LEEDS UNITED and the San Francisco 49ers have supposedly been in partnership before.
In 2014, former Leeds owner Gulf Finance House claimed to have developed an understanding with the 49ers which would allow the club to “tap into and share knowledge with them”.
No more was said about it and amid some bemusement on the other side of the Atlantic, the arrangement died a quiet death. It might have suited GFH to have the 49ers behind them but Leeds, during the bank’s hopeless period of ownership, were everything an NFL franchise tries not to be.
Times change, regimes at Elland Road have changed and the 49ers’ interest in Leeds is suddenly real. Their purchase of a minority stake in United yesterday – more than 10 per cent of shares for a fee of almost £10m – was a solid promise of support and involvement, from one of the world’s most recognisable sporting franchises. In the worst of Leeds’ years outside the Premier League, boardroom credibility was a severe problem. A brand as big as the 49ers leaves no doubt about who they are and what they do.
That their investment is well below the level needed to take control from Andrea Radrizzani is to be welcomed. Leeds have been through three takeovers in six years and no matter the might of the 49ers, English football is new territory for them. Continuity has some value and despite the failings of Radrizzani’s first year as owner, Leeds do not need major boardroom upheaval. What might be fair to say is that Radrizzani needs some help.
The 49ers, and new Leeds board member Paraag Marathe, have ample experience of high-level professional sport. American football is not football as the English know it but it leads the way in areas like sponsorship, commercial opportunities, stadium facilities and sports science.
Their injection of money is welcome but Leeds should be as interested in the ideas that Marathe can import.
The money matters though. Leeds were at pains to stress yesterday that the 49ers’ cash would go directly into the first team. Given the failure of last season, that promise must now be reflected in the players who sign.
There is clearly more to the 49ers’ interest than this summer transfer window but the transfer window is where this relationship starts.