Cellino to return as Leeds chairman Umbers vows to win fans over

Leeds United

Leeds United's acting chairman Andrew Umbers has reiterated that Massimo Cellino will return as planned in May and is not looking to sell the club.

In a lengthy interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post, Andrew Umbers reacted to questions about Leeds fans' chants during the 2-1 defeat to Charlton last weekend.

This followed another fraught fortnight of yet more problems at Elland Road, during which Neil Redfearn's assistant Steve Thompson was suspended for as yet unexplained reasons, and on the eve of the Charlton game, six first team players declared themselves unfit to play in mysterious circumstances.

With that backdrop, the vocal majority at Charlton appeared to have had enough, and calls for Cellino to sell the club were unmistakable. Cellino is aware of the chants and the general feeling of fans on social media, and this coupled with persistent rumours that Cellino is looking to sell the club has lead to uncertainity over whether the 58-year-old ex-Cagliari owner would return when his Football League ban ends in May.

Umbers said: "I’ve written to the chairman, the chief executive and general counsel of the Football League and asked permission for Massimo Cellino, as a spectator, to be allowed to come back for the Rotherham game (on May 2)."

After that it appears Leeds will attempt to placate fans by delivering on promises to sort out the future of Neil Redfearn and the four academy graduates who have thrived in the first team this season.

Umbers stressed that the club have tried to do everything by the Football League's strict guidelines on the unique ban that was enforced on Cellino, although he did let slip that the Italian had returned to the club a couple of weeks ago for a visit "to say hello" and "look at the pitch". This, presumably, is within the rules laid down by the Football League.

On rumours that the club is for sale, Umbers stressed: "There are always people who are interested in buying Leeds United, as there are with every football club. Massimo is not for selling, I’ve said it before. He’s not for selling but if you’re looking at a house that’s worth a pound and someone offers you four, you might be interested. But in football there’s so much noise. There’s nothing in reality which actually catches you. Has he spoken about it? People have got his phone number. I can’t stop them ringing him."

Leeds fans are now adept at reading between the lines, and it becomes easier as time goes on. Many will read those comments and see them as an open invitation for bidders to come forward. Indeed, the comments by no means dismiss the possibility that people are already speaking with the owner, although Umbers did stress "categorically, 100%" that no party had carried out due diligence on the club's accounts.

As it stands, it appears to be business as usual at Leeds United, whatever that means, and Cellino will come back in early May as planned. Leeds fans will be bracing themselves for what that brings with it, but Umbers does at least acknowledge that mistakes have been made, and a lot of ground is required to be made up with the fanbase.

With some there may be no going back, but when quizzed over the chants at Charlton and the general frustration and confusion on what is happening behind the scenes, Umbers does concede:  "I hope in time we can win them all over. We’ll do our best to win all of them over. It’s not an easy job running a club when you have such passionate fans who have such great loyalty."

"You only do your best." Umbers continued "Sometimes you have to be unpopular but you always have to think you’re doing the right thing. If we get communication and expectation-management right then people will see what we’re doing. But I accept that people want to see contracts signed. They want to see stability on the management and the football side. I get that. All these things are going to come."

Bold promises from Umbers and words that fans will now expect him to deliver on. Some fans think there is no way back for Cellino, but with Umbers having already promised that the "kids will not be sold" and that the injured six were "genuinely injured", there can certainly be no coming back from those comments should there be any contradiction.

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch