I had to smirk when I awoke on Monday morning to news that Massimo Cellino, the eccentric (I’m being polite) owner of Leeds United A.F.C. had been disqualified from the Yorkshire club and asked to resign by the Football League. I guess that’s the owner equivalent of ‘left by mutual consent’.
So who exactly is Cellino?
Well he’s the former owner of Italian outfit Cagliari, where he earned the nickname Il Mangia-Allenatori, translated as The Manager Eater. Now quite why any manager would choose to work for a man with such a nickname is quite beyond me. But they did. And since May he has sacked three. Beware the ides of March.
Anyway, Cellino is a rather outspoken individual – imagine a cross between Bernie Ecclestone and Paolo Di Canio (you get the picture). Some of his quotes since joining Leeds include ‘Me, I sort out the f***ing problems at Leeds,’ and ‘[the fans are]…tired of eating sh*t and shutting their mouths. They accept me with enthusiasm and that gives me a lot of responsibility. I’m the richest man in the world with these fans and I can challenge anyone, everyone.’
Quite the charmer isn’t he?
Well up until Monday he was the flamboyant (still being polite) owner of fallen giants Leeds. That is until he was ‘disqualified’ for, yep, you guessed it, tax evasion. How boringly unoriginal of him. It was something of an anti-climax considering the nature of the man, but there we have it.
Cellino was found guilty in March of failing to pay import tax duty on his yacht (they all have yachts). The League (in their defence) did attempt to block his takeover of Leeds at the time. But their decision was overturned by a QC, who granted the takeover in April. That gentleman will surely be receiving a pink slip in the mail.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that Cellino will be able to resume control of the club from 18th March next year, as all his convictions will be deemed spent.
Anyway, this all got me thinking about what a mockery these owners continue to make of the Football League, Premier League and FA ‘fit and proper’ tests. Now I don’t want to have another pop at the poor old FA, so I’ll leave them out of this post. But it seems ridiculous that so many questionable characters are allowed to take such positions of power. And if there are independent parties overruling decisions the leagues make in the first place what is the point of having measures in place for a fit and proper test?
I am reminded of the Carson Yeung debacle – the Hong Kong businessman who took over (then) Premier League club Birmingham City in 2009 and is now facing 6 years in prison for money laundering.
Then there was media circus involving Portsmouth FC in 2009, when the then Premier League side endured two takeovers in as many months. Takeovers from men like Dr. Sulaiman Al Fahim, who wasn’t actually a doctor of anything and seemingly had fewer discernible assets than David James. Then there was Balram Chainrai the man who successfully oversaw the administration of the first ever Premier League club, when Pompey entered administration in February 2010. And Cellino is the latest example, though something tells me he won’t be the last.
Why aren’t the league’s means-testing wannabe owners to make sure they can service existing debts and pump money into the club? Why are prospective owners not being screened for criminal histories, particularly those involving fraud or larceny?
When these kind of shady characters are being allowed to take over top level football clubs with no questions being asked you know something’s rotten in Denmark.
Ultimately it is the supporters, players (sometimes) and the clubs themselves who suffer – not the owners. The English football system needs to stop embarrassing itself and properly screen prospective owners before allowing appointments and takeovers to go ahead.
For more from Matthew visit www.matthewbiggin.com