No shortage of links between Andrea Radrizzani and Qatar...but Leeds United adamant the club is not for sale
Regardless of whether Qatari money is genuinely being aimed at Leeds United, what no-one at Elland Road denies is that a relationship exists between the two.
Andrea Radrizzani and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chairman of Qatar Sports Investment and the president of QSI’s flagship football project, Paris Saint-Germain, go back many years to the days when they were dealing in broadcast rights for MP & Silva and BeIN Sports respectively. They are friends still and in contact regularly enough to make the idea of a cash injection at Leeds plausible.
Leeds have an official tie, too, with the Gulf state’s Aspire Academy, though less has been made of it by the club since a mixed first season under Radrizzani’s ownership prompted some to ask what benefit United were gaining from a partnership which gave Aspire a profile in the UK overnight. Ivan Bravo, the former Real Madrid employee who heads up Aspire, continues to sit on the board at Elland Road, albeit in the background.
There are sufficient links at a high level in Qatar for Radrizzani to seek to tap into the wealth the country has but since reports of QSI interest in Leeds surfaced on Saturday evening, United have worked to counter the claim that Radrizzani is tempted to sell up entirely or to sell any more equity at all. The club insist the Italian will remain as chairman and majority shareholder for the season ahead, and potentially beyond.
Radrizzani reduced his 100 per cent stake in Leeds exactly a year ago when 49ers Enterprises, the investment branch of the San Francisco 49ers, bought £11m-worth of shares and provided a chunk of the funding for the Championship term just gone. The value of those shares amounted to around 25 per cent of the entire club, though Radrizzani retained higher voting rights at boardroom level and lost next to nothing in terms of operational control.
The 49ers allowed Leeds to pursue their own strategy last summer, with the appointment of Marcelo Bielsa as head coach and the process of player recruitment, but they remain on the scene and officials from California, including $9ers Enterprises president Paraag Marathe, attended the second leg of the club’s play-off semi-final against Derby County two weeks ago. Sources at Elland Road say an increase in the 49ers’ stake would not be out of the question but that Radrizzani is minded to keep the current structure of shares as it is.
If his stance is rigid, it is being taken at a time when Leeds are increasingly aware of their accounting position and the pressures of Financial Fair Play (FFP). Radrizzani has kept within the limits of the three-year assessment cycle set by the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules but United expect to lose over £15m in the 2018-19 year - a loss which falls to Radrizzani to underwrite - and their freedom to spend on players this summer will be restricted as a result.
Leeds, as they have before under Radrizzani, can raise funds through the sale of their more valuable players but