Fans take action amid Leeds turmoil
8:11pm Friday 31st January 2014 in © Press Association 2014
The proposed sale of Leeds to Italian Massimo Cellino claimed its first casualties as manager Brian McDermott left the club and sponsors threatened to pull out in protest at the decision.
Cagliari owner Cellino is on the brink of purchasing a 75 per cent stake in the Championship club and, even though the deal has yet to be confirmed, passed by the Football League and has a rival, the 57-year-old has overseen the removal of McDermott.
McDermott learned of the decision on Friday evening having that afternoon given a press conference during which he admitted Saturday's game with Huddersfield could be his last and that he was determined to "enjoy the occasion".
Two of the club's main sponsors, Enterprise Insurance and Flamingo Land, are understood to be withdrawing their backing in protest.
McDermott's position had seemingly been undermined during the week by the presence of former Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa, both at Elland Road and the club's Thorp Arch training complex.
The 44-year-old, a long-standing friend of Cellino and a former Cagiari player, is the preferred choice to replace McDermott and is likely to be in the dugout in some capacity against Huddersfield. Cellino had wanted him to occupy such a position during the 1-1 draw with Ipswich on Tuesday but McDermott refused.
The 52-year-old joined Leeds in April last year - a month after being sacked by new owners at Reading. He admitted that funds at Leeds were tight but said he had taken the job on a "lot of goodwill".
Speaking briefly to BBC Leeds on Friday night he said: "I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart every Leeds fan for their support. You've been amazing."
It is understood that on Friday afternoon McDermott and captain Ross McCormack were told in a meeting that a number of Italian players could be joining the club.
McCormack's own future has been the subject of intense speculation and Leeds turned down bids for him from Cardiff and West Ham, which prompted the Scotland striker to release a statement in which he said he was looking forward to staying with Leeds and "working with Brian McDermott".
He reacted angrily to the news of McDermott's departure and called Sky Sports News to say: "The club have decided to sack him unfortunately. He called me up earlier and he told me he'd gone. It's hard times at the club. I'm absolutely gutted because I had a really close relationship with the manager.
"I was looking forward to continuing to work with Leeds United under Brian McDermott but things have changed. I think a big part of that was Brian McDermott and at the moment it's still very raw."
Off-the-field business has long been the primary news source at Leeds but the events of Friday appear to be treading new ground.
Cellino's group became the leading candidates to buy the club after a consortium called Sport Capital, comprising of club managing director David Haigh and businessman Andrew Flowers - the owner of Enterprise Insurance - collapsed after a two-month period of exclusivity to buy the club from its owners, Gulf Finance House.
GFH, a Bahrain-based investment bank, bought Leeds from Ken Bates in December 2012 and appear to favour Cellino's bid, despite interest from a Yorkshire-based consortium called Together Leeds which is headed up by former Manchester United director Mike Farnan.
They have been unable to get to the negotiating table with GFH, though, and on Friday said in a statement: "Our bid remains fully funded, and our strategy involves credible Yorkshire and football people, with Leeds and the community at their heart, rebuilding this great club.
"We think that our consortium is the best future custodian of the club and represents the best way forward.
"In recent days, before and since the collapse of the Sport Capital bid, we have re-engaged with GFH, and offered significant investment into the club.
"We are hopeful of those discussions being allowed to progress to a successful conclusion. We thank everyone for the huge support shown to us, particularly this week."
Cellino's takeover still has to be ratified by the Football League and it remains to be seen if he will pass their Fit and Proper Person's Test owing to a previous conviction for fraud.