Leeds United: Fresh takeover speculation amid claims of Italian interest

Massimo Cellino (front row, left) and Andrea Radrizzani (front row, third from left) at Sunday's clash with QPR.
Massimo Cellino (front row, left) and Andrea Radrizzani (front row, third from left) at Sunday's clash with QPR.

Leeds United are at the centre of more takeover speculation amid claims that Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani is in talks with Massimo Cellino about the sale of a stake in the club.

Radrizzani, one of the founders of global media rights firm MP & Silva, was photographed with Cellino at last weekend’s game between Leeds and Queens Park Rangers and also appeared in the directors’ box at Elland Road for United’s recent pre-season friendly against Atalanta.

Massimo Cellino and Andrea Radrizzani

Massimo Cellino and Andrea Radrizzani

The BBC says Radrizzani is bidding to purchase a major shareholding in Leeds, who have been under Italian ownership since Cellino’s 75 per cent buy-out of Gulf Finance House in April 2014.

In response to questions from the YEP, Radrizzani, who is currently abroad, played down the reports, saying: “I don’t have any update to provide related to Leeds. At the moment there is nothing concrete and (only a) simple conversation to understand the club better.”

Cellino’s stake currently stands at more than 80 per cent, an interest owned by his UK firm Eleonora Sport Ltd, and the former Cagliari owner has held onto majority control of Leeds during two-and-half challenging years.

His time as owner has resulted in one Football League ownership ban and the threat of a second which was lifted earlier this year after a tax conviction imposed on him in Italy was quashed on appeal.

Massimo Cellino and Andrea Radrizzani (back row, far left) sat next to each other during Leeds United's pre-season friendly against Atalanta at Elland Road.

Massimo Cellino and Andrea Radrizzani (back row, far left) sat next to each other during Leeds United's pre-season friendly against Atalanta at Elland Road.

Cellino is still awaiting the outcome of charges brought against him and United by the Football Association, relating to the sale of striker Ross McCormack to Fulham two years ago.

He and the club are accused of breaching FA rules by making an illegal payment to McCormack’s agent during the transfer. The FA has declined to comment on a date for the disciplinary hearing but the YEP understands that the matter is likely to be dealt with next month.

Last week, Cellino told an Italian newspaper that he was not considering relinquishing his stake at Elland Road, saying “I do not want to sell, for now”, but Radrizzani’s appearance at Loftus Road on Sunday leant weight to suggestions that he is fronting a takeover.

MP & Silva, which was founded in 2004, is responsible for distributing media broadcast rights for a number of different sports across the world. Those rights include Serie A fixtures in Italy and the FIFA World Cup. The company attracted substantial investment from two Chinese firms earlier this year, valuing it at more than £600m.

Rumours of Chinese interest in Leeds surfaced recently when Steve Tappin, a Yorkshire businessman with links to the Far East, said he was aware of parties interested in buying Cellino out. Radrizzani, however, is understood to be unrelated to the groups approached by Tappin.

Radrizzani has involved himself in a high-level football takeover very recently, acting as an advisor to the Chinese Suning Holdings Group during they purchase of Inter Milan in June.

United’s ownership structure, meanwhile, remains complicated with GFH continuing to control a minority stake of more than 15 per cent.

The Bahraini bank, which oversaw a brief but highly unpopular spell as owner of Leeds between December 2012 and April 2014, has next to no day-to-day involvement in the running of United and has acted as a silent partner for many months.

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