Massimo Cellino, former Cagliari owner.
Amitai Winehouse (@awinehouse1)
The reaction was never going to be particularly calm, but anyone who didn’t see the events of yesterday occurring needed to lend a more critical eye to the situation.
Massimo Cellino, Schrodinger’s owner of Leeds United, went to his appeal with no real case. Given the fact that the situation surrounding the club has never been particularly stable since his arrival, it would have made sense for the Italian and his legal team to keep a staunch defence in their pocket throughout the last year.
As it stands, what they had was little more than had already been heard and rejected by Tim Kerr in April. The only thing that got Cellino through then was a lack of written judgement.
In fact, what occurred was even worse. Andrew Umbers, previous adviser to both Ken Bates and Gulf Finance House, and suddenly a director at Leeds United, suggested that the Elland Road club could go insolvent if Cellino was banned. A direct threat, but one which the panel did not see as possible heading forward.
Looking at that threat, we can see the extent to which it simply isn’t true. The majority of the debt at the club is held by owners of Leeds, meaning that any insolvency and reformation would do little but clear it, rendering both Cellino and GFH with a clean slate but none of the money they have put into the club. Money, of course, that has been required as a result of mismanagement by several owners.
Attempting to threaten the Football League into contravening their own rules is symptomatic of the manner in which Cellino has run the football club since his arrival.
I don’t believe he has any bad intention, and compared to the previous two owners, he’s an improvement, but the manager eater speaks in half truths and has made consistently poor decisions since he bought the club.
The simple act of buying it was bad enough, given the nature of the share purchase agreement with GFH. How Cellino found himself paying so much for a club ostensibly riddled with debt is a question that will baffle me from now until the end of time. How he found himself forced to follow the financial demands of the minority owner I also do not understand.
What followed was the crazy deadline day, one which saw Brian McDermott sacked and Ross McCormack demand a transfer.
The first victim of Cellino at Leeds, Brian McDermott, removed from his post as manager twice.
The protest was obvious, but Leeds fans, including myself, soon settled down into supporting Cellino in one way or another – he seemed like a means to an end, a method of getting rid of GFH and David Haigh, whose very presence had come to poison the atmosphere around the club. The Bahraini bank seemed to be dragging Leeds towards financial woe.
It was also at this time that Cellino had his infamous interview with White Leeds Radio, something that changed opinions. The problem is that his chat that night, when he admitted he was “drunk”, is the only time we’ve seen the real Massimo Cellino. Since then, the character he developed in that interview has been pushed, not as a genuine human, but as a PR exercise. Cellino is a passionate man, they tell us, but that passion is easy to dismiss when he is nowhere to be found during key points of both the summer and winter transfer windows, when he was in Miami rather than carrying out transfer activity.
The appointment of Dave Hockaday came, and my faith was immediately lost. It took only about five minutes at Guiseley to see how out of his depth the former Forest Green Rovers manager was, and the team was struggling as a result.
Summer’s transfer business was also questionable, and coming out of the window, I only saw relegation on the cards. A brief upturn in form under Neil Redfearn only papered over the cracks and has helped magnify the truth of the situation – Leeds’ squad this season has never been good enough.
That falls squarely at the door of Cellino. Ken Bates was not disliked simply because he sold our best players, but because of where he spent the money. With the sale of Ross McCormack this summer, Cellino had an opportunity to do good with a staggering £11 million.
He simply didn’t. Promises of buying back Elland Road have disappeared. The transfers in never matched up to McCormack’s departure, and the squad, despite only losing two true first team players in the summer, is weaker, despite extensive incomings. Cellino’s method of working puts the onus for transfer business on his shoulders, with the potential praise that comes with it. When it doesn’t work out, the blame is his too.
There is also the manner in which he deals with the press. Yesterday saw him tell Phil Hay of the Yorkshire Evening Post that Casper Sloth, Souleymane Doukara and Tommasso Bianchi wanted to leave if his appeal failed. Only a short time later, Sloth’s agent clarified that the player was committed to Leeds.
How badly does that reflect on Cellino? Terribly in my opinion. He seems to be using players as pawns in his battle against the Football League, but only serves to highlight his own desire to bend the truth to how he sees the world. This is not the act of a fit owner of a football club.
That’s reality. The Football League may have saved Leeds in the long term, because Cellino’s method of work has plunged the Whites into a relegation battle this season.
Contrast Cellino to the recently passed Leslie Silver and the comparison is even more unflattering. I wrote recently about how Silver’s rise spoke for a huge cultural shift in Leeds, and just like Silver, like Bates, like GFH, Cellino had the potential to create a legacy for himself at Leeds. Unfortunately, what he will likely leave is a negative history, one to be noted down in the books alongside his two predecessors.
It would be for the best interests of Leeds if Cellino were to seek a solution to the current situation, rather than just delaying further. Jinesh Patel, CEO of GFH, told me yesterday that there is a “need to buy time”. That is not to the benefit of anyone connected to Leeds, especially with arguably the club’s most important transfer window in history currently at play.
Let’s run down Cellino, as it stands. His record at Cagliari was spotty at best, and their fans were happy to see him leave. Life at Leeds began with a sacking and has, in the end, had four in under 12 months. His transfers are debatable, his method of working questionable, and his dealings with the press and Leeds fans render him a debatable source of information. In all, outside of the vague notion of the money he has, there’s little to defend Cellino with.
The Football League’s ruling will be much discussed, but ultimately, if a new owner can secure the club from Cellino, one without his perspective on football and without his divisive nature, Leeds could prosper from the decision of the three man panel, which has removed an owner who has never shown himself to be fit.