Leeds’ owners have confirmed they have agreed to sell a majority stake in the club to Italian Massimo Cellino.
Gulf Finance House released a statement at lunchtime after a manic 24 hours at Elland Road, confirming it had agreed a 75% sale to Eleonora Sport Ltd – Cellino’s company – subject to Football League approval.
The news had been expected, but came a day after Cellino had overseen the removal of manager Brian McDermott in favour of long-term friend Gianluca Festa.
However in another twist, it is believed ahead of today’s game with Huddersfield the club were working on persuading McDermott to return to the dugout.
The statement read: ``Following recent media reports and speculation, GFH Capital would like to confirm that it has agreed to sell a 75% stake in the club to Eleonora Sport Ltd, a company owned by the Cellino family who have many years' experience in football and who plan to invest substantially in the club including the re-acquisition of Elland Road.
“Eleonora will be working on completing the required Football League approval.
“The Cellino family is a well known Italian sports family, who have owned Serie A side Cagliari since 1992. They come to English football with an ambition to support Leeds United financially to take it to the Premier League and a belief that the club can sustain top-flight status.
“Since the agreement, Leeds United is in discussion with Eleonora Sport Ltd on a number of issues concerning club matters, including the structure of the management of the first team.”
The issue of first-team management was thrust into the spotlight when McDermott was removed by Cellino before news of his accepted bid had been confirmed.
McDermott is understood to have paid the price for refusing to allow Festa to sit in the dugout with him against Ipswich on Tuesday, while he was also told yesterday that he would be getting a number of Italian signings.
Festa was to take the team against Huddersfield along with academy coach Neil Redfearn, but McDermott’s assistant Nigel Gibbs arrived at Elland Road and it was understood he and Redfearn would manage the Leeds side, with Festa’s involvement remaining unclear.
Regardless of whether or not McDermott returns, the chaotic events of last night have already done collateral damage, with club sponsors Enterprise Insurance and Flamingo Land readying themselves to withdraw their backing.
Andrew Flowers, the owner of Enterprise Insurance, had been attempting to buy the club along with Leeds’ managing director David Haigh under the guise of Sport Capital.
That collapsed on Thursday, paving the way for Cellino to move into the box seat. Flowers is said to be considering legal action.
Cellino could still face opposition from the Football League’s Fit and Proper Person Test – he has a previous conviction for fraud – while a consortium headed up by former Manchester United director Mike Farnan says it is refusing to go away despite the statement.
“We continue to seek dialogue and have substantial backing with offers of support increasing by the minute,” Farnan tweeted.
The Italian influence at Elland Road continues to grow despite that, though, with Cagliari confirming that Leeds had signed midfielder Andrea Tabanelli on loan from them, with Leeds later adding him to the squad list on their website.
Fifty-seven-year-old Cellino is an agricultural entrepreneur and is known in Cagliari as ’The King of Corn’. He has owned Cagliari for 20 years and had 36 managers in that time.