Football is politics these days and perception is two-thirds of the battle for politicians so any offer for the purchase of a football club requires the appeal of various vote-winners.
Examine either of the bids made for Leeds United in the past month – the Farnan/Verity/Devoy alliance or the proposal from David Haigh which GFH Capital has taken up – and you will find all the phrases you need for takeover bingo.
January funds? Tick. High-profile backers? Tick. A role for Lucas Radebe? Oh yes. All that was missing in either case was a vow to buy back Elland Road and rid Leeds of punitive stadium rent but that might come in due course. As ever, beware businessmen promising perfection.
With Haigh’s consortium in the box seat, most attention should fall on them. The rival group led by Mike Farnan, the ex-Manchester United employee, have not given ownership of Leeds up for dead despite the rejection of their first and only offer but the exclusivity granted to United’s managing director gives alternative bidders precious little wriggle room.
Haigh’s project is far enough down the road for him and the individuals behind him to be seeking Football League approval, something GFH Capital received just days before buying Leeds from Ken Bates, and his consortium expect to receive it in the next fortnight. Unless they contrive to drop the ball, a majority stake is theirs to buy.
There was an urgent tone in the statement issued by United last weekend which may or may not be indicative of how drastically the club is about to change. “It is anticipated that the investment will be in place for the January transfer window,” it read, setting a deadline which these latest buyers can barely afford to break. Credibility hangs on the suggestion that Leeds and their manager will be better off next month provided this deal completes.
Time will tell as it always does. There might genuinely be a wealth of funding behind Haigh which exceeds the cash GFH Capital and other shareholders have thrown Brian McDermott’s way in the past 12 months. But it is worth saying that the £1million-plus ploughed into Leeds by Haigh last week was not a miniature transfer pot. The money is understood to have gone towards operating costs and the payment of wages, suggesting that United are still living a hand-to-mouth existence.
In truth it was like that when GFH Capital invaded the boardroom a year ago. United’s next set of annual accounts should be published soon – the basic results are often announced around the turn of the year – and they will show the state of the club when negotiations between GFH Capital and Bates intensified in the summer of 2012.
It is unlikely to be pretty but the six months ahead are a last drop of medicine for Leeds. Next summer they will have the luxury of banking season-ticket money without spending £3m of it on a redevelopment loan. They have numerous players out of contract – Diouf, Pugh, Varney, Green, Ashdown, Brown, Drury – and can restructure their wage bill in a way which is more to McDermott’s liking. So if not this time around for him, there is evidence to suggest that a stronger push in the Championship will come next season.
But promises are promises and if Haigh’s buy-out is focusing heavily on January then we await the transfer window with interest. Though little is known about the details or the seriousness of the Farnan-led offer, they talked in much the same terms. And while United have offered Radebe the job of international ambassador under Haigh’s consortium, his tweets last weekend indicated that he is strongly aligned to the group involving Farnan. Radebe must have reasons for that.
McDermott was asked about January this week and described the window as “notorious” – in other words, a tough market in which to buy players. It is certainly the more difficult of the two. But it is not hopeless.
Last January, Leicester City bought Chris Wood and Hull City bought David Meyler and Robbie Brady. Deals were done by Brighton and Cardiff City for Leonardo Ulloa and Fraizer Campbell.
And Norwich found a way to hook Luciano Becchio from Elland Road.
There were valid questions a year ago about the sense in backing Neil Warnock without knowing whether Warnock was coming or going so close to the end of his contract. That same scepticism should not apply to McDermott.
United’s boss was patient with the club throughout the summer and deserves to find substance behind the hints of funding made last Saturday.
He’s done enough this season to earn it.