The Football League has confirmed it is still in talks with Leeds over the club’s proposed £25million takeover by Italian businessman Massimo Cellino.
Cellino’s company Eleonora Sport Ltd exchanged contracts with Leeds’ owners Gulf Finance House Capital on February 7 for 75 per cent of the club’s shares, and the Cagliari owner has since been waiting for the League’s approval.
A League statement read: “The Football League remains in discussions with both the owners and proposed purchasers of Leeds United, regar-ding the planned change of ownership.
“To date, a significant amount of the requested information has been supplied by GFH and Eleonora Sport but there are still a number of outstanding matters that will require further submissions from the two parties.
“The Board of The Football League is next scheduled to meet on March 13 where it will receive an update on the matter from the League’s executive, unless all the remaining issues can be resolved satisfactorily in advance of this date.”
Miami-based Cellino, 57, has twice been convicted of fraud and is currently contesting a charge of embezzlement but remains confident of passing the League’s “owners and directors’ test”.
Current owners GFH Capital, a Bahrain-based investment firm, bought the club from Ken Bates in December 2012 and plan to retain a ten per cent stake in the club.
If Cellino’s takeover is approved by the League, Leeds’ current chairman Salah Nooruddin will remain in his post and managing director David Haigh will become the club’s new chief executive.
International Investment Bank and Nooruddin (3.3 per cent) will still own the remaining 15 per cent of shares.
Cellino, nicknamed the ‘King of Corn’ after making his fortune in the agricultural industry, received a 15-month suspended prison sentence in 2001 after being convicted of false accounting at Cagliari.
A previous conviction in 1996 for fraudulently claiming EU agricultural subsidies was overturned in 2012, while in February 2013 he spent 16 days in jail after being arrested for embezzlement – a charge he denies – in relation to the redevelopment of Cagliari’s Is Arena stadium.
But Cellino’s two convictions, nearly 13 and 18 years old, are considered “spent” in English law and it is understood they cannot be taken into consideration under the League’s “owners and directors’ test”.
In relation to his outstanding charge, Cellino is assumed innocent until it can be proved otherwise.
Cellino, long considered one of the most charismatic owners in Italian football, was shown around Leeds’ Thorp Arch training ground for the first time in October.
He verbally agreed to a 75 per cent takeover with GFH Capital at the end of January and tried to sack manager Brian McDermott and install friend and former Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa as team boss.
That bid sparked outrage among Leeds fans, who attempted to barricade Cellino at Elland Road on the eve of their home game against Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield on February 1.
McDermott stayed away from the game, which Leeds won 5-1 under the stewardship of assistant Nigel Gibbs, while GFH Capital released a statement before the game had ended overruling Cellino and stating McDermott was still manager.
McDermott returned to work as normal the following Monday and Cellino attempted to distance himself from the controversy, claiming it was the current owners who wanted to sack the manager.
Cellino has since said he is willing to work with McDermott if his takeover gets the go-ahead and the two men have met twice to discuss the way forward.