Graham Smyth: Even if the Qatar Sports Investment smoke is without fire, Leeds United are hot property
Shockwaves were sent reverberating around Thorp Arch on Wednesday.
It wasn’t the latest takeover speculation linking Qatar Sports Investment with their club that landed with a bang to turn the heads of Leeds United players, but Gjanni Alioski.
As supporters pored over a report from French outlet L’Equipe, claiming negotiations between PSG’s owners and Andrea Radrizzani are slow but ongoing, the Whites defender was practising his full-length dives, crashing down on a pile of cushions in the players’ area of the training ground.
Adam Forshaw’s head snapped round to see what had caused the commotion before returning his attention to whatever had previously been occupying it. Life at Leeds United goes on as normal, or as normal as it can be when the excitable North Macedonian international is around. Takeover talk will always exist and, at a club like Leeds United, it should, by now, feel as normal as the sight of Alioski, who missed the weekend’s game against QPR with an injury, leaping off furniture.
The question is not why are investors interested, it is why wouldn’t they be? Leeds United sells. Since their inception, Leeds United have been making headlines.
Leeds United sells tickets – Elland Road has been packed out by an average crowd of 35,000-plus this season. Under the current regime particularly, it sells replica shirts by the boat load and advertising space to major commercial entities.
It sells hopes and dreams to the population of a city, to Yorkshire folk dispersed around the globe and to foreign nationals, whose imagination was captured in the 60s and 70s by an all-conquering team in all white, like the members of the Leeds United Supporters Club of Scandinavia who came to Elland Road in numbers for the QPR game. The ground is a spiritual home, a footballing theatre that has hosted historical success, that is linked to a rich and storied heritage.
The white shirts, the white, yellow and blue scarves, Marching On Together, it is a club with a clear brand that a world champion boxer and a platinum-selling indie band are more than happy to be synonymous with.
It is a club with potential – Elland Road is earmarked for expansion should Premier League status be achieved once more although, truthfully, even the current Championship team could sell more tickets than are available for sale.
When things are good, and with Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites mounting a title challenge, things are indeed looking reasonably good, there is an opportunity to sweep people up in the momentum. That’s something that can be monetised, something that makes investors’ eyes light up.
Radrizzani has put a rocket up the club’s commercial income streams, churning out record numbers in the last financial year and making revenue of £50m possible before the accounts are published again.
They are an attractive proposition and, although the timing of the owner’s recent proclamations of potential deals with parties like QSI may have come as a surprise – on the eve of their centenary – the content of his Times interview did not.
The Qatar story refuses to go away and, just when the fire seems to be dying, someone stokes the flames once more. So much smoke has billowed around rumours of Qatari interest that there is either some heat there or someone is using this 100-year-old football club as a smokescreen. But even if the QSI story goes cold, Leeds will remain hot property.
Any talk of fresh investment, whether from the mouth of Radrizzani or a L’Equipe source, will raise hopes for a fanbase whose collective heart is set on the top flight.
It should not, however, raise any eyebrows.