“An Italian entrepreneur, football club owner, and convicted fraudster.” This is the description that was given to new Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino. He is already being compared to other extravagant and often farcical team owners such as Cardiff’s Vincent Tan or Blackburn’s Venky Family; in the manner they have financial muscle, but are more than a little unorthodox. With him allegedly firing then rehiring head coach Brian McDermott before he had even officially purchased the club, there is a lot of palaver surrounding Cellino, and we decided to take a closer look at why…
Cellino was born in 1956 on the Italian island of Sardinia, to a rather wealthy family. His father Ercole Sem founded a bootstrap business that would eventually become an agricultural institution in Europe. In 1975 when he was 18, Massimo moved to London where he worked in the Regent Palace hotel as a dishwasher and also played a bit of guitar as a ‘paying hobby’ (more on that later.) He began a degree in accountancy, but later returned home in order to take a position in his father’s business, a move which would consequently lead to him being dubbed ‘The King of Corn.’
After expanding his father’s business empire through incorporation, acquisitions and some general good old fashioned business, Cellino bought his boyhood heroes Cagliari in 1992 and has became somewhat of a cult figure for the club, despite several clashes with the fans. Perhaps the reasoning for the fans’ affinity towards him is his other clashes, which have included bouts with the Italian FA and even the Italian authorities, all in the name of Cagliari! On several occasions, Cellino has came under scrutiny for his apparent ‘shady’ business dealings, and has actually been convicted TWICE during his time as owner of the club. In 2001 he was convicted of false accounting regarding the Sardinian club, while more worryingly, in 1996 he was convicted of conning the Italian Ministry of Agriculture out of £7.5M! The man essentially stole from the government, and to be fair, that takes some cojones. Cellino had already publicly stated that he will sell Cagliari once his purchase of Leeds was complete.
Leeds were actually not Cellino’s first attempt at buying a British club; he has tried to buy it on no less than two occasions. First he tried to buy West Ham in January 2010, but was warded off due to his inevitable failure of the fit and proper persons test, or so it would seem. Just 3 months later, he attempted to buy Crystal Palace and then even decided to declare his interest in buying QPR. So, it’s safe to say that Cellino really, really wanted to buy an English football team.
But, he had to wait until April 2014 when he finally got his wish with the official buyout of Leeds United Football Club. After much commotion regarding his eligibility to buy the club, due to the aforementioned fit and proper persons test, (which Cellino actually failed at the first time of taking) he eventually managed to push through the deal. During the takeover, he did display a great show of integrity, confidence and good intentions by bankrolling the club throughout the entire takeover process, which he had no legal obligation to do.
This integrity kind of went out the window though when he allegedly decided to sack Brian McDermott from his role of head coach and subsequently ‘pleading’ with him to come back. Cellino later denied these allegations and stated that it was the club’s owners at time time, GFH (Gulf Finance House) that wanted him fired, but just “didn’t have the courage to sack him”. There is a fair chance that we will never know exactly what happened during that whole ordeal, but for now, McDermott remains in his position as Head Coach of Leeds United. But, it certainly seems to be a case of ‘for the time being’…
Cellino has already brought in several of his preferred members of staff to the Leeds United coaching team. Among them, former Napoli, Inter Milan and Sheffield Wednesday (among many, many other clubs) star Benito Carbone. He has been brought on board the club’s youth academy staff, although there are strong indications that Cellino’s plan is for him to eventually succeed McDermott as head coach of the club.
So, now the Italian ‘fraudster’ has his English football team. A football team that were once world beaters, a team some might call fallen giants, while others would describe them as sleeping giants. Is Cellino the right man to take Leeds back into the Premiership and the big time? Do you think things will take a turn for the better and they can start recapturing some of the success that has been eluding them for the last decade or so? Or is it just going to be a case of another ‘man with money’ coming in and promising the world but delivering an atlas? Only time will tell.
Oh! The guitar thing.
Cellino plays lead guitar in an Italian cover band. Yeah, you read that right. He’s 57 and still rocks out! You can watch one of their elaborate performances here.