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Sunday 17 December 2017

John Giles: Fickle Cellino has no respect

Destructive Leeds United owner is setting new lows for club ownership at Elland Road

Cellino
Cellino

IT was the moment when Massimo Cellino or one of his staff suggested that the great players from Leeds United's past should donate their services free on match days in return for entry to the stadium and not much else that my stomach turned.

These are lads I know. Lads I played with, won with and lost with. Men who lived in an era in which professional footballers were only beginning to realise their true worth and who helped turn Leeds into a European power in the game.

These days, players earn so much money that they might be happy to donate their time free of charge after retirement but that's not a luxury these men could afford.

Yet without them, there would not have been a club for Cellino to buy or certainly not one with the reputation and history Leeds United possesses.

Cellino showed them the door, an act of disrespect which blew any chance that this man could have a normal relationship with the fans who really own the club.

They must despair for their club. Despite all that has happened, there are many thousands of Leeds' fans still paying for tickets but they must at some point reach the conclusion that they would be better off investing their time and passion somewhere else.

It is an expensive business for the truly committed, the very people a man like Cellino wants to milk. He wants to pick the team as well.

Given his track record in Italy, we knew that before he bought the club. He hired and fired 36 managers in the 22 years he owned Cagliari.

Leeds have had three managers since the start of the season - Darko Milanic (above) being the latest victim - and even by Cellino's ridiculous standards, that's a high attrition rate. He is on course to hit 36 sackings in record time.

There is not much more to be said about Cellino. As far as I am concerned, he is not a man who should be allowed to run a football club and that opinion has nothing whatsoever to do with his ongoing battle with the authorities over tax evasion and other matters.

The simple fact that he sacked so many managers in Italy should be a red card as far I am concerned.

I've written extensively about the cultural clash which happens when business meets football and more recently, about the negative impact foreign ownership has had on the game in England.

It's a double whammy when an eccentric foreign owner with ideas about how the game should be played combines that with the normal business urge to turn a profit.

Then you get a massive disconnect with the club's fan base, like Cardiff, Newcastle, Blackburn and the awful situation which has developed in Birmingham, a club with the potential to be a giant but now crawling along on it's knees.

How is it right that a football club loved by tens of thousands of supporters, the very people whose investment in seasons tickets down through the years kept the whole show on the road, should be left to the mercy of the market or owners who simply do not understand what it is they have bought?

This is not emotional or idealistic stuff. This is the reality. You cannot have a football club without supporters who pay to get in, buy the shirt and provide a market and a mobile advertising hoarding for the big cash sponsors.

I have a personal interest in Leeds for very obvious reasons but I do believe that this case should be one which finally convinces the football authorities that the time has come to act and act decisively.

The big problem for the game is that it is an industry which is still run as an amateur organisation in administrative terms. Ordinary business is regulated by the law of the land and the rules of the industry. Anyone who steps outside the appropriate parameters is subject to sanction.

It is not a perfect system. We only have to look at the calamities in banking in recent years to realise that but there is a regulator and he or she has powers which can be enforced.

Football's regulators are FIFA at a global level, UEFA at European level and the English FA at local level but all three are failing in their duty to protect institutions like Leeds United which mean so much to many people.

Put it this way, if Elland Road was over 100 years only and an old steel mill, it would probably be better protected in law than it has been by a succession of owners and the football authorities.

The issue is complicated by the influence of the Premier League and the fact that even the worst owners have a say in the future of the game.

But the key weakness in football's regulation has always been the fact that many of the practices in the game ran contrary to the law of the land. The consequence of this was that, in the absence of proper regulation, the EU stepped in and told football to clean up its act. The Bosman Rule changed everything.

I believe that the football authorities have been reactive instead of proactive in all of this. They have failed to move with the times or even keep pace with the lawyers arrayed against them.

They have lost control of the game they are duty bound to protect and it seems to me that anyone can walk off the street and buy a football club.

There will be some cosmetic attempt to challenge an inappropriate sale but ultimately, they are afraid of lawyers and afraid of being sued.

But the time has come now to do whatever is necessary to create a structure of regulation for the sale of clubs which is legally sound and not open to challenge.

In other words, spend some money and hire better lawyers. Do whatever it takes.

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