Tag Archives: Cellino

Leeds MUST Match Skipper McCormack’s Ambition – by Rob Atkinson

Ross the Boss

Ross the Boss

Conflicting, contradictory noises have been emerging from Elland Road this last week or so, ahead of what we must hope will be a busy and productive summer of change for Leeds United.  Some days provide cause for optimism – a “new Leeds” is spoken of, and one of the junior Cellinos makes himself busy on Twitter with all sorts of enticing hints and half-promises.  The boss, meanwhile – Massimo Himself – is occupying his time by metaphorically rending his garments, tearing his hair and gnashing his teeth at the chaos he has found since entering the sacred portals of the spiffy new East Stand façade.  We understand from the latest pronouncements that the club is haemorrhaging a cool £100k a day in operating costs, with losses of around £1m a month.  The closure of the training centre, Thorp Arch, until pre-season training begins is, perhaps, understandable in those parlous circumstances.  But what wider message does it send out?

Massimo the Concerned

Massimo the Concerned

Cellino had spoken earlier of a season ahead which will primarily be about ensuring that the boat is fit to float, with any ambitions of sailing to the Promised Land of the FA Premier League to be deferred until 2015/16.  Again, there are at least two ways of looking at this.  It might be seen as sober pragmatism from a man horrified at the scale of what he has taken on, hamstrung by the restrictions of so-called “Financial Fair Play” regulations and determined to get his priorities right.

And yet a professional football club runs on aspiration and ambition – especially one with the size, history and expectations of Leeds United.  This is adequately reflected by the very public stance of the club’s skipper, Ross McCormack – who is firmly of the opinion that Leeds has to be up there at the sharp end next season, competing for elevation to the top flight at the earliest opportunity.  His message is: I’m willing to stay and fight – as long as the club as a whole will be fighting alongside me. This attitude is understandable in a professional footballer approaching that watershed age of thirty.  Ross is saying that he cannot afford to hang around waiting for ambition to kick in – he needs to consider what’s left of his career and, as a Scottish international and a family man, where and at what level he wants to be playing his football.

For once, it’s possible to be less than cynical about a footballer’s motivations. We know that most of them are preoccupied with the bottom line; the net amount on their payslips.  But McCormack has shown an unswerving devotion to the Leeds cause – apart maybe from an attack of doubt on that confusing night when McDermott was sacked and Sky TV mounted an unprecedented and disgraceful campaign to flog him off to any and every interested party.  McCormack though has never made any secret of the fact that he is happy and settled at Elland Road – but he wants success, and in that he is fully in step with the voraciously hungry and cruelly deprived fans.  It’s possible to divine also that Captain Ross is less than impressed by the closure of Thorp Arch; one barbed tweet asked plaintively for training facilities ahead of his next Scotland call-up, with a pointed reference to the locked and gated Leeds training ground.

Clearly, then, there is the potential for some conflict of interests in the summer ahead.  If it were down to the fans, there is little doubt as to who would be accorded overwhelming support.  McCormack is all for ambition and investment, with a concerted push for promotion at the top of his agenda.  It is abundantly clear that, if Leeds United fail to deliver a strong challenge next season, McCormack will consider his position at the end of it.  He would have little choice and none should really criticise him.  Time and tide waits for no man and, especially, for no footballer.  The Leeds United support will feel that McCormack speaks for them, and they will be solidly behind him in the urgent desire for a squad that can deliver next time around.

Cellino’s horror-struck attitude may not, after all, be a total impediment to the emergence of this required ambition from United next season – but clearly we are going to have to wait and see what moves are made in the transfer market before we can judge exactly what the on-field aims are for 2014-15.  Rumours abound about who will stay and who will go – indeed, as I write, manager Brian McDermott himself is heavily backed to take the reins at The Hawthorns for West Brom’s next relegation battle.  There’s no doubt that a hell of a mess needs clearing up at Elland Road, despite the plaintive denials of 10% shareholders and 100% parasites GFH.  Whether the club can emerge from this difficult summer as a fighting-fit unit next season must be open to severe doubt.

