It is well known that the Football League’s fit and proper person’s test is unfit for purpose. As many Leeds fans have pointed out following Massimo Cellino’s disqualification by the Football League; Birmingham City are owned by a man who is in prison, the Oyston family’s past is more chequered than a chess board and Peter Ridsdale has continually found employment in football despite taking Leeds, Barnsley and Plymouth to the brink of financial disaster before jumping ship just before the rats.
But, despite his reputation as the manager-eater and his previous convictions, Massimo Cellino has been accepted by Leeds fans because he has done what no other owner since Ridsdale did: to invest in the playing squad and fight several fires off the pitch which threatened to engulf Leeds under previous owners GFH. Leeds’ starting XI this year is made up of talented foreign imports and a heart of young players who have come through the academy. Compare this to the squads of previous years under Brian McDermott and Neil Warnock, which were primarily made up of well-tried journeymen who, while successful in the past, no longer had what it took to take Leeds United back to where they belong.
Off the field, Cellino provides a face where there used to be none. For much of the Ken Bates era, Leeds United was owned by a company registered in the Cayman Islands. Under GFH, although the now incarcerated David Haigh played the role of smarmy Managing Director, Leeds were owned by an investment bank who have reportedly used Iranian money to part fund the club. Compared with this the corn-baron Cellino seems approachable and charming.
Then we come to the relationship between Cellino and the fans. To the majority of Leeds United fans, Cellino is a man who has come into the club and delivered on most of what he promised. He overhauled the squad, and has got the team playing decent football under Neil Redfearn. Off the field there was, until this week, more stability and the days of the club constantly fighting off administration and winding up petitions seemed to be in the past. Cellino also treats the fans with more respect than his predecessors. Ken Bates used the club as a soapbox and wrote the fans off as morons. He used his programme notes to settle old scores and used his Yorkshire Radio show to make Hugo Chavez-esque proclamations. Cellino on the other hand sits with the fans, and praises them as the heart of the club.
As a Leeds fan, personally, I am reserving judgement on Cellino until the end of this season. Unquestionably, he has come to the club and been a significant improvement to previous regimes. With a period of stability under Neil Redfearn, Leeds has the personnel and the right manager to achieve a respectable finish to the season. However, crucially, Cellino has sacked two managers who should never have been hired in the first place and he has not bought back Elland Road which he promised to do in November. I am of the opinion the hiring and subsequent firing of Darko Milanic was a smokescreen to distract attention away from this. Nevertheless if Peter Ridsdale, Ken Bates and GFH have all been ruled fit and proper persons to own and destroy Leeds United, I struggle to see why Massimo Cellino is unfit to continue the good work that he has done so far.