LFU: ‘Hostility’ would scupper any other Leeds deal

Ian Watson
Massimo Cellino Leeds United Football365

The chief executive of Leeds Fans Utd (LFU) says he hopes to agree a period of exclusivity shortly in order to work out a deal to purchase the club.

Dylan Thwaites is fronting the supporters’ group which current majority owner Massimo Cellino has told he will sell his stake to.

The Italian has yet to name his price for the Elland Road club he bought in April 2014, and there are reports other potential bidders have expressed an interest since Cellino announced his decision to sell to the fans on Friday.

But it is understood Cellino wants to hand over his shares in order to have a ‘legacy’ at the end of a tumultuous time in charge of the club, and Thwaites says he hopes to have a period of exclusivity agreed soon.

He told Press Association Sport: “At our meeting on Friday, Massimo was absolutely clear that he was only selling to fans. Indeed, when we asked if we could involve any of the other third parties we have been working with, he was adamant that he would only sell to Leeds fans. This clearly gives us an exclusive position. Of course, as professionals we need this signing and we expect to have that shortly.”

Cellino’s Elland Road reign – which has seen him employ six managers – has been littered with unfathomable about-turns and outspoken outbursts, lending weight to the theory the 59-year-old could decide to sell the club to someone other than the fans.

Thwaites, though, believes the former Cagliari owner will be a man of his word.

“We have found all of our dealings with Massimo to be straightforward, and we don’t go along with the stereotype some people seem to have of him,” he added.

“I think he will have noted the massive upturn in positivity that his decision to sell to us has created and will not want Leeds United to return to the dark place it was in just a few days ago.”

The likes of former Southampton chief executive Nicola Cortese have been linked with making a rival bid for a club which has lurched from one off-field crisis to another over the last decade.

Indeed, Cellino himself is currently fighting a second Football League disqualification for a tax evasion offence in Italy while he has three further criminal cases to face.

His decision to sell comes at a time when the majority of United’s fans have turned on him, as witnessed during Thursday’s loss to Blackburn, and Thwaites believes Cellino will be wary of the dissent a change of heart would cause.

“I think it would be crazy for anyone to seek to steal this deal from the Leeds fans. The level of hostility generated would be a death blow to any sensible bid plan,” he said.

During its infancy LFU had discussions with Oscar-winning actor and celebrity Leeds fan Russell Crowe, himself an owner of a fan-owned club in the shape of Australian rugby league side South Sydney.

Crowe said earlier this year that he had decided against a personal purchase of the club after a long period of consideration, but encouraged fans to support LFU in its work and it is understood that he is on a list of potential investors LFU will try and speak to over the coming days.

LFU has also sold more shares to supporters – at £100 a time – since Friday’s statement than it did on its launch day.

Known in Italy as the ‘King of Corn’ owing to his background in agriculture, Cellino purchased his 75 per cent controlling interest in Leeds from Gulf Finance House in April 2014, having initially moved in during the January of that year.

His first move was to sack manager Brian McDermott, only to reverse his decision when he was made aware that he did not have the right to do so with his takeover having not been rubber-stamped at that point.