EXCLUSIVE: Cellino claims ‘McDermott had to go … Festa in temporary control at Leeds’

By Simon Austin

1 February 2014

Prospective Leeds owner Massimo Cellino claims he had “no choice” but to sack manager Brian McDermott. The controversial Italian businessman has placed former Middlesbrough and Portsmouth defender Gianluca Festa in charge for today’s derby at Elland Road against Huddersfield.

Cellino, 57, is close to taking a 75 per cent stake in the Championship club, subject to Football League approval. And Cagliari owner Cellino has taken no time in dispensing with the services of McDermott, just nine months into his three-year contract at Elland Road.

In an exclusive interview, Cellino said: “I spoke with Brian earlier in the week and gave him the chance for the challenge. I don’t know him, but told him I would be coming in and he would have the chance to build something special and work with a lot of money.

“In the end we didn’t have any choice though because he did everything to get fired. He gave me no choice.

“He started an argument with everyone. He was talking with the papers, with everyone, which was not fair. He made it impossible. I want a coach for the club, not a manager.”

Cellino was cagey when asked whether former Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa, a close ally, would be replacing McDermott at the Yorkshire club on a permanent basis.

“Gianluca is a nice guy but he wasn’t in my plans before all of this … Leeds are a special club who have had difficult times. But what is beyond question is that the club’s fans are very, very special.”

Festa, 44, turned up twice at Leeds’ Thorp Arch training ground this week to observe training. Cellino then ordered McDermott to allow Festa into the Leeds’ dugout for Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Ipswich, a request the manager refused. Festa also sat on the players’ table for lunch at the training ground this week.

Cellino blocked Luke Varney’s transfer to Blackburn, which had been signed off by McDermott. After the Ipswich game McDermott said: “This has been one of the most difficult periods I’ve had as a manager, especially the last few days.

“Some of the stuff that’s gone on has not been pleasant and it doesn’t belong in football in my opinion.”

These comments angered Cellino, as did McDermott’s decision to seek the help of the League Managers’ Association and decline the request for Festa to sit in the Leeds dugout.

Meanwhile, Enterprise Insurance have announced that they plan to withdraw their sponsorship of the club following the takeover and treatment of McDermott. Andrew Flowers, the company’s managing director, had been part of the Sport Capital consortium which had tried to take over the club.

The deal fell through when the consortium reduced its bid and the club’s owners, Gulf Finance House, pulled out and turned to Cellino, who was at Elland Road last night and faces massive fan protests against his involvement.

Cellino, an agricultural entrepreneur, has twice been convicted of fraud and there are doubts as to whether he would pass the Football League’s fit and proper person test. He claimed he was the highest bidder for West Ham in 2010 and also made enquiries about buying Crystal Palace.

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