Tag Archives: Italian courts

Is Cellino Preparing to Jump Before He’s Pushed? – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - end of the road?

Cellino – end of the road?

Three bits of good news for Leeds United fans over the past few days – a week worthy indeed to be marked with a white stone. That’s normally our ration for a season or more in the glad tidings stakes, after all – so what can all of this mean?

On the wonderkid retention front, the fact that Lewis Cook has extended his stay with the Whites is the best possible example of A Good Thing you will see this side of United’s next promotion. Cook is, by common consent, the real deal – and even if this contract extension is merely the Leeds United take on fattening the lad for the next propitious market day, still it’s a mighty welcome development for the here and now.

On the player recruitment front – wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles – the League’s transfer embargo has been lifted, meaning that Leeds United are once again free to raid for Serie B for the cream of its dubious talent – or maybe even to buy some serious candidates for enhancing a team which aims to compete in the hurly-burly of The Championship. That’s as vexed a question as it’s been at any time recently; much will depend on who, precisely, will be pulling the transfer strings – about which more anon.

The return of Adam Pearson is a more puzzling if still very welcome piece of news. Right out of the blue, we have a person at the top end of the club who could quite conceivably restore some credibility to the senior executive management levels at Leeds. Pearson is the kind of person who will know before striking any agreement precisely what the parameters are and with what measure of unfettered freedom he’ll be able to go about his clearly-defined role. He’ll be Massimo Cellino‘s right hand man, so we’re told, but there are complexities afoot, surely. Wiser heads than mine are nodding sagely and prophesying that great changes are in the offing.

These great changes may, of course, not be a matter of choice or election on the part of those within the club. Further legal hurdles are ahead for Cellino to attempt to vault – or more likely to stumble over and carve a furrow in the track with that ever-lengthening nose. The Italian may be many things, but he’s not daft – he ahead of almost anyone else must be aware that knives are still out for him, and being stealthily sharpened by cold-eyed men with grim and determined smiles on their grim and determined faces. It’s been open season on Cellino since the day he set foot in Elland Road, and the fact that he’s back for the time being – with a blessing of sorts from the Football League – amounts to the square root of not very much, if the judicial sky is about to fall once more on our President’s head.

This being the case, Cellino may well be acting under notice of his own impending demise. That’s the sort of information that sharpens and concentrates the mind wonderfully, turning it to securing the best possible exit under the most advantageous terms. Simple economics dictates that a forced sale attracts a lower price; the buyers out there act in full knowledge of the lack of options a banned seller has – and the price goes down. The sudden appearance of Pearson on the scene could well mean that Cellino is preparing to bow his head to the inevitable and, in effect, cut his losses by selling before he has to do. Pearson would be there to ensure smooth running during any interregnum – which is a selling point in itself. Meanwhile, the main people will continue to talk the talk as if they’re going to carry right on walking the walk. But the rumours won’t go away about a change of ownership in the near future – and the logic is appealing.

It’s going to be a very interesting and probably confusing summer at Elland Road, certainly over the next few days and weeks as poor Neil Redfearn continues to dangle and the Press conjure up more or less ridiculous candidates to inherit the poisoned chalice Redders has been supping from. It’s a thankless position for Redfearn to be in, and so much more so for his erstwhile assistant Steve Thompson. This issue, surely, must be the first of many that require clarification before any other business can realistically be done.

All of which begs the question of what is Lewis Cook’s understanding of the current situation at Elland Road. Or, more likely, that of his agent and advisers. Cook is a hot property with options reportedly available at the top end of the Premier League. He must presumably have received some assurances as to the wisdom or otherwise of signing the next phase of a richly promising career over to a club many football people – and Rodney Marsh – consider to be fatally ill-run. So there’s another glimmer of encouragement – if young Cook, or his cadre of assistants, is happy with the way things are shaping up, perhaps we can dare to be a little more optimistic too?

All now depends on how this Elland Road game of musical chairs proceeds as the summer draws on. We can properly expect big changes, with outside events in foreign courts likely to have a telling influence either directly, if Cellino sits it out, or more indirectly if he takes the pragmatic view and goes – more or less – quietly. As ever this past decade or so in and around LS11, the summer promises to be the most significant and entertaining part of the LUFC year – far more riveting and compelling than that dreary and frustrating portion of the calendar when they actually try to play and win football matches.

