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Leeds United FC: When is a dismissal not a dismissal?

I grew up in Yorkshire and have long been a Leeds United fan. So, my team’s five-one win over Huddersfield at the weekend should have been a cause for celebration for me and my 9-year-old son, who also supports the team.

Instead, it’s been somewhat tarred by recent events at their famous old ground, Elland Road.

Leeds fans chanted protests during the match – over the apparent sacking of the team’s manager, Brian McDermott.

It has been widely reported that prospective new owner Massimo Cellino tried to sack McDermott on Friday. But following the win on Saturday, the club released a statement saying McDermott would stay in charge.

Cagliari owner Cellino has agreed to buy a 75% stake in Leeds from current owners Gulf Finance House (GFH), subject to the deal being approved by the Football League. The Italian media has reported that he has two convictions for fraud, so it’s not clear whether Cellino would meet these requirements.

It seems Cellino also tried to put his friend, ex footballer Gianluca Festa, on the Leeds bench for the match against Ipswich. The club declined, but it’s been reported Festa was being lined up to take over from McDermott.

McDermott, 52, reported for duty at the club’s training ground on Monday and has vowed not to walk away.

He said the situation should never happen to a football manager – and I could not agree more.

Based on press reports, it would appear that McDermott has been shabbily treated in the last week.

The team may have not been performing at their best in recent weeks, but McDermott is a calm, intelligent and capable manager who has the best interests of the club at heart and needs to be given time to make his mark.

McDermott revealed he was called by a lawyer representing Cellino and told he had been relieved of his duties.

The case raises interesting legal issues. At face value, there doesn’t appear to have been any proper process followed in relation to any alleged dismissal. Also, it would appear that whoever ‘sacked’ McDermott did not have any authority to act in this way.

Cellino has denied dismissing McDermott or wanting to replace him with Festa. He added GFH are still running the club and he would need the approval of the Football League to make such a decision before he owns the club.

Cellino certainly would need to be installed as owner before he could take the decision to dismiss the club’s manager, and at the moment his proposed takeover is subject to Football League approval.

There’s also a question as to whether McDermott’s alleged treatment last week could conceivably have given rise to a claim for constructive dismissal in any event, had he chosen to walk away.

Following such a seemingly public humiliation, I suppose he still might.

Ross BurkittRoss Burkitt | Solicitor and Leeds United Football Fan

Litigation Department, Kerseys

5 February 2014


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