"Cut me some slack, man!"
Words that have likely been said by virtually everyone at one point during their life.
Not from the Football League to Leeds United though; no slackening there, just the ever-tightening of a noose that restricts and confines.
Until today, Leeds United and Massimo Cellino finally caught some slack in the news that Cellino isn't under any compunction to sell his 75% stake in the club. A report in the Guardian Online edition quotes Cellino as having told the Football League that he "does not directly own [the] 75% stake."
It seems that the requirement to sell the shares, part of the requirements laid down two weeks ago when Cellino failed the League's 'fit and proper persons' test, no longer needs to be met. As requested by the League, and complied with by Massimo Cellino, the Leeds United 'owner' stood down when his period of grace to get his affairs in order ran out two weeks ago. However, like any good gambler, it seems that Leeds' El Jefe was holding a couple of spare aces. After all, it is common for an Italian pack of cards to have six Aces...isn't it?
In a move that has given football clean-up MP Damian Collins a serious state of conniptions, it appears that Leeds United is 75% owned by a 'blind trust' which sees Cellino and his family as beneficiaries. It is their [Cellino and family] opinion that, seeing as the share are held in 'blind trust' and that they will themselves do not own any shares, no shares need to be sold in order for Cellino to comply with the terms of his ban.
This brings up a couple of intersting points: the contradiction of Leeds' ownership described in the Football League's banning of Cellino and also the similarities with the Ken Bates/Offshore Trust ownership of Leeds United. The former, the League's banning criteria, said that "Mr Cellino, through corporate vehicles controlled by him and his family, acquired a controlling interest in Leeds United Football Club" but, with today's disclosure, this seems to hold less water than a shot-to-pieces sieve. The latter, the Bates ownership situation, was typified by unnamed offshore owners who even the chief executive of Leeds United at the time didn't know and it was this chief executive who sought Football League approval for this ownership model to be ratified. That chief executive was one Shaun Harvey, the very same person now Chief Executive at the Football League.
In a tit-for-tat spat, the Rt Hon. Mr Collins and the Football League are at loggerheads. The former, Damian Collins, is quoted as saying,
"It is unacceptable and makes a mockery of the rules if Massimo Cellino has been banned, but the Football League accepts the argument that a trust of which he is a beneficiary can remain in control. If the league is happy with this it calls into question whether they are fit to run their competition, and whether we can have confidence in Shaun Harvey as the chief executive, who said when he was at Leeds that he did not know who the owners were."
In rebuttal, the Football League fired a broadside back stating,
"It is for Leeds United to satisfy the Football League that Massimo Cellino is not acting as a relevant person [an owner or director] as defined by its regulations, rather than for the league to dictate how this is achieved.
For once, it seems, Leeds United fans can sit on the sidelines and watch a bunfight without actually being involved.