A recent ruling by the Football League means that, to much astonishment, the owner of a football club has somehow failed the ‘fit and proper persons’ test. While multi-billionaires with reputed connections to disreputable individuals and organisations have been allowed to purchase English clubs with relative ease in the past, Leeds United‘s Massimo Cellino has actually managed to get himself disqualified by the Football League – despite saving the Yorkshire club from the brink by purchasing it from Gulf Finance House Capital in January – after he was found guilty of tax evasion by an Italian court.
While we could continue to criticise the flaws and shortcomings of the test by maintaining this none-too-subtlly sarcastic tone, Leeds are ultimately the victims in all of this, and a brief consideration of the effects of the ruling on the Elland Road club is in order.
Firstly, while Cellino – nicknamed “The Manager Eater” during his time as owner of Italian side Cagliari – may appear to be an irresponsible and trigger-happy maniac to those football fans who don’t follow Leeds, his popularity amongst the supporters of the club must not be underestimated. The significant investement of both his money and his time into Leeds – who have suffered such damaging financial hardship over the past decade – has been greatly appreciated. If the appeal into his disqualification falls through – and Cellino is forced to cease putting funds into the club – an ominous question mark will yet again loom over Leeds’ future stability.
However, let us not ignore the fact that Cellino’s presence at Elland Road has been somewhat damaging to the side’s footballing fortunes. While he may have brought a degree of stability to the club off the pitch, things have at times been comically unstable on it. He has lived up to his reputation by devouring three managers in four months – the most unfortunate being Darko Milanic, who lasted just 32 days – and as a result of this constant sense of uncertainty, Leeds have found it difficult to find any consistency this season. They are currently in 15th place in the Championship with 23 points and are nearer to the relegation zone than the play-off places, while Noel Hunt – the Leeds forward who joined Ipswich Town on a loan deal last week after struggling at Elland Road – recently said that he was being affected by the ‘nonsense’ happening at his parent club. So well-publicised and drawn-out have been the reports into Cellino’s running of the club that it would come as no surprise if other players at Leeds shared Hunt’s sentiments. Some may even be secretly glad about the Football League’s ruling.
Cellino’s appeal into his disqualification means that the controversial Italian is likely to remain in the headlines for some time to come. What this bodes for Leeds United – who are desperate for a period of stability – remains to be seen.
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