Massimo Cellino appears to once again be the front-runner to buy Leeds United after Andrew Flowers confirmed he had ended his bid - the second time the club sponsor has done so in a week.
As chaos continues to reign at Elland Road, Flowers - who it emerged yesterday has served a winding-up petition against the club - released a statement in which he confirmed his interest in buying the Championship outfit from Gulf Finance House Capital was over.
Flowers, who runs Leeds’ principal sponsor, Enterprise Insurance, claimed the bid from Cagliari owner Massimo Cellino, which has been accepted and he was hoping to topple, represented a “fire sale” and was “superficially attractive”.
His statement read: “I entered discussions in good faith to buy this club for the simple reason that I am a life-long supporter and sincerely believed that I could make a real contribution towards the goal of promotion to the Premier League and at the same time provide the stability and sound financial governance the club desperately needs.
“However, the emergence of Mr Cellino’s bid, and the nature of the transaction, seems to have crystallised the attitudes of both GFH and the Leeds United board, enabling them to dispose of the club with no consideration for its ultimate security and wellbeing.
"In effect, it is a “fire sale” transaction which is not in the interests of Leeds United, its players, staff or loyal supporters.”
Flowers served his petition on January 29, believed to be in relation to money he loaned the club in 2012.
A day earlier, he had spoken of his unrest at the way his bid, along with club managing director David Haigh under the name Sport Capital, had been treated.
A day later, Haigh confirmed the bid was dead and on Friday, Cellino, the 57-year-old agricultural entrepreneur emerged as the lead bidder, triggering a string of farcical and often unbelievable events.
Cellino was barricaded inside Elland Road by fans after he authorised a lawyer to sack manager Brian McDermott, despite not having signed papers for the club.
The next day Leeds beat Huddersfield 5-1 and the current owners claimed McDermott was still the manager.
The 52-year-old returned to work on Monday and calm appeared to be approaching the horizon again, especially when it was understood Flowers had pooled resources with another interested group, Together Leeds.
That party includes the former Manchester United director Mike Farnan and Hull FC owner Adam Pearson, with Farnan earlier complaining he had been locked out of discussions.
However, after GFH released a statement last night which contested Flowers’ winding-up petition, the life-long Leeds fan has thrown in the towel.
“Both myself and my company, Enterprise Insurance, have been enormous financial supporters of the club for the last few years and, while we may understand the commercial expediency which leads the owners to accept the superficially attractive Cellino offer, we remain firmly convinced this deal will not give the club the stability or investor commitment it badly needs,” he added.
“Despite our serious misgivings, we wish the team, the manager and fans well for the future and I remain a very enthusiastic Leeds supporter.
"I have no other comment to make at this time about outstanding financial and legal issues between us and the current owners.”
Flowers also joined academy sponsor Flamingo Land in withdrawing commercial backing of the club after the McDermott episode.
It is understood that Farnan’s group remain keen to talk to GFH in a bid to try and match the £25million Cellino is thought to have offered the club for a 75 per cent share - with whatever he put forward having already been accepted albeit without any contracts exchanged.
It was reported today that the often controversial character, known as ‘The King of Corn’, had made a loan to Leeds of around £1.5million - Leeds have preciously accepted loans from Flowers and also from Haigh.
All that now appears to be left is for the Football League to ratify Cellino’s takeover.
The man who has sacked 36 managers in 20 years at Cagliari has two previous convictions for fraud but they will likely be considered as spent when he is put through the League’s Fit and Proper Person test.
The whole affair has cast Leeds into the headlines, and the club’s Supporters’ Trust has expressed concerns about what would happen were Cellino to be succesful.
“It is clear that emotions are running high and there is a lot of confusion, frustration and anger about what became almost a pantomime performance of events at Elland Road and Thorp Arch,” the Trust said.
“Our members believe this has damaged the image of LUFC, left the credibility of our current owners in tatters and made the intentions of our potential new owner at the very best questionable.”
If Cellino does purchase the club there is no reason to suggest events will be any less chaotic.
His attempts to sack McDermott ran alongside the installing of former Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa at the club’s training ground and the signing of unknown midfielder Andrea Tabanelli on loan from Cagliari.
Several other Italian players were unable to be signed before the transfer deadline as there was no one left at the club to sanction the deals.