Massimo Cellino’s long-term future as Leeds owner has been cast into doubt after the Italian businessman lost his appeal against disqualification by the Football League.
Cellino was uncertain about his future plans after the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) chaired by Tim Kerr QC rejected the appeal, deciding a tax evasion conviction in Italy last year was an offence of dishonesty.
Although the disqualification period expires on April 10, Cellino is facing further tax evasion cases in Italy later this year which could now affect his long-term future with Leeds.
Asked if he would be back in April, Cellino told Sky Sports News: “Listen, I am still shocked by what has happened today. I think there was some unfair things.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to say anything wrong, that’s not true. I’m feeling like a guest at a party where you’re not welcome. I don’t need that.”
He added: “I’m not a dishonest person, I did nothing dishonest. The club has got the money to pay the wages, to pay the tax, to pay all the bills.
“If I walk away, the money’s there to pay the bills. The problem is that if you put anyone else in, it’s very hard to be around this club. I think anyone else, without my help, is going to have a lot of difficulty.”
The club are now seeking further legal advice, but it remains unclear whether Cellino can take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Cellino will now have until Wednesday to step down as a director, cut ties with Leeds and undertake not to have any significant influence over the club until April 10 when his conviction becomes spent under UK law.
One Leeds board member, Andrew Umbers, had told the PCC there was “a real likelihood of insolvency” if Cellino was disqualified. This was disputed by the Football League’s lawyer Jonathan Taylor, who said Umbers’ claims were “exaggerated, speculative and unsupported by any external evidence or, tellingly, by any evidence from Mr Cellino himself”, according to the written judgement.
In the judgement, dismissing Cellino’s appeal against the Football League’s decision to disqualify him, the PCC stated: “We consider that the judge’s findings of fact, and her description of Mr Cellino’s state of mind based on them, is of conduct which would reasonably be considered to be dishonest.
“We therefore conclude that Mr Cellino has been convicted of an offence involving a ’Dishonest Act’ within the meaning of the rules, and that he is accordingly subject to a ’Disqualifying Condition’.”
Cellino and Leeds will also face a further misconduct charge for failing to supply the Italian court judgement to the Football League when it first became available.
The League also said it will provide any assistance requested by Leeds to help it minimise the effect of Cellino’s disqualification.
A Football League spokesman said: “The Football League’s sole objective throughout this process has been to ensure that our regulations, as democratically approved by our member clubs, are complied with.
“These regulations uphold principles relating to club ownership that are widely recognised to be in the interests of the game and have the support of the other football authorities, the Government and football supporters generally.”
Leeds chief operating officer Matthew Child confirmed the club will be seeking further legal advice and said it was too early to comment on who would oversee the running of the Championship outfit in Cellino’s absence.
“I can’t at this stage,” Child told BBC Radio Leeds. “We’ve a few more discussions to have. There are lots of priorities at the moment and that’s one of them, but probably not the top one at this moment in time – very close, but not the top.
“We are surprised and really disappointed. We will continue to take legal advice and we are working round the clock, as we have been for a period of time, to see what our options are because this is uncharted territory for all of us.”