On transfer deadline day, when most football fans were looking out for last minute deals being struck, Leeds United supporters were watching in dismay as yet another drama unfolded at Elland Road. This time it was the arrival of a controversial new owner with a ruthless reputation for sacking managers.

The club’s current owners, GFH Capital, had confirmed that they would be selling a 75 per cent stake in Leeds to Massimo Cellino, an agriculture tycoon with a conviction for a fraud-related offence and who is also the subject of an ongoing investigation of embezzlement in his homeland.

The 57-year-old arrived at Elland Road in a whirlwind of chaos with several members of the Leeds hierarchy feeling the axe that night including popular manager Brian McDermott, only for the former Reading boss to be reinstated the next day after it transpired that the lawyer who had dismissed him, on behalf of Cellino, had done so without the necessary authority.

February saw an uneasy peace descend upon the club, with McDermott and Cellino holding discussions to clear the air and try to repair a fractured relationship. 

On the pitch, fortunes have improved somewhat with the club picking up eight points from the last five games, including a 5-1 demolition of rivals Huddersfield Town, to keep their slim playoffs hopes alive.

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Off the pitch, Cellino’s takeover has stalled at the final hurdle as the Football League continue to request documentation from both the Italian and GFH Capital before determining whether the sale can proceed. 

The main sticking point is believed to be Cellino’s criminal conviction that, though spent, could stop him passing the Football League’s owners and directors’ test, designed to identify suitable candidates to run football clubs.

While both Cellino and GFH are confident that this will not be an issue and is merely a formality, matters are complicated by the fact that he is reported to have already invested money into the club. 

Over the past two months, Cellino has paid Leeds’ running costs, of around circa £6m, including staff wages, settling a debt owed to main shirt sponsor Enterprise Insurance that had triggered a winding up order as well as the financing of two loan signings in Jack Butland from Stoke City and Connor Wickham from Sunderland.

The club are now in a very dangerous position as no one is sure what will happen if the Football League refuse the takeover. Almost certainly, Leeds would have to repay Cellino and, with GFH Capital either unable or unwilling to put any more money into the club, that could force Leeds into administration for a second time which would incur a further points sanction.

In short, the future of Leeds United hangs in the balance. A crucial decision will be made by the Football League with 13th March, the next time the league board meet, a possible date for resolution.

If approved, Cellino has vowed to buy back the club’s Elland Road home and Thorp Arch training ground out of his own wealth and sign players that would help Leeds secure promotion back to the Premier League. McDermott has also indicated a final loan signing is in the pipeline, with Manchester City’s Jack Rodwell being mooted.

If refused, it could spell disaster for Leeds, who have little else to sell in order to pay creditors, other than the plethora of talented youth players produced by the club, such as Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt. 

Other suitors are waiting in the wings to make their move for control of the club, but it could be too little too late when they arrive.

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