LEEDS UNITED’S new joint-owner Andrea Radrizzani met the media at Elland Road on Saturday alongside fellow Italian and Leeds co-owner Massimo Cellino. PHIL HAY heard what both men had to say on the club’s future.
AS they sat together at Elland Road on Saturday, Massimo Cellino conceded in jest that Andrea Radrizzani – a man 18 years his junior – had more of a future in Leeds than him.
The mood was cordial at Radrizzani’s first press conference as Leeds United co-owner but in the serious moments the question of his commitment were adequately dealt with.
This is a window for opportunism, a time when prospective investors could chance everything on the possibility that Leeds are five months away from milking the wealth of the Premier League, but Radrizzani talked of “investment year by year” and of “gradual innovation” in one division or the other. In five years’ time, if not before, he expects to see significant results. That comment underlined Cellino’s view that one of them will outlast the other.
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Radrizzani helped build MP & Silva, a global sports media firm, from nothing more than ideas and his prior experience of selling broadcast rights in the Far East. Over a sustained period, the company’s value rose to more than £500m by the middle of 2016. If Garry Monk is “not fixated” on promotion this season, as the club’s head coach remarked last week, then he and Radrizzani are in agreement. “We need to plan investment year by year,” Radrizzani said. “If we go to the Premier League, this investment can be accelerated. Then we have a better budget to work with.”
Saturday was the end of a long fortnight for Radrizzani; beginning with confirmation of his 50 per cent buy-out of Cellino, continuing with meetings with Monk and his players, peaking with a barnstorming win over Derby County on Friday and finishing with media duties over the weekend. The 42-year-old has dealt closely with other football teams in the past but said he would “definitely need to learn a lot” about the reality of club ownership, particularly in a “loss making league” as Radrizzani described the Championship.
“There is a lot to do here but luckily in my life I had the opportunity to work closely with many big clubs in the UK and other countries,” Radrizzani said. “I know exactly how clubs are structured, how they work and how they increase their revenue internationally.
“Obviously we’re playing in the Championship and we can’t do everything but we can start to make the club a little bit more ready. What I found here is that a lot of things are still very old. Not only the facilities but also in terms of services and operations. Gradually we need to bring in a little bit more innovation but we have good people. We start from there.”
One of his first jobs, he said, would be to analyse the buy-back clause allowing Leeds to repurchase Elland Road, a ground they sold to private landlords in 2004. Almost every owner since then has spoken about activating it without doing so. Beyond that he spoke of “light progression” in improving United’s infrastructure and creating a “modern structure, a modern club”.
“The club cannot make big investment while we’re in the Championship,” he said, “but we can start to increase and improve a little bit the services in certain areas – the media, potentially a website with live streaming of games allowed by the new agreement with the (Football) League next season. Other improvements should come soon.
“My first priority will be to study carefully the situation with the Elland Road contract, the option to buy it back, to look at what it brings in terms of financial cost for the club and to study the alternatives. This for sure will be one of my priorities. It’s very important for the club.
“I’m not here to make big losses or to lose money for many years but I can promise that I’m happy to invest to reactivate the engine, let’s say. That’s a good expression. To make the club progress year-by-year and gradually, even in the Championship. I’m happy to make investment and to take some losses for a few years but of course I have a timeline that in my mind is five years to see good results from this club. Hopefully before.”
Cellino – never a man to rule by a committee until now – said he had sought investment from Radrizzani “because the numbers in the Championship are a little bit scary”. “It takes a lot of money to fix this club,” Cellino said. “With two owners maybe it’s easier to do it than by myself.”
It remains to be seen if Leeds remain under co-ownership for any significant length of time. Radrizzani’s 50-50 deal with Cellino includes a clause allowing him to acquire full control of the club at the end of this season, though both sides have been careful in saying that further negotiation is necessary.
“In the summer we’ll talk about that,” Radrizzani said. “Me and Massimo don’t want to take attention away from what the players are doing and the manager is doing. We need to focus on the games. Barnsley on Saturday is more important than next summer.
“Of course what I do normally in all of my businesses is put my ideas in. I’m very confident about my management and my vision. I have a vision I want to pursue. But now I need to deal with my partner and I have don’t have any problem in dealing with him. It will be necessary sometimes to compromise and maybe for me to sacrifice some of my ideas because of working together but I don’t have any problem being together. Obviously if you are alone you decide what you want but this is not the case. I’m happy to be in this situation.”
The share of authority between them will be complicated if an 18-month ban imposed on Cellino by the Football Association last month remains in place after an appeal by the Italian is heard. Cellino is due to start his suspension two weeks on Wednesday, unless the FA chooses to delay the punishment pending his challenge against it.
If his appeal fails, Cellino would be required to step down from United’s board and sever all ties with the club until August 2018. Radrizzani said that decisions in that scenario would “be taken by us and the management”.
It is his intention to delegate duties as a matter of course to those in the relevant jobs: Monk and his staff at Thorp Arch, chief executive Ben Mansford at Elland Road.
It is a policy which has worked impressively this season.
“We can easily manage Leeds together if we give responsibility and delegate to the management,” Radrizzani said. He plans to appoint his own representative to the senior management team before the end of this season.
Financially, Leeds run at an annual loss but nothing like the shortfall seen in the accounts when Cellino bought the club from Gulf Finance House in 2014. “I’m definitely happy I didn’t enter into the club two-and-a-half years ago,” Radrizzani quipped, “but besides the joke, the club is better positioned. There’s been a lot of cost cutting in the last two years and the situation is better but still, the club are not investing to progress. We need to find the right balance. It is difficult.”
It was notable that in all of what he said, Radrizzani made little reference to changes affecting Monk or his squad. There is a feeling at Elland Road, not only between Radrizzani and Cellino, that Monk’s impressive work is best left untouched and allowed to continue without pointless interference. Monk has exceeded all expectations of him by driving Leeds into contention for promotion. Radrizzani said the issue of the 37-year-old’s short contract – a rolling 12-month deal – was likely to be addressed soon.
“The intention of both parties and Garry is to continue (with Monk as head coach),” he said. “We will sit down at a certain point and discuss the details but the intention is on both sides to continue.” As for transfers, Cellino said he had specifically asked Radrizzani not to throw money at the squad in the January window. United’s plans are largely as they were before Radrizzani joined the board. “Our CEO (Mansford) is leading the negotiations,” Radrizzani said, “and trying to satisfy Garry’s requests – which, to be honest, are not so difficult.
“But the market is very active and challenging because the players we identified are good boys and good players. We’re not the only ones wanting them. Let’s see if we can bring in option one or two.”
Since May, when their talks about investment first began, Cellino has kept Radrizzani in the loop about his plans and proposed changes; Monk’s appointment in June, the recruitment of players and commercial strategies. It has helped Radrizzani to arrive at Elland Road with his eyes open. “Definitely I need to learn a lot,” he said. “But I’ve been in the sports business for 17 years. I’m very familiar with media marketing in football clubs. I’ve built relationships with chief executives and managers in many clubs across the world. So I know in and out football club management.”
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