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SBD Global/April 7, 2014/Franchises

Football League's Decision Overturned, Cellino Given Go-Ahead To Purchase Leeds

Italian Massimo Cellino will take over as Leeds United president.
Italian businessman Massimo Cellino "has been given approval to complete the purchase" of League Championship club Leeds United "after an independent Queen's Council overturned the Football League's initial decision to block him," according to Reich & Weir of REUTERS. Cellino, president of Italian Serie A club Cagliari, agreed in February to buy a 75% stake in former English champions Leeds for a reported $41.48M from Dubai-based GFH Capital. However, the Football League's board blocked Cellino from completing the deal after an Italian court "found him guilty of tax evasion." Cellino "will now become president of Leeds," and Managing Dir David Haigh will become CEO. Haigh said, "This is a significant day in the history of Leeds United." The English football authorities "have been under pressure to take a tougher line on scrutinising club owners" after Birmingham City President Carson Yeung "was jailed in Hong Kong for money laundering last month." Cellino "had argued that the ban should not apply as he was appealing against the decision of the Italian court," which fined him €600,000 ($822,000) "for failing to pay import duties on a yacht" (REUTERS, 4/5). In London, David Conn reported the Football League could clear Cellino this week, then "disqualify him within three months if a Sardinian court says Cellino was dishonest when found guilty of tax evasion." That possibility "has been opened up" by the judgment of a QC, Tim Kerr, who allowed Cellino's appeal after the League barred the Italian from buying Leeds due to his conviction in Cagliari on March 18. Kerr "did not consider the facts behind Cellino's conviction at all, but decided the League was wrong to decide the Italian had acted dishonestly, before seeing the written judgment of the Cagliari court" (GUARDIAN, 4/6).

PREMIER PROMISE: Also in London, James Boylan reported Cellino "vowed to return the Elland Road club to the Premier League in two years' time." Leeds is "currently languishing in the bottom half of the Championship," but Cellino is confident his investment "can help get the Yorkshire club back in the top flight," where it has not been since '04. Cellino said, "I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep and I admit it will be difficult to get promotion next season. But in 2015-16 we will earn our way back to the Premier League, which is where Leeds belong" (METRO). In London, Pete Ferguson noted the Football League said, "We are disappointed at the outcome of the appeal hearing. However, we would like to thank the independent QC for his diligence in reviewing this decision." Leeds Manager Brian McDermott "has become something of an ally of Cellino's, despite being sacked by his lawyer by phone in February, then hastily reinstated after an outpouring of support for the manager at the next day's win over Huddersfield." McDermott: "I'd welcome the stability with a man who has great clout. The most important thing isn't the position of the manager or any individual player, it's Leeds United going forward. I can work with him" (GUARDIAN, 4/5).
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