The Football League Paper - - NEWS - Chris Dunlavy

MAS­SIMO Cellino is of­ten cast in the role of pan­tomime vil­lain but Neil Red­fearn is con­vinced the Leeds owner is just mis­un­der­stood.

The Foot­ball League asked Cellino to re­sign after find­ing out about a tax eva­sion charge which puts him in breach of its ‘fit and proper’ own­er­ship test.

But the Ital­ian will ap­peal the decision and Red­fearn be­lieves his owner is still the best man to lead the Whites.

“Ev­ery­thing he’s done is in the best in­ter­ests of the club,” said the Leeds boss.

“Hand on heart, I hon­estly be­lieve it. We’re for­tu­nate to have an owner who’s foot­ball daft and loves the club. He’s spo­ken about it briefly but he doesn’t seem too con­cerned.

“I’ve mainly just been talk­ing to him about the side and how we can make that bet­ter.”

Logic sug­gests that yet more board­room con­tro­versy at El­land Road would be a dis­trac­tion for the play­ers but Red­fearn claims that is not the case.

“We come to the train­ing ground and we lose our­selves in what we’re do­ing through the week,” he added. “We can’t af­fect any­thing else that goes on.

“The play­ers have been fo­cused and it’s good be­cause we have a young group who are en­thu­si­as­tic about train­ing.”

MAS­SIMO Cellino says his three-month ban from Leeds United will “desta­bilise” the club. Is he hav­ing a laugh or what? That’s like Lex Luther call­ing Su­per­man a threat to world peace. This is a bloke who sacked three man­agers in six months, signed play­ers no­body had heard of and is more su­per­sti­tious than Ste­vie Won­der. He brings about as much sta­bil­ity to El­land Road as a three-legged barstool.

Cellino’s dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion is fan­tas­tic news – for foot­ball, for Leeds, and for their man­ager Neil Red­fearn.

Be­lat­edly found to have breached the Foot­ball League’s own­ers’ and direc­tors’ test, the Ital­ian tax evader has been or­dered to re­lin­quish con­trol of the club he bought for £25m in March.

Though he can re­tain his 75 per cent stake, he must have no ‘fi­nan­cial or ex­ec­u­tive in­flu­ence’ un­til March 18, when his con­vic­tion will be con­sid­ered spent.

That’s three blessed months in which Red­fearn can go about the business of build­ing a side with­out look­ing over his shoul­der.

I was at El­land Road last week as the Whites notched a sur­pris­ing but fully de­served 2-0 win over lead­ers Derby.

For the first time in sev­eral years I saw a Leeds side play­ing with verve and con­fi­dence.

Safe in the knowl­edge that his old job as academy chief re­mains open, Red­fearn has thrown off the shack­les, en­cour­ag­ing his team to pass, move and at­tack.

Tac­ti­cally, he was spot on against the Rams. And it was clear from the heart­felt embrace with the sub­sti­tuted Adryan that the play­ers – many of whom he nur­tured through the ranks – are des­per­ate for him to suc­ceed.

Hav­ing spent an hour with the for­mer Barns­ley man last week, it’s not hard to see why. Hon­est and straight­for­ward, de­mand­ing yet pos­i­tive, he is the kind of coach ev­ery young player loves.

But we all know the score at Leeds. There is no such thing as two steps for­ward and one step back. It’s re­lent­less progress or the ex­e­cu­tioner’s axe.

If Red­fearn loses three straight games, who’s to say Cellino won’t have a hissy fit and wield the blade? Then all that progress, all that belief and con­fi­dence, will be de­stroyed at a stroke.

Red­fearn will be sacked at some point. Cellino can’t help him­self. But for the mo­ment, he can at least get the foun­da­tions in place.

For the Foot­ball League, too, this is an en­cour­ag­ing vic­tory. It is per­fectly rea­son­able to ar­gue that Cellino has been a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on Leeds.

After years of sta­sis at the hands of Ken Bates and the far­ci­cal, de­struc­tive reign of GFH Cap­i­tal, the 58-year-old has cleared the club’s debts and pledged to invest a fur­ther £20m. Though bru­tal, he has also tight­ened up day-to-day spend­ing.

Yet the end should not be al­lowed to jus­tify the means. Cellino’s takeover made a mock­ery of the own­ers’ and direc­tors’ test, which was de­signed specif­i­cally to pre­vent those with un­spent con­vic­tions for a “dis­hon­est act” from own­er­ship of a foot­ball club.

De­spite be­ing con­victed of tax eva­sion with “elu­sive in­tent” by an Ital­ian judge, Cellino ar­gued that the fi­nal writ­ten judge­ment had not yet been de­liv­ered and so his ‘dis­hon­esty’ in the mat­ter could not be proven.

With an in­de­pen­dent QC back­ing this legally sound but highly im­plau­si­ble ar­gu­ment, the League had no choice but to wave Cellino through.

Now that the judge­ment has been de­liv­ered and it has been proven that he was dis­hon­est, Cellino seems to think it is un­fair.

It is not. He broke the law and bent the rules, then used ex­pen­sive lawyers to get round them.

His sub­se­quent im­pact on Leeds is ir­rel­e­vant. If the own­ers’ and direc­tors’ test is to stand any chance of pro­tect­ing clubs from the crooks and shys­ters we’ve all seen be­fore, be­hav­iour like that can­not be al­lowed to stand.

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