It felt for a while as if Andrea Radrizzani was dying to say something.
The cryptic tweets, the nods and winks, his re-appearance at Elland Road for the most high-profile game of the season. They were playful hints at what was finally confirmed on Monday evening: that Radrizzani believes he is in the home straight of a deal to buy into Leeds United.
The cat is out of the bag and some clarity goes a long way. It is evident now that Massimo Cellino is willing to consider the sale of a major shareholding in Leeds, even though other parties with an interest in investing have been routinely told otherwise. Cellino is steadfastly refusing to entertain some of them, responding through his lawyers with the message that the club is not for sale, but Radrizzani he has spoken to. Radrizzani he seems willing to embrace at what is unquestionably the peak of his gruelling time as owner.
After six months of relatively private discussions, convention says that Radrizzani would not have been so open unless he thought his investment was almost there. He told the YEP in August that he and Cellino had entered into a “simple conversation” but his comments to The Straits Times, a newspaper in Singapore whom he spoke to after flying there last week, showed his hand: a 50-50 split of shares with Cellino with the option of a full takeover in June. Cellino in response has said nothing at all. He says very little about anything these days.
This like any other takeover poses questions. How would a shared ownership structure work in practice, particularly given Cellino’s single-minded sense of authority? Cellino took almost 12 months to come round to the idea of employing a chief executive. Is the cash behind Radrizzani’s purchase personal wealth or funded by a third party? The 42-year-old works for a branch of Chinese tech firm Baofeng but he said on Monday that his deal had no backing from China. The Straits Times reported that the deal was being handled by Aser Media, an investment vehicle set-up by Radrizzani last year. Its website says it focuses on the “media and sports sectors”. At present, it has no published accounts.
When Radrizzani took in Leeds’ 2-0 defeat to Newcastle on November 20, he was joined at Elland Road by Andre Tegner, Aser’s head of investments and strategy. Marco Auletta, until recently a colleague of Radrizzani’s at MP & Silva, sat alongside him. Radrizzani said this week that he would “eventually bring my team and management” to United and his connections in the world of media and branding appear to be extensive. It is no secret that he advised on the sale of Inter Milan to Chinese owners in June of this year.
A check on his background shows none of the clouds that followed Cellino to Leeds. It rather reveals a track record of business growth in his field. MP & Silva, a company he helped to found and which distributes sporting media rights globally, was valued in May at more than £500m. Radrizzani resigned as a director in October while retaining some shares. Auletta, who also came with Radrizzani to Leeds’ pre-season friendly against Atalanta, stepped down as CEO of MP & Silva on the same day. There was a sense of various people getting their ducks in a row with a view to cutting to the chase at Elland Road.
So to the matter of prospective investment becoming a reality. If Cellino sees this situation as Radrizzani sees it then a clean completion of formalities is imperative. Leeds have a history of attracting convoluted takeovers, largely because the club has always come with unwanted financial baggage.
At no stage of this season has Garry Monk been asked about a change of ownership but he can expect to be asked about it now. Radrizzani’s input is on the agenda and while the implications of investment go beyond a head coach, they are rarely of no consequence to him either. Monk cannot influence this process but he will inevitably be in the middle of it.
Radrizzani’s refusal to discuss Monk with The Straits Times was indicative of nothing. It cannot be taken as a silent vote of confidence or a subliminal admission of any lack of it. Radrizzani will be expected to clarify his view on Monk as and when his deal goes through.
He will know that Monk has a high stock, a professional manner and the weight of the crowd on his side. There is plenty of clamour for an extension to Monk’s contract, let alone a full season in charge.
United can think of at least two campaigns which suffered because of indecision at the negotiating table. A combination of Sport Capital’s shambolic attempt to buy Leeds and Cellino’s eventual buy-out did for the 2013-14 season and took Brian McDermott with it. The previous season was long gone by the time Gulf Finance House decided to do business with Ken Bates. Takeovers can be engrossing for the public but protracted talks cause angst on the inside. As one former player at Leeds said in the middle of Cellino’s buy-out: “No-one really talks about it. But you’re all thinking the same thing and wondering what’s going on.” McDermott was very open in saying that some in his dressing room gave up on him as results began to rot.
In this season of all seasons, Monk does not need that. Leeds are not so familiar with the Championship’s play-off positions that they can afford to hover in the middle of talks; not now Radrizzani has broken cover and not with the transfer window on the way. As Kyle Bartley said: “Fifth in the Championship, the quarter-finals of the League Cup – it’s going well.” Literally, and against the backdrop of so many dysfunctional years, there is no time like the present.