What drives Cellino: Leeds United’s chain-smoking ‘king of corn’ on another mission to clear his name

Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino
Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino
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Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino has announced he will appeal against the latest attempt to ban him from any involvement in English football.

And so begins the latest chapter in a litany of convictions and controversies that have come to define the chain-smoking Italian in both his homeland and the UK.

Cellino has been banned for 18 months by the Football Association and fined £250,000 for breaching rules on players’ agents in relation to the sale of striker Ross McCormack from Leeds to Aston Villa in 2014.

The FA announced on Thursday that Cellino’s ban from being a director or shadow director of Leeds will take effect from February 1.

The former Cagliari owner will now embark on another attempt to clear his name. He has already served a ban in England, handed out by the Football League in 2014, but he fell foul of the authorities in Italy way before he bought his way into the English game.

Sardinian-born Cellino, who inherited and then expanded his father’s agricultural business before being dubbed the ‘King of Corn’, has twice been previously convicted of fraud and is currently contesting a separate charge of embezzlement.

He received a 15-month suspended prison sentence in 2001 after being convicted of false accounting at Cagliari.

A previous conviction in 1996 for fraudulently claiming EU agricultural subsidies was overturned in 2012, while in February 2013 he spent 16 days in jail after being arrested for embezzlement - a charge he denies - in relation to the redevelopment of Cagliari’s Is Arena stadium.

Cellino bought Cagliari in 1992 and sacked 35 managers in 22 years, earning himself another moniker, ‘ll mangia-allenatori’.

The ‘manager eater’ has only enhanced that reputation at Leeds, where Garry Monk was his sixth appointment in the summer. He even tried to sack Brian McDermott before he had officially taken over at Elland Road nearly three years ago.

Leeds were by no means the first English club Cellino had wanted to buy.

He was beaten for control of West Ham in 2010 by David Gold and David Sullivan and made attempts to buy both Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday before heading up the M1 to take advantage of the turmoil at Leeds.

In April 2014 an independent QC overturned the Football League’s decision to disqualify Cellino from owning an English club due to a tax conviction and he completed his takeover at Leeds after agreeing deal in January to buy a 75 per cent stake from Gulf Finance House.

Since then he has hired and fired managers Dave Hockaday, Darko Milanic (both after six games), Neil Redfearn, Uwe Rosler and Steve Evans.

He was disqualified by the Football League for three months in March 2015, later extended until the end of the season, after an Italian court confirmed his tax evasion had been a dishonest act and the following October was banned again following another tax conviction in Italy.

Cellino appealed again and although he was spared a second disqualification after the Court of Appeal in Italy ruled it was not a criminal offence, the controversies rumbled on.

He reneged on a decision to sell the club to fans’ group Leeds Fans United in November 2015 and further alienated supporters by introducing a ‘pie tax’ - a £5 levy on south Stand ticket prices in return for food and drinks vouchers.

Cellino also waged war on broadcaster Sky Sports, banning its production crew from entering Elland Road for a home game against Derby.

His relationship with fans plumbed new depths in March this year following abusive social media exchanges between his sons Ercole and Edoardo, both Leeds directors, and fans.

Edoardo was later charged by the FA for abusive and insulting comments and an “aggravated breach’’ as his insults included reference to disability.

However, amid the chaos, not everything Cellino has done at Elland Road has been controversial.

He has trimmed the club’s bloated wage bill and, despite the sale of some promising homegrown players, has largely backed his managers in the transfer market. Fan groups have also noted charitable work done on their behalf.

Recently he entered into talks with another Italian, Andrea Radrizzani, who looks set to buy at least 50 per cent of Cellino’s shares, meaning Leeds fans at least have some sense of what comes next.

And, with the club sitting fourth in the Championship - their best position for a decade - there is the chance that Cellino may have a club better equipped for promotion, despite the chaos, than many of those who went before him.