Friday 24 November 2017

Leeds owner Massimo Cellino declares his intention to stay away from future games in the latest sign that his time at the club is coming to an end

Leeds owner Massimo Cellino has declared his intention to stay away from future games in the latest sign that his time at the club is coming to an end.

The club's fans have become increasingly frustrated with the controversial Italian and vented their anger during last week's 2-0 home defeat by Blackburn, when the vast majority of the Elland Road crowd called for Cellino to sell up.

"It pains me to make this decision as I have put my heart and soul into this club," Cellino said in a statement. "But what I was subjected to at the Blackburn game left me feeling like I had no other option but to take a step away.

"After the time, effort and emotion I have given to the club to try and enable us to move forward, it hurt me a lot to hear the fans singing what they did on Thursday night.

"The fans made it clear they believe I am no longer the best person for this job, and for the first time I am starting to think that they may be correct."

Cellino's pledge to stay away comes after Friday's revelation that he would sell the club to supporters' group Leeds Fans Utd (LFU).

LFU chief executive Dylan Thwaites is currently in talks with Cellino, who bought the club in April 2014, but there are reports other potential bidders have expressed an interest.

It is understood Cellino wants to leave a 'legacy' at the end of a tumultuous time in charge of the club and Thwaites 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 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.

"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.

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

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

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, and he is understood to be on a list of potential investors the group will try to speak to over the coming days.

Former England striker Stan Collymore, who never played for Leeds during his career, told his Twitter followers he will purchase shares in LFU and give them straight to the trust.

Leeds head coach Steve Evans has welcomed LFU's desire to buy a controlling stake in the club.

"I think when fans are involved in any shape or form in a football club it can only be a good thing," Evans said as he prepared for his fourth game in charge against Cardiff.

"Whether it's good for Leeds United, only time will tell, because I suppose there has to be a lot of talking and a lot of agreements to take place before then."

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