Since the turmoil of last weekend, when low farce threatened to proceed via melodrama to real tragedy – before turning into a rip-roaring epic with a hat-trick hero – things have settled down, battle lines have been drawn and it’s situation normal at Elland Road. In other words, the football is all but forgotten, various big egos are competing to see who can wee highest up the wall and the fans are relegated to mushroom status; kept in the dark and fed a load of crap.
But what is the reality of the situation? Despite all the fighting and fratching, all of the writs and wrangles – isn’t it actually quite simple? If you strip away all of the extraneous nonsense, then doesn’t it all boil down to an elementary matter of whether or not a contract now exists between GFH and Eleonora Sports Ltd? If that contract does exist, then it’s difficult to see how it can now be argued that negotiations can properly continue between GFH and any other party. People will point to the fact that, when Cellino’s solicitor arrived at Elland Road to “complete” the deal, he was ushered off the premises, the papers left unsigned. So: no deal, right? But it’s not really as cut and dried as that, not when we look at the basic elements of what constitutes a contract.
Basically, a contract exists where one party makes an offer accepted by another party, with a “consideration” – i.e. money changing hands. No signatures needed, no paperwork – a contract is technically binding without all that. Offer, plus acceptance, plus consideration = a contract, with all the enforcing power of contract law behind it.
So if Cellino had his offer to buy 75% of the club accepted by GFH – as it seems they have acknowledged – and if, as he says, he has paid for those shares – even if those funds are actually held in an escrow account and not yet paid to GFH; then it’s difficult to see how GFH can, at this stage, repudiate the contract and enter into discussions with a different party. So it does look to me as though Cellino owns Leeds Utd, subject only to official ratification under the FAPP Test, which he would almost certainly pass due to spent convictions which cannot, under English law, be prejudicial to his status as a “fit and proper person”. Cellino himself appears ready to go to law in order to defend his contractual position. Worryingly, it appears that the other parties in this whole sorry mess appear equally determined to have their day in court.
Can anyone make a serious alternative case, for the enlightenment and edification of this blog, to the conclusion that Cellino is the de facto owner of Leeds United? I’m still trying to sort out for myself whether I actually want this for Leeds, or not. So I’ve no interest in being right for being right’s sake; if anyone can tell me why all of the above contract theory is not true, then I’ll be happy to be convinced accordingly.
If the contract issue is as straightforward as it currently appears – and admittedly, these things rarely actually are – then Cellino only really needs the green light from the relevant authorities to move in and start putting his mark on the club. What that would mean in practice is the subject of a whole separate article, and there are as many opinions as to his positive/negative effect on Leeds United as there were fans in the stadium when Leeds mauled Huddersfield last Saturday, or so it might appear.
In the meantime, all of the kerfuffle which currently occupies us all to the exclusion of anything to do with the actual football business of the club, could just be sound and fury, signifying nothing. Just an almighty, annoying waste of time. If it really is such a simple question as “Is there a contract, or isn’t there?” – then for God’s sake, let’s get it sorted out, and swiftly. The one real voice of calm and sanity in all of this, Brian McDermott, has said himself that the ownership issue needs sorting out fast. Elsewhere, there have been quotes from David Haigh to the effect that talks might go on for “days, weeks, months”. God forbid – we just do not need that.
Looking yet further down the food chain, our one-time main sponsor figurehead, Andrew Flowers – thwarted member of the Sport Capital consortium who started all of this nonsense by reneging on a done deal and submitting a “revised offer” for the club – is now issuing a winding-up order against the club whose best interests he ostensibly has at heart. Apparently, this winding-up order is no wind-up – this guy means business. It’s a pity he didn’t have the integrity to see the original deal through and save us all a lot of grief. Now, it would seem he’s having to join forces with yet another consortium to match Cellino’s bid. But little has been heard of what financial muscle this “super-consortium” would have to take the club forward post-purchase. And this is a vital issue – after all, it’s not just the initial cost – it’s the upkeep. Could we have any faith in future investment for the club, the team and the stadium if Flowers & Co did get their way? And isn’t Flowers himself open to a charge of being vindictive in trying to stretch this matter out by such drastic means?
The next match is just a few days away, in the public glare, via the unsympathetic and mischievous medium of Sky TV. Can we hope for matters to be sorted by then? Who knows? But surely, that would be in everybody’s best interests – not least the team, the fans and the patient but long-suffering Brian McDermott.
Comments invited, it’s your club, not theirs. Please – make your feelings known.