It has been a difficult summer for the club communication-wise, wrote Leeds United chairman Ken Bates in his programme column last Saturday. He could have stopped that sentence after the word club.
His column continued: “We signed a confidentiality agreement with the potential investors which means we have said very little.
“Because of this, rumours are rife, speculation about this has given licence to small groups of so-called fans with a hidden agenda to make wild unsubstantiated statements about the future of the club.
“What I will suggest is that when you read a so-called press release or statement on the web, don’t take it at face value. Ask yourself: is there any evidence to support what is written? Is it just speculation, gossip? Or is there some other motive?”
The Leeds United Supporters Trust (LUST) won’t mind me saying that he’s talking about them. But on the subject of the protracted takeover of Leeds he could as easily be talking about me or any of the journalists who have attempted to unpick this blurred story.
Yes, a confidentiality clause exists and yes, it leaves hints and whispers to fill the vacuum. The alternative is complete silence – convenient for some involved in the deal but less than satisfactory for the rest of us. A contact close to the process admitted for the first time on Tuesday that the commitment to non-disclosure was “making life difficult”. There are people on the inside who would genuinely like to speak.
So another week and still no outcome, despite suggestions from the Middle East that the consortium attempting to purchase Leeds are losing their rag after more than 100 days of work. We could speculate again about the reasons for the delay – indemnity, a lack of funds, a reluctance on the part of the current owner to sell – but far better now to concentrate on the few available facts.
Bates’s column talked around the takeover rather than talking about it specifically, mentioning other club owners who had “invested for the wrong reasons” and saying he was “determined that when I move on my legacy will be that the club is in safe hands” with people who can “take Leeds United to the next level.” But more relevant was his run-down of the demands made of any party who approach United with the intention of investing in or buying the club.
The list went as follows: “A) Proof of Funds? (ie: Have they got the money?) B) Who are they? (ie: Who owns the negotiating company?) C) Fit and Proper Persons? (ie: Who are the proposed directors and will they pass the Owners and Directors’ Test with the Football League and the FA?) D) What is the proposed method of running the club? (ie: State your business plan?) E) What is your reason for wanting to invest in the club (ie: show us your motives for investing?)”
Were this process entirely closed-off and devoid of any detail at all then the answers to those questions would be known to only a select few. But Leeds have already clarified many of those issues, and clarified them positively, in the statement they published on June 26. It was that statement which convinced the public that a change of ownership at Elland Road was on the cards.
In it, United said: “Leeds United can confirm they have granted an exclusivity period to enable a potential investor to carry out the appropriate due diligence. It is anticipated this will be a fairly straightforward process.
“A confidentiality clause prevents the club from making any further comment. However, our discussions have left us very comfortable that they have the financial resources to support the club and that they will have no issues in satisfying the requirements of the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test, unlike many of the previous approaches we have had to endure.”
From that we can deduce several things: the buyers had the funds needed to get their foot in the door at Elland Road; the buyers were expected to meet Football League requirements; and on the basis that Leeds believe they are fit and proper, the identities of some or all of those involved must have been known. If nothing else we know names and faces of individuals at GFH Capital Limited, the Dubai-based firm brokering the sale. That covers A, B and C.
As for the consortium’s plans and their motives for investing, you could debate whose business that is. It is right for Leeds to attempt to ward off anyone who might be reckless with the club but it is hard to know how many credible investors would be happy to have their business strategy picked over and vetted. If the consortium can finance the deal and neither the Football League nor the Football Association see a problem then how they run Leeds United is up to them. They should know that they will run it under intense scrutiny as Bates has done for almost eight years.
Had this group from the Middle East failed on some or all of Bates’s key points, it is hard to see how this deal would have life in it after 100 days and more. When the club spoke as openly as they have at any stage on June 26, they gave the impression of smooth waters ahead and an acceptable bidder at the table. Was that statement unsubstantiated or an accurate reflection of a good offer? And if the offer was good, what’s the problem? Amid rumours, speculation and everything else, it is safe to say this: in no way was the takeover of Leeds supposed to take this long.
One of the most damning portrayals of the apathy surrounding Leeds United last season was the size of the crowd for their League Cup tie against Manchester United.
It should have sold itself but the attendance fell 7,000 short of Elland Road’s capacity. Two years earlier, every seat had been taken for Leeds’ game against Liverpool. More people attended last season’s Championship match against West Ham United than the plum draw in the League Cup’s third round.
Leeds’ meeting with Manchester United was a Category A fixture, meaning tickets in many areas peaked at £36. So credit where it’s due after the club’s decision to make this month’s tie against Everton Category C; and not only that but to fix junior prices across the stadium at £11.
There is money to be made from another high-profile draw, not least because Sky Sports’ broadcast will earn Leeds a tv fee of £125,000, and United need cash. Injuries to David Norris and Michael Brown in addition to the loss of Paul Green have caused a problem in one of the few areas where Neil Warnock did not expect to be short. A midfielder on loan is now as much of a necessity as a striker or a right winger.
But the attempt to attract a large crowd for the game against Everton is a healthy policy, especially because the tie is a prime opportunity for two clubs served so well by Gary Speed to jointly remember the late Welshman. United have done much to acknowledge Speed and plans are afoot for a memorial match in honour of the midfielder who died at the age 42 last year.