Massimo Cellino: The ugly truth about the way Italian runs Leeds United - revealed

REVEALED: • Italian owner denies knowing long-serving employee that he dismissed in May

​• Demands for legal payments pile up at a club riven by administrative chaos


Ian Herbert
Chief Sports Writer
Monday 26 October 2015 23:15 GMT
(Getty Images)

The Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino has told The Independent that he has “never heard” of the club’s highly-respected, long-standing welfare officer and female top-flight footballer whose sacking from the club he has sanctioned.

The Italian faces a damaging employment tribunal before the end of the year at which Lucy Ward, credited by James Milner, Fabian Delph, England Under-19 international Lewis Cook and others for guiding them through challenging teenage years at Leeds, will claim sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal, after her sacking by the club. But when questioned about the departure of Ward – who was dismissed on the same day as her partner, manager Neil Redfearn, was shown the door – Cellino said: “I don’t know Lucy Ward.”

Reminded of her role at the club, which saw the 41-year-old oversee the development of 250 players over 17 years, he said: “I remember her name.” He then said that Adam Pearson, the former Derby County and Hull City senior executive hired by Cellino to help him, had been responsible. “I tell you something. Adam Pearson was looking after me and now he is not there,” Cellino said.

Staff at Leeds were astonished that Ward was dismissed. When Delph left Leeds for Aston Villa in 2009, he credited her and his mother Donna as two key influences. “Lucy Ward was… unbelievable with me,” Delph said. Her role had entailed providing pastoral care and professional support to young players suffering homesickness, school issues, teenage angst and worries over whether they would make it in the competitive professional game.

Ward was told she was being suspended for gross misconduct in May, for spending too long away from Leeds working as a BBC TV co-commentator at last summer’s women’s World Cup. The employment tribunal’s court papers suggest she was sacked solely because she happened to be the long-term partner of Redfearn. Approached by The Independent through intermediaries, Ward said she felt it was inappropriate to discuss her case before the tribunal.

An investigation by this newspaper into Cellino’s running of Leeds has uncovered a picture of despair at Elland Road at the state of administrative chaos which has engulfed the club, with one well-placed source suggesting that the club faces as many as 30 legal demands for payment. Cellino insisted there were only “three or four from the past”. He said that he was seeking to repair the mess of previous owners who had spent beyond their means in a failed attempt to get Leeds into the Premier League, and had then “run away”.

Cellino, who has until tomorrow to appeal against a Football League ban on him owning or directing the club for the duration of this season– imposed after a second conviction for tax evasion in Italy – said that he would be fighting it but refused to disclose the basis of an appeal.

“When in your life you have a problem you have to face the problems,” he said. “I like to face the problems, or your dreams don’t come true. It’s too easy to run away from something. I am responsible for protecting this club. The last people here tried to take the club into the Premier League because they thought that it was easy. In the meantime [they] spent more than [their] income. When they didn’t get into the Premier League they sell it and run away. You fix [the club] and [get into] the Premier League afterwards.”

Fabian Delph credited Lucy Ward as one of two key influences in his life
Fabian Delph credited Lucy Ward as one of two key influences in his life (REUTERS)

To the question of how he will appeal his ban, now that a written judgement in Cagliari has confirmed his guilt on a charge of non-payment of VAT on an imported Range Rover, he said. “I have to speak to my lawyers. They know better than me.” Cellino attended Leeds’ draw at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, having installed Steve Evans, who has been in charge of Rotherham and Crawley in the past, as his sixth manager in the last 18 months.

The Football League’s owners’ and directors’ test prohibits a person from owning 30 per cent or more of a club’s shares or being involved in running it at executive level if they have been convicted of a criminal offence that involves dishonesty. The latest offence, which brought a £28,400 fine, follows Cellino’s conviction in March 2014 for failing to pay £305,000 import tax duty on a yacht, Nelie, in Cagliari, three years ago.


Who's Who at Leeds

Massimo Cellino Italian entrepreneur, 59, who completed takeover of the club in April 2014 after initially being blocked by the Football League.

Neil Redfearn Former midfielder had three spells as caretaker manager before taking full charge last November. Left club in summer, now at Rotherham.

Lucy Ward Former Leeds forward and partner of Redfearn. Worked as welfare officer for 17 years before being suspended this summer as Redfearn left.

Steve Evans Appointed as manager last Monday.

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