Watch this space – it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

“Fit & Proper Test” Should NOT Apply to Leeds Chief Cellino – by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - here to stay

Cellino – here to stay

There are still rumblings of thwarted frustration emanating from the lair of the Football League’s assorted mandarins, buffoons and early-onset Alzheimer’s cases. The discontent surrounding this misbegotten cabal of power-mad crumblies dates from their humiliating reverse at the hands of Massimo Cellino’s legal team, as he successfully fought their original decision to bar him from owning Leeds United. The League, represented by ex-Leeds CEO and serial football disaster Shaun Harvey, as well as the son of convicted rapist Owen Oyston among other unsavoury characters, was forced to back down and rubber-stamp Cellino’s acquisition of Leeds, amid much grumbling and ill grace. It was always likely that, given the opportunity, they would return to stalk their quarry once again.

The persistent niggle which may yet afford that opportunity is the mention by the appeal judge of a possible imputation of dishonesty against Cellino when the full decision of the Italian court became available. This, he remarked, could once again leave Cellino open to disqualification under what is loosely known as the “Fit and Proper Test”. Rumours now abound that Sandra Lepore, the Italian judge in the Nélie tax avoidance case, has indeed found that our Massimo was more than merely naughty and misguided in his import duty dealings. Massimo’s legal men have been mobilised once more, declaring that the judgement is full of holes and that an appeal is inevitable. Meanwhile, the hapless oafs at the League have been unable to get a look at the alleged full judgement and have even had to resort to asking Cellino’s own lawyer for a copy. As if this mess were not messy enough, another court case is pending against Big Mass, so a further sullying of his reputation is not impossible – probably not even unlikely.

So, where does all this leave Massimo Cellino and his future as absolute ruler at Elland Road? Bang to rights, some would say. He’s been called dishonest, and the fit and proper test exists to exclude dishonest types (though not, apparently, convicted rapists). So, technically at least, Cellino could be held to account once again and ultimately forced to sell Leeds United, with all the enormously toxic fallout that situation would carry along with it. In reality, of course, things are unlikely to be so straightforward.

The most important consideration here and now is that Cellino is installed in LS11, that he is making all the decisions, for good or ill – and that he has already wrought enormous changes at Yorkshire’s premier club, with much, much more change in the pipeline. That much is indisputable fact. The ongoing revolution promises, but is not limited to, the repurchase of the Elland Road stadium, and its subsequent redevelopment, the building of a new training complex much closer to the club, the continuing reorganisation of the football side of things including transfer policy and, for all we know, the ongoing hiring and firing of several more coaches before Christmas (although plainly we’re not one of those awful Watford-type clubs that have already had half-a-dozen managers since August…)

It is the undeniable fact of Massimo being the man in possession that is crucial here. The “Fit and Proper Test”, by its own exacting conditions, is clearly intended to be a fail-safe tool whereby prospective owners and directors may be assessed ahead of assuming control, in the absence of any opportunity to see how they shape up in action. By that reckoning, Cellino should already be beyond the scope of such a precautionary measure. He has been in situ and extremely active – with a high degree of success, it must be said – for a good few months now. The financial state of the Football League’s most illustrious member club has been improved beyond all recognition; the squad has been revamped courtesy of some rather effective recruitment and at least one thieves’ bargain of a sale. In short, Cellino has dispensed with the need for any pre-emptive, anticipatory “Fit and Proper Test”, by the simple expedient of getting in and doing a fantastic job; he has shown that he is a fit and proper owner of Leeds United by dragging the club up by its bootstraps and improving things enormously, in a relatively short space of time. The future now looks bright for the Whites.

Whatever the technical ins and outs of the law, and of the poorly-drafted and incompetently-applied Football League test, it is this reality of the situation that is surely important now. Cellino has moved well beyond any need for “vetting”, an assessment before the fact of his suitability to own and run a Football League club. He has shown his competence and his enthusiasm – his passion for the job in hand. Leeds United today is a very different entity to the moribund hulk Cellino first walked into just a few months back, a club left half-dead by the year on year depredations of unscrupulous and self-serving men – not excluding the current League CEO. Cellino has almost single-handedly brought about that difference, by the force of his personality as much as by the not inconsiderable investment he has made in the club. There can be no more relevant and accurate assessment of fitness and propriety than this; the League’s pettifogging regulations have been transcended by fact and reality.

