Rumours have been gathering pace all day that Cagliari owner Massimo Cellino is on the brink of securing a majority holding in Leeds United AFC. The implications of such a development are manifold, not least the effect on manager Brian McDermott and his backroom team. One quote attributed to Cellino when asked about McDermott’s future was “I need a coach, not a manager”. It’s fair to say the things look bleak for Brian, should the Italian Job be completed.
One vital stage in any such completion would the Football League’s decision as to whether or not Cellino’s ownership of Leeds United should be sanctioned. This involves scrutiny of any potential new owner under what is known as the “Fit and Proper Person Test” (FAPP). On the face of it, Cellino would seem to face difficulties with this. He allegedly has a couple of fraud convictions and is awaiting trial on embezzlement charges. Not on this account alone could he be considered more of a villain than Ken Bates – but you’d have thought that the Football League, even in the rather dodgy guise of ex-United CEO Shaun Harvey, might not look kindly on a man with a rap sheet like Cellino’s. It may well be that this will be the most stringent test yet of the efficacy of the FAPP Test.
There is the merest suggestion that the club might be acquired by Cellino in the name of his son – a guy who is much given to Instagram sharing and who is not, presumably, saddled with a record for dodgy deal like Papa’s.
Whether or not the FAPP test can be satisfied, or perhaps merely circumvented, this looks like being a crucial decision in the context of the whole history of Leeds United. We’re looking at a man who changes managers, or coaches, considerably more frequently that Ken Bates changes his underwear. Cellino is not a man to be swayed by fan opinion either – it tends to be “my way or the highway”. Fan engagement has been a buzz-phrase around LS11 since GFH moved in – but those days might be ending for the foreseeable future.
It looks as though the ownership issue is coming to a head just as the transfer window slams shut on us yet again – so the question of whether or not Cellino is likely to be a heavy investor will probably – subject to any promises he might wish to make in the wake of sealing a deal for United – have to wait for another day. But it would appear that the Italian is very much “hands on” in terms of transfer deals, so it’s highly unlikely that we would see Brian wheeling and dealing as he did so successfully and to such devastating effect at Reading.
Whatever happens, we’re all going to feel as if we’ve sat through some combination of gothic horror, low farce, and pantomime. It has been a deeply unsettling time to be Leeds. We shall obviously have to do our best to keep Marching On Together, but it looks like it might not be easy. The Cellino regime would be terra incognita for Leeds United – we’d just have to wait and see how things pan out. For once, even with a derby in prospect – always a Cup Final for the opposition – football is the last thing on the minds of most United fans. McDermott won’t be drawn on whether this Huddersfield home match could be his last as Leeds manager, saying only that he plans “to enjoy it”. Valedictory words? Sadly, they may well be just that.
These are dark and troubling times at Elland Road – and whatever happens in the next day or so, it seems certain that we’re not out of the woods yet – not by a long chalk.
Addendum – the Fit & Proper Test as it applies to Cellino. Grateful thanks to Max for his research and interpretation – much appreciated.
Rob, I had a look at the rules here:
And also key is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/53/enacted), which the rules use to decide whether a conviction is “spent” or “unspent” (even if outside the UK). “Spent” means they come off your criminal record (if you have one) for most purposes.
Cellino’s convictions are banned by the rules, if unspent, so you then look at the act to decide whether or not they are spent. Sentences of >2.5 years (including, obviously, life sentences) are never spent. It’s not clear what happens with suspended sentences, I would assume they are treated the same.
Cellino had a 14 month suspended sentence in 1996 and a 15 month one in 2001. For a sentence of 6 to 30 months, the time for rehabilitation, or for the convictions to be “spent”, is 10 years. So by my reading he is in the clear.
The embezzlement charges don’t count unless he’s convicted. If convicted, even if the sentence is under 6 months, he’d be disqualified for 3 years (by applying the table in the 1974 Act) from being a football director and would have to resign.
But right now – and I may have missed something, of course – by my reading he would pass the test. In 2010, when he tried to take over WHU, the convictions wouldn’t have spent, assuming the rules applied (the PL rules may be different in this respect, I don’t know)