Eight weeks on from the last buy-out of Leeds United, the ownership of the club is top of the agenda again as speculation mounts about a fresh takeover at Elland Road.
GFH Capital took almost seven months to complete its purchase of Leeds, finalising a deal on December 21, but the length of its tenure could prove much shorter with a bid for a controlling stake sitting on the table and demands for clarity over the firm’s intentions growing.
United’s new owner was approached with a formal offer by a Yorkshire-based consortium last week and is not believed to have rejected the proposal out of hand, despite confirming it had “not been accepted.” An agreement would potentially revive the interest of a bidder who thought seriously about investing in Leeds while Dubai-based GFH Capital was negotiating its own takeover. Back in November, days before GFH Capital and United chairman Ken Bates finally shook hands on the sale of the club, news emerged of a potential offer from a Saudi Arabian party who was described at the time as a “very credible alternative” to the bid from Dubai.
A report in a national newspaper yesterday indicated that the Saudi Arabian interest has surfaced again, with financial backing from the wealthy Gulf state believed to be part of the plan behind the Yorkshire-based approach.
The make-up of the local consortium remains a guarded secret, though former Hull City chairman Adam Pearson has been strongly linked with the group and several sources have named Steve Parkin as one of the individuals involved. Parkin denied being part of the consortium when contacted by the YEP, but the chairman of distribution firm Clipper Logistics has been involved in previous attempts to buy both Leeds and Bradford City.
GFH Capital has made no further comment since releasing a statement on Sunday night in which it confirmed that several investment bids had been tabled, the most substantial effectively proposing another change of ownership by offering cash in return for a stake of more than 50 per cent.
GFH Capital has a 100 per cent shareholding in Leeds City Holdings Limited, United’s parent company, and although it confirmed at the outset that it would seek “strategic investors” to support the business, the company’s employees have always maintained that it would retain an interest in the club regardless of investment deals.
Its plans for both the short and longer term could become clearer when two of GFH Capital’s executives – United board members Salem Patel and David Haigh – meet with supporters at a fans forum at Elland Road on Monday night.
The pair will open the floor to members and season ticket holders and are likely to face questions ranging from GFH Capital’s future to that of manager Neil Warnock.
Gary Cooper, the chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust, told the YEP: “We held a public meeting of our members earlier this month and the resounding message from them is that they want GFH Capital to spell out their plans for the future.
“It’s important to clarify their expectations or intentions when it comes to investment and, especially considering the last week, give us some indication of whether they’re here for the long haul. I think the fans would appreciate clarity and honesty and I hope that’s what we’ll get.”
The forum falls 24 hours after United’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Manchester City and two days before their league game against Blackpool, the start of what Warnock vowed would be a “gung-ho” approach to the Championship promotion race.
Leeds slipped eight points back from the play-offs after losing to Middlesbrough on Tuesday, suffering the consequences of a string of missed chances when Boro forward Curtis Main looped home a late header. Warnock came in for renewed criticism from the terraces as frustration boiled over with the season hanging by a thread.
Warnock watched with bemusement as Ross McCormack failed to bury a first-half opportunity in front of an open goal and he was helpless too when Steve Morison, his recent signing from Norwich City, drove an inviting free header straight at Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele moments before Main scored.
Warnock said: “Free headers, open goals – it is disappointing because that’s how close we are. A gnat’s breath away.
“I don’t think the play-offs have gone but there’s no point saying ‘it’s a good point’ or whatever else now. To hell with it, we’ve got to go for wins.
“All I can do is keep asking the lads to create chances and hope they put them away more consistently.
“If we don’t take chances like Ross’ then we’re not going to win another game. It’s not rocket science.
“But Wolves’ keeper made a great save from Luke Varney on Saturday and late on at Middlesbrough their keeper made another one.
“We just want the rub of the green. Most football managers will tell you the same.”
McCormack held his hands up after wasting his glaring chance in the 29th minute, presented to him when Steele lost his footing on the edge of the box.
“The forward took time to control the ball but failed to beat Jonathan Woodgate on the goalline as Boro escaped by the skin of their teeth,
Writing on Twitter, McCormack said: “For what it’s worth I agree with the gaffer. I cost the team (three) points.”
Warnock, however, remained defiant in the face of criticism, saying: “We’ve had a good season in as much as we’re building a new team, we’ve beaten Everton, Southampton, Tottenham and run Chelsea close in the cups. A lot of clubs would wish they were in our situation.”