At some point, there is going to have to be some accord between the leading players in this Elland Road drama/farce.  Those leading players should include the Cellinos, the manager – whoever that might be – and leading footballer Ross McCormack.  The minimum requirement, as things start to get sorted out, is that all of these principal characters should – as far as possible – be singing from the same hymn-sheet.  If that’s not possible, then it’s hardly the work of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that trouble lies ahead.

As for the fans – we’ve had enough of trouble.  We’ve had enough of seeing the name of Leeds United making headlines for every reason under the sun – except for positive football reasons.  One straw to clutch at is the recent exchange of courtesies and opinions between Gary Cooper, representing LUST, and Massimo Cellino – who was able to provide assurances of “sensible” investment to improve the squad.  It sounds as though there is now a line of communication open between Mr Cooper and Signor Cellino, and that’s surely something to be glad and relieved about.  LUST have always seemed to me to have the potential to be honest brokers.

Whether the ambition and investment that can be spared for next season will be enough to see Leeds make enough of a show to satisfy the burning desire and ambition of Ross McCormack – that’s another matter.  But the skipper has vehemently made his point and has placed on the table the not inconsiderable stake of his immense footballing talent, goalscoring record and leadership ability. In many ways this “skipper’s stand” is the single most positive thing about Leeds United here and now.  If there’s one thing above all the Elland Road crowd has always loved and taken to its collective heart, it’s a trier, a battler, someone whose every fibre is straining for success and the pride of wearing the shirt and the badge.  When an individual like that puts his cards on the table as Ross has, he’s well on the way to legend status – no small matter in the context of Leeds United’s star-studded history.

One last, positive note.  In another of his regular tweets, and in among the usual rumours that he’ll be leaving for Cardiff, West Ham, Newcastle etc etc – McCormack has given us a cheery “see you pre-season!”  That’s a half-decent straw to be clutching at amid the current doom and confusion.  Let’s just hope it comes true – and that we can March On Together from there.

Football League “In A Huff” As Cellino Finally Owns Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Massimo Cellino: from vincerò to "I win"

Massimo Cellino: from vincerò to “I win”

The Football League has said it is “disappointed” with QC Tim Kerr’s Massimo Cellino decision and will now “consider the findings”. The reality of the matter, however, is that the League are surely out of options for the time being, and will have to swallow the bitter pill of defeat.  From their point of view, this will involve the grudging acceptance of Cellino as Leeds United owner, something they clearly feel will lower the tone of their closed shop of club owners.  This comprises, as previously detailed, a convicted rapist, a jailed money-launderer and sundry other less-than-saintly characters.

The incongruity of those facts against the League’s determined and intransigent stance on Cellino – who, by comparison, is something of an angelic choirboy – does not appear to have occurred to the buffoons in the corridors of power.  Are they really that stupid, or is the apparent contradiction indicative of some Machiavellian policy of thwarting Leeds United?  There is much evidence to suggest that this is not mere paranoia; the League have inflicted harm on the Elland Road club at every possible opportunity over the last half century – a continuation of the policy pursued by the late and unlamented Alan Hardaker, confirmed Leeds and Revie hater. Mr Hardaker is presumably spinning in his grave right now; bad cess to him.

The news of Cellino’s stunning success, a tribute to the outstanding advocacy of his legal team, came hard on the heels of what will surely now be seen – in retrospect – as the most meaningless and painless defeat ever, at Wigan.  The performance of the team was better, with more effort and pride on display, as we had all wished on this anniversary of the despicable murders in Istanbul.  The only real downside was the paucity of attacking effect – but shortly after the game ended, it all ceased to matter.  Cellino is in, we have a fabulously wealthy owner of the kind of maverick personality which goes with Leeds and its fans like vino rosso goes with pasta. Monday is Day One of a new era for Leeds United and it seems certain that a very interesting ride is ahead of us all – to say the very least.

