Leeds United latest: I’ll fight ban says Elland Road owner Cellino

Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino
Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino
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Massimo Cellino has confirmed that his appeal against Football League disqualification would continue as planned, despite his apparent willingness to walk away from Elland Road.

Cellino says that he intended to press ahead with the appeal he lodged with the Football League last week, regardless of his dramatic offer to sell a majority stake in Leeds to supporters group Leeds Fans United.

The 59-year-old’s control of United was threatened last month when the Football League barred him from running the club following his conviction for tax evasion in Italy in June.

Cellino, who has been banned by the governing body once before, moved to contest the ruling and has asked the Football League to delay his ban until his appeal has been heard.

That request is still under consideration and League could insist on Cellino resigning from the board of directors as early as November 11, a week on Wednesday. A date for his appeal has not been announced.

But the Italian came under pressure from a different direction last week as the crowd who attended Leeds’ 2-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers turned on him and called on him to call time on his reign as owner.

An emotional Cellino, who left Elland Road before the end of that game, stated his intention to sell his shares in United the following day during a meeting of fans’ groups called to discuss the disruption caused by television scheduling this season.

He subsequently offered to sell his majority stake “without profit” to Leeds Fans United, an organisation established earlier this year with the aim of securing supporter representation on the board at Elland Road.

Cellino’s proposal appeared to signal the start of the countdown to his exit from Leeds but asked if his Football League appeal would go ahead, Cellino said: “Yes, I am appealing. They risk a big mess and big damage to the club.”

The former Cagliari owner has repeatedly warned that the club would face serious financial problems if he is banned by the League but he seems resigned to abandoning his controversial tenure following the protests against him on Thursday night.

It is not clear if Cellino plans to attend Tuesday’s match against Cardiff City.

Leeds Fans United, meanwhile, is expected to outline its immediate plans later this week.

In a short statement on Friday it said: “An acquisition of this size and nature has never before been completed by fans in the UK and we will be evaluating everything over the next few days and consulting widely with our teams.”

The group’s initial strategy involved the purchase of a minority stake in Leeds and it raised around £500,000 through supporter donations in its first few months of existence.

Leeds Fans United said on Saturday that it had sold more shares in the 24 hours after Cellino’s offer than it had on the day of its launch.

Substantial financial backing would be needed to secure Cellino’s stake, however, with the cost of a buy-out likely to run to tens of millions of pounds.

The sight of Cellino conceding defeat, meanwhile, could potentially generate other takeover offers from groups unconnected to Leeds Fans United. The YEP has been told that former Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese is considering fronting a bid for the club in the wake of last week’s developments.

Cellino currently owns around 77 per cent of Leeds through his UK firm, Eleonora Sport Limited.

Former United owner Gulf Finance House - the Bahraini bank who Cellino bought out in April 2014 - retains control of the remaining equity but effectively acts as a silent partner.

GFH was approached for comment and asked if it would also be willing to discuss a sale of shares to Leeds Fans United. The bank did not respond.