Whose club is it anyway?
You can hear that question bouncing off the walls on those uncomfortable days when a buyer waits to buy, a seller waits to sell and the balance of authority is open to debate.
Leeds United experienced this in the month before Ken Bates sold his shares to GFH Capital. Around that time he decided that Neil Warnock deserved the sack. The terms of his unfinalised agreement with GFH Capital said Warnock must remain as manager. So Warnock did, despite the fact that Bates – a single-minded animal – held a 72.85 per cent stake and, technically speaking, the casting vote.
Takeovers create tension and it’s generally assumed that delays in completion cause problems for those caught in the middle, managers most of all. Now we have proof that they do. Ashley Barnes will go down in Brian McDermott’s book as the player who was lost to internal dispute and the volatility of a club who are stuck between owners.
On Thursday of last week Barnes expected to have two clubs to choose between. Burnley agreed terms with Brighton and took the striker north for a medical but Barnes had essentially been told that he would receive a firm offer from Leeds too. By Friday morning it was apparent to him that United were not delivering on their promise so Burnley got their signing. McDermott got no more than a strange story of arguments above his head.
The transfer was vetoed by Gulf Finance House, the parent company of GFH Capital and the bank which has been selling a 75 per cent share in Leeds to a British consortium for a while. Several sources confirmed to the YEP that Sport Capital, the group who intend to buy United, offered to pay an immediate fee of £500,000 for Barnes in anticipation of their buy-out. Angry discussions raged as senior staff at Gulf Finance House in Bahrain said no.
There is no lucid explanation for why the bank said no. The best anyone can offer is that GFH thought Barnes was “not a signing Leeds should be making”, presumably on account of their extensive scouting of his years at Brighton. That computes in a sense since no objection was made to the signings of Cameron Stewart and Jimmy Kebe last week, players whose wages must be as steep as Barnes’. But in McDermott’s eyes it was unhelpful interference. He is simply too professional to say so.
This is not the first time that a manager of Leeds has had a signing kiboshed and not by a long way. Warnock tried desperately to sign Joel Ward from Portsmouth in 2012 but could not persuade Leeds to stump up £400,000. The difference on that occasion was that United and Bates claimed they did not have the money to fund the deal. Last week, the cash for Barnes was seemingly there to be spent. Leeds as a club were willing to spend it. They lacked only the authority.
Sport Capital – a consortium which includes United managing director David Haigh and Andrew Flowers, the MD of Enterprise Insurance – say they have made funds available for the January window regardless of the fact that their takeover is incomplete. McDermott had enough money to sign Stewart and Kebe. Nonetheless, those funds are of limited use if a signing like Barnes depends on GFH’s mood and permission. McDermott’s job is to pick the players. GFH was not even being asked to pay for him.
It’s been apparent for some time that investment in United from Bahrain is reducing significantly. The payments made to Leeds by Haigh in October and November offered funding to a club who were getting little from elsewhere. But GFH is still the majority stake holder at Elland Road. The club is theirs to run. That can only change when the bank’s status in the boardoom changes too.
There is a strong smell of politics about so much of what has happened this week. And confusion too. Confusion about why a buy-out which has been portrayed as a done deal for a month-and-a-half allowed the mess over Barnes to develop.
The Football League never comments on takeover approval but it is blindingly obvious that the governing body is not about to object to this deal. The delay is no longer anything to do with them. Sport Capital say they have funds in place and GFH wants rid of a majority stake. On the evidence of the Barnes transfer, it would do Leeds good to rid themselves of GFH’s outright command.
Already we are 13 days out from the transfer deadline and deep into a month which has been hard enough without political posturing. So whoever is holding this up, get a grip and get it done. For the sake of your manager and the club.