What we now have to beware of is the backlash of the Football League who, in their rage and grief, are hardly likely to look upon our beloved Whites with any less hatred and contempt than they have in the past.  We can expect no justice from the imbeciles who run the League; it must be a priority to climb out of it under our own steam at the earliest opportunity – and fall upon the tender mercies of the FA.

Meanwhile, defeat at Wigan behind us and irrelevant, we can afford ourselves some celebration and look forward to better times ahead.  No more grinding poverty, the energy-sapping affliction that seeps into the very soul over a period of time.  It’s a whole new mentality from here on in – no longer the tenants in hock to some faceless suits who control Elland Road stadium, no longer wondering if we can afford the latest dubious talent from League One.  For Leeds United and its devoted, deserving, unrivalled and amazing fans – it’s a whole new ball game from here on in.

For once in a very long while, we have taken on rigid authority and won. The Football League mandarins have been made to look the inept fools that they are – and I have no hesitation at all in saying to Shaun Harvey and his cronies: Up yours, get stuffed and sod off.

I mean that, of course, in the nicest possible way.

Could Oil-Rich Al Thanis Gazump Cellino to Buy Leeds Utd? – by Rob Atkinson

That nice Al Thani family, with dodgy geezer to the right

That nice Al Thani family, with dodgy geezer to the right

With all of this takeover kerfuffle going on (and on, and on…) – there’s something slightly odd about some of the reported arithmetic out there.  We hear that Massimo Cellino has just about purchased 75% of Leeds United for a figure said to be in the region of £25 million.  He would then have to buy the ground, settle debts, sort out various other ongoing issues such as the fatal weaknesses in the squad – all in all he’s not likely to get more than a few coppers change out of £60 million, and we understand that the deal would leave him stuck with various items of GFH detritus in executive positions. That’s quite a lot of wedge for a hands-on type of guy to lash out, just to be il Presidente.

On the other side of Massimo’s ledger is the ongoing sale of his first love, Cagliari, a small Sardinian club who have clung onto Serie A membership for the bulk of his tenure there since 1992.  That deal – which appears to be stuttering – is rumoured to be worth around €90 million to the Italian.  So it appears possible that he could conclude his football business for the month without spending any of this year’s alleged €200m income or shaving off any of his alleged €1.2bn capital.  Conclusive proof of all of this is furnished by readily-accessible Instagram pictures of Signor Cellino’s nubile daughter wiggling her extremely shapely derrière against a background of Elland Road as seen from an expensive position in the East Stand.

The strange thing is – why would the Al Thani family wish to purchase a struggling Italian club at the wrong end of a small island, lacking a stadium and destined to be forever in the shadow of the Italian mainland giants?  Why would they, in Cellino’s own words, be so keen to invest a solid lump of money in a Fiat 500?  Could they not simply ignore the Cellino factor, and move in on Leeds United – a club with its nose pressed up against the window of the most lucrative league in the world, with a stadium available for purchase at a good price and ripe for development, with an exclusive catchment area of support as well as a global fan-base voraciously hungry for anything to do with the Whites – to find themselves as Premier League owners-in-waiting?  Wouldn’t they rather compete on level terms with the Abramoviches and the Sheikh Mansours of this world – than scratch around from an offshore position with the relatively tiny potential of Cagliari, to try and make a mark on the mighty Italian league?

Naturally, the agreement that supposedly exists between GFH and Cellino might well stand firmly in the way of all this.  But, as the days go by, there is a growing feeling that all may not be well with that deal.  The Football League appear to be umming and ah-ing to themselves.  Their rules are fairly clear and, by the letter of them, Cellino ought to be OK to proceed.  But the League are under pressure from various sources – not all of them by any means kindly disposed towards Leeds United – and that pressure is directed at having the League look to the spirit, rather than the letter, of their so-called “Fit and Proper Person” test.  Cellino, so the argument runs, could charitably be described as “well dodgy”.  Even worse than the anti-Christ himself, Bates who, while a villain, was at least an unconvicted one.  Cellino will point in his defence to one spent conviction and one that was quashed.  But that hardly adds up to a model of blameless and virtuous conduct – and there’s still that little matter of an embezzlement charge hanging over his head.