Should there now be a further attempt to oust Cellino, simply because a collection of prosaic paragraphs and sub-clauses says that there should be, then the interests of Leeds United and football in general would be extremely ill-served. The consequences would be as undesirable as they would be immense; a club of history and distinction could swiftly be reduced from its current state of rapidly recovering health, back onto the critical list, haemorrhaging money left, right and centre, tumbling down the league, with the Official Receiver once again licking his lips with relish. Is this what the Football League, with its implied duty of care, would wish for one of its member clubs? I ask you.

The answer to that last question could well be yes, as many a Leeds fan, pointing to the lessons of history and the various injustices heaped upon their beloved Whites, might gloomily agree. We will have to wait and see what the League, in their extremely finite wisdom, decide to do. But they need to tread carefully, lest they be open to charges of malice, bringing down disaster upon a national institution – just because they technically, possibly, can.

The situation at Leeds today is crystal clear. Massimo Cellino is in charge and he’s doing a good job. Massimo Cellino is proven to be a fit and proper Football League club owner, not least in the context of certain gentlemen who quite clearly aren’t, but who – bizarrely – are not being held to account.

Look at the real-life situation, Harvey & Co, and have a care. You can’t afford to look any more ridiculous than you already do, in the light of recent rather unwise public statements. Exercise a little discretion and leave well alone. Leave United alone. Cellino and Leeds are on the up. Let them get on with it.

Football League Ready to Stretch a Point to Accept Cellino? – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Massimo Cellino – waiting game

They’re strange folks at the Football League.  When the news broke this morning of Massimo Cellino’s less-than-ideal result in the Italian Courts, I rather expected that we’d have a ringing non-endorsement of the King of Corn in good time for an early lunch.  This pessimistic view was based on close to fifty years’ experience of the game’s authorities being ready, willing and indeed eager to do Leeds United a power of no-good at every possible opportunity – the so-called “Hardaker Approach”.  But in the hours since the court decision was reached, all we’ve had from the League is a brief, bland statement which noted the Cellino verdict and added only: “We are engaged in an ongoing dialogue with his legal representatives in this country and cannot comment further at this time.”

Heads will be scratched and brains will be cudgelled as to precisely what that dialogue is aiming to establish.  There are various theories flying around, surrounding issues such as whether the matter is a civil or a criminal one, whether the status of Cellino remains innocent until proven guilty when there are still legal stages to be gone through – and, significantly, whether the League’s test should even apply to Cellino because of their own 30% stake provision – Cellino apparently only has 9.5% of Eleonora Sports, the company that is in the process of acquiring 75% of Leeds United.

It is the fact that this “ongoing dialogue” is going on at all, though, that is really of most interest. There is just the faintest whiff of a suspicion that the League would like to have its biggest club, its most compelling attraction, established on a  secure footing if at all possible.  It may just be to this end that talks and negotiations are now going on.  In various corners of the Leeds United universe, there are stubborn voices of faith, claiming that the takeover will go through, that all parties have long been prepared for today’s eventuality and that a way will be found to confirm the takeover, with whatever technical or cosmetic tweaks that might be necessary.

Such a theory also allows for the fact that yet another administration may not simply be a disaster for Leeds United, but also for the game’s governing body below Premier League level – and maybe even for the Premier League itself, for whom the eventual participation of Leeds is more and more being spoken of as A Good Thing.  This line of thinking says that Leeds’ presence would be welcomed in a league which has long marketed itself on glamour and excitement, but which has had rather too many Wigans, Cardiffs and Norwich Cities lately – and not enough Leeds Uniteds, Sheffield Wednesdays and even Nottingham Forests.  Leeds are easily the biggest pull below the Premier League, and there would be distinct financial benefits for any League containing a Leeds team doing well and pushing up the table.

It’s all speculation of course – but, given the theory that the Football League were simply waiting for today’s Cellino court verdict in order to give a simple yea or nay, the fact that there is still apparently so much to talk about may well prove significant in the final reckoning.

Not that I am holding my breath, of course.  There is the Carson Yeung precedent and there is the fact that Cellino promises to be a breath of fresh air at Leeds.  But for it to end up happily, with Leeds building for promotion under a minted benefactor just sounds that bit too good to be true.  For it to happen, we’d surely need to have a bit of good luck.  And we all know that good luck and Leeds United go together like ice cream and mustard.

Still – it might yet be an interesting few days ahead.  But whether that’ll be in a good way, or a bad way, remains very much up in the air.