Football Shorts: Arrivederci, Massimo

by | Dec 8, 2016

Few of us had seriously believed that it was going to happen, this time around. With the advantage of retrospect, it looks like this might just have been all the excuse they needed. Leeds United’s Massimo Cellino was given an eighteen month ban from all football-related activity today, up to and including acting as a director or as a shadow director – and the apparent emphasis on the latter of these feels like a shot across the bows, from somewhere – and is also required to attend and complete an FA education programme covering the duties and responsibilities of an owner and director of an English football club by the end of April next year. Yes it is an incongruous mental image, isn’t it?

Cellino was found to have facilitated a payment of £185,000 to an unlicensed adviser of Ross McCormack. He is, of course appealing the ruling. It’s what he does. Time and time again, repeated appeals, as though butter wouldn’t melt. So, we shall see. It will be his third since arriving in the English game just over two and a half years ago. According to the Guardian, “The delay in announcing a sanction scheduled to take effect from 1 February was prompted by concerns that publicising Cellino’s punishment for his role in Ross McCormack’s transfer from Leeds to Fulham in 2014 for around £11m might prejudice the appeal the 60-year-old Italian is currently preparing.”

He is said to be close to a sale of almost 50% of the shares in the club to another Italian, the businessman Andrea Radrizzani, so would now be the prudent time for him to leave the club once and for all? It’s not as though he hasn’t been close to doing so before, though his erratic decisions frequently cast doubt over how serious he actually ever was about selling. This time, however, it seems to be very close. The price for this deal is presumably already agreed, but any future sales are unlikely to have their value to Cellino increased by today’s events.

If there is anybody who’s going to increase the value of Cellino’s remaining shareholding in the club, it’s Garry Monk’s team. Leeds United sit in fourth place in the Football League Championship at the moment, having lost just one of their last seven games, with that loss coming against the division’s at the time runaway leaders, Newcastle United. In their last game, they inflicted upon Aston Villa their first defeat under their new manager, Steve Bruce. This is a team that has half a chance of getting promoted into the Premier League. Newcastle have stuttered, Brighton & Hove Albion have a lot resting on this and are capable of nerviness, whilst Reading are in form, but can this last?

Leeds have been solid and have gained consistency. They’ve been a little lucky, at times – surviving a late onslaught at Rotherham, for example, felt rather more as though it came about more by accident than design – but they’ve been strong. They’ve looked a very good team at times, over the last few weeks. And the city is holding its breath. Is this is another flash in the pan, or is it the start of something built on firmer foundations? It’s not so long since Monk was being talked of as close to the sack. A fake news website was reporting it nine days after he took the job. By the end of August, the Daily Express, which it’s tempting to regard as a half-way house between faux news and real news, was reporting it. Within two or three weeks, the story spread elsewhere, as well. But the sack never came. Monk’s team recovered its poise, and Leeds have a chance now.

With the long standing rumours of a Red Bull takeover finally starting to fade, for now – the company itself confirmed that it is not interested in buying into English football for now, though it seems difficult to believe that the “for now” there might not turn out to be significant – Cellino’s grip on the club is surely fatally weakened. This kind of has to be the beginning of the end. But if he is to leave Elland Road and completely sell his interest in the club, does he stick or twist? The possibility of the club being in the Premier League  next season – and who knows how that might be looking in, say, a couple of months – versus the possibility of losing the appeal and having to sell. Finding the right moment will be a tall order for Cellino, should it come to it. Leeds United’s team, though, is having its best season in more than a decade, at the moment. Is Massimo Cellino smart enough to stay out of the limelight, do the right thing, and give the city its best chance? We shall see.

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