unprecedented backdrop of the objections you have received from two failed bidders for the club (Andy Flowers and Mike Farnan/Together Leeds), who have attempted to stop the takeover by ESL and the appointment of Mr Cellino as a club director.”
A reiteration of GFH’s support for Cellino was then made before the letter added: “(Our client) firmly believes that the proposed takeover, and the appointment of Mr Cellino as a director, represents by far the best outcome for the club, the fans, and indeed the Football League, and that it should now be approved.”
The Yorkshire Post understands that the contents of the letter caused bemusement among League officials. So, too, did a suggestion, circulated by a PR firm with close ties to the United hierarchy, that Shaun Harvey, the League chief executive, was possibly behind the delay.
This suggestion is understood to have reached the ears of the governing body shortly before lunchtime.
A furious Harvey immediately contacted Leeds chief executive David Haigh and shortly afterwards a statement was released by the club praising League officials for being “extremely helpful every step of the way”.
The suggestion that former Leeds chief executive Harvey, who is today due to return from a business trip to Kuala Lumpur that had been arranged for several weeks, is responsible for holding up the process was bizarre.
As has been clear from the start, a decision on whether Cellino passes the Owners and Directors’ Test will be made by the League’s eight-man board of directors and not Harvey.
Two independents (Greg Clarke and Richard Bowker) are joined on the board by three representatives from the Championship (Blackpool’s Karl Oyston, Andy Ambler, of Millwall, and Keith Lamb, of Middlesbrough), two from League One (Carlisle United’s John Nixon and James Rodwell, of Notts County) plus Oxford United’s Ian Lenegan, who represents League Two.
Amid another extraordinary day surrounding Cellino’s attempts to buy a 75 per cent stake from GFH, United manager Brian McDermott, who last weekend came out in favour of the Italian taking charge, has been preparing for tomorrow’s home game with Millwall.
Repeating a well-worn call for clarity at the top of the club, McDermott added: “Everything is speculation. Everything we are talking about is speculation. You don’t know, I don’t know. None of us know what is going to happen.
“We just want an outcome and I know what my ideal outcome would be for the club. Sooner rather than later. But everything is speculation because the honest answer is I don’t know.
“All I know is that I haven’t got a feeling one way or the other. I would like to see the club taken over by someone with real clout and I’d like to see the club being built from the bottom, starting from basically a blank piece of paper. But we are not in that situation at the moment.”
Considering how long the ownership saga has been dragging on – Cellino was first shown around the Thorp Arch training complex last October and exchanged contracts with GFH on February 7 – a resolution is needed by the club.
Not just in financial terms, with the monthly wage bill – something Cellino has covered for the last two months – due late next week. But also in terms of planning for the summer transfer window as McDermott tries to improve a squad that is palpably not good enough to launch a promotion push.
The Leeds chief said: “If it is not sorted it will affect next season as well. It is very clear that the decision needs to be made and then we can look to build for next season.”