The “Farnan Group”, poised like vultures in case the League do reject Cellino, don’t really inspire too much confidence either.  They were saying last week that would match Cellino’s offer for the club.  Their position more recently is best summed up as: “Erm, well, no, we won’t actually.  But we might buy the stadium, and, erm – oh look just talk to us, right?”  There’s not much more than meaningless noise coming from that direction.

And then there is the time factor.  When the Daily Mail aren’t making up silly stories of imminent loan deals for the Stoke ‘keeper and a Sunderland striker, they’re gleefully anticipating the end of the month when, they confidently predict, Leeds will be unable to stump up for the wages bill.  As ever with the Mail, you have to choose what to believe – and if you’re wise, you’ll just call it all lies, tear the paper up and use it to line the rabbit’s hutch.  Actually, if you were really wise, you wouldn’t have bought such a rag in the first place.

Currently, and as has been the case for the best part of the last decade or so, the state of Leeds United is best summed-up as: a total mess.  It’s much more of a mess now, in fact, than it has been even at various historical low points this century; now we have a maelstrom of conflicting parties, bumbling and incompetent higher authorities who are not fit to arbitrate at a coin-toss, and an almost entirely hostile media who have never forgiven us for being The Best under Don Revie, and who are determined to accentuate the negative, predicting our demise at every opportunity.

How beautifully simple it would be if someone could take a step back, do the elementary arithmetic, have a word in an Al Thani shell-like to explain what an attractive deal awaits the right multi-billionaire, and sit back to watch Leeds United emerge, phoenix-like, from the ashes of this embarrassing and degrading free-for-all which is currently sapping the fans of their will to live.

It’s too much to hope for, of course.  The question has long been asked – why can’t Leeds attract someone in the Mansour class?  And that someone is out there, right now, shopping for a club. How bloody frustrating is that?

“Fit and Proper Test” Under Spotlight as Cellino Bids for Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - fit and proper?

Cellino – fit and proper?

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)

Leeds United Owners Need to Start Playing Straight With the Fans – by Rob Atkinson


The fans: the BEST asset of Leeds United

Whoever is currently in charge at Leeds United – and the answer to that question is quite frankly anyone’s guess – they do appear to have a dim awareness that the mood out here in fan-land is not entirely sunny and bright.  They seem a little hurt, not to say bewildered, about this.  Plaintive tweets have been seen, assuring us that hard work is going on and that the West Ham bid for our club captain of seven days standing has been turned down.  That nice prospective Tory MP Mr Haigh would like to remind us all that “we made our intentions clear in the summer” – when of course a succession of bids for Rossco from Smogland were turned down, before a new four-year contract secured the services of our lethal marksman – or so we thought.

All in all, the view from the Elland Road boardroom of the various dissident elements out here appears to be that of a rueful parent bemoaning the ungratefulness of spoiled children.  We’ve done all this for them, they seem to be crying woefully, and see how they repay us!

So are we being ungrateful?  Are GFH/Sporting Capital/Signor Cellino/A.N.Other right in thinking that their sterling efforts are being thrown back in their faces by an unappreciative rabble?  Let’s look at a couple of the main issues.

Firstly, the burning issue on everyone’s mind for some time now.  The takeover.  Now we’ve been told various things about this.  It was all done and dusted, waiting only for Football League approval, and things would be in place in time for the transfer window.  We were told this in December; then the forecast changed slightly, and word was that things might just drag over into the start of January – but that Brian’s transfer plans were not affected, and there was a list of targets for board consideration.  Things dragged on.  Now we were told that it was still on track, just i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed.  Brian was looking at four players.  Then we heard that the Football League had asked for more information, that the club was co-operating fully, oh and here’s two loan wingers to shut you lot up.  By this point we’d gone out of the Cup at lowly Rochdale, and we were about to be subjected (with the aid of our two game-changing pacy wide men) to a history-busting defeat at Sheffield Wendies.  Now, here we are in the last week of January, the takeover appears no nearer, the best news we’ve had for ages is a narrow defeat at home to Leicester, there’s been talk of a dodgy Italian convicted fraudster, we’ve had promises of good news for the week just gone (must have missed that) and transfer talk is starting to turn, with a weary inevitability, to the summer window.  Pie in the sky, by and by.

Secondly, there’s this Ross McCormack thing.  Just because we resisted the Smoggies’ overtures in summer, we apparently need our wrists smacked for daring to get all het up when a bid is received from some no-hope East End outfit for our skipper and top-scorer.  Leeds United appear to be wondering: what all the fuss is about?  Why are these people complaining and getting up in arms?  After all, it’s not as if we have a history of selling vital players for a song to Premier League strugglers in January – is it?  Oh, hang on…

West Ham will probably be back – there’s still a week to go and they may just share that annoying habit, common to clubs with some shred of ambition, of being persistent in trying to sign quality players and improve their squad.  You see this kind of thing everywhere these days: clubs splashing the cash, if you’ll pardon the vulgarity, and buying players all over the shop.  It’s enough to give a prudent outfit like Leeds United a bad name.  And you only have to look back over the past few transfer windows to notice that Leeds don’t indulge in all of this “new signings” shenanigans.  No, sir.  They just promise to, that’s all.  And promises are made to be broken.

That’s the nub of it, really.  If the powers that be at Elland Road really want to know why some of us out here are less than happy with the way things are being run, they really need to look to themselves – and try and avoid a few less-than-helpful practices.  For instance – and this is especially important for people who have set their stall out with “transparency and fan engagement” as buzzwords – could we have a bit more straightforwardness, and a few less tantalising tweets, coy hints, teasing smileys and irrelevant bollocks about coffee mornings with random billionaires?  That would be nice.  And again – if you’re going to make promises about transfer targets and takeover completions – why not keep a few of them?  That would possibly go towards filling the credibility vacuum that you currently inhabit.

What the fans really want, in the extremely short term, is to be treated like adults rather than as unruly and demanding children whose expectations have to be carefully managed, lest they become recalcitrant and ill-behaved.  All of this drip, drip of promising but ultimately false rumours will not get us anywhere.  No more Red Bull jokes, please.  Likewise, less of the details about coffee-based pre-prandial engagements – unless there’s something likely to come of it by way of solid investment and the funding of some ambitious plans.  Contrary to what you might think, you suits in the boardroom, we’re all grown-ups out here, and we want to be dealt with fairly and squarely, rather than fed a diet of condescending rubbish designed to obscure what’s really going on.

If Ross McCormack is still a Leeds United player by the end of January, I’ll be happy, if a little worried about his future in the summer and beyond.  But don’t expect me to be all ecstatic just because one preliminary bid has been turned down – recent history has taught me, and others out here, not to be quite so gullible.  It’s taught us to expect the worst of Leeds United, for then we won’t be quite so disappointed when the worst happens – as it has over the recent past, with unfailing regularity.  And don’t expect us to be grateful when promises are made and broken, when expectations are raised and then sent crashing down.  There’s no use pouting away in the boardroom about how unappreciative we all are.  Treat us as adults, tell us straight, stop peddling crap – and then see how the attitude changes.  It’s worth a try, gentlemen, surely?

Just at the moment, all the McCormack talk dominates other matters, and we’re being invited to be happy that a bid has been turned down.  Meanwhile, the last few days of this window slip by, and while we all wait and see if the Hammers come back with an improved bid, we’re not nagging you about takeover completions and inward bound signings – are we?  Well some of us are, and we’ll continue to do so, whatever smokescreens may be put up to deflect us.

There’s an old saying from across the Atlantic: “The wind blew, and the crap flew, and for days the vision was bad.”  Count on it, Mr Haigh & Co – most of the fans of Leeds United are a lot more clear-sighted than you might wish to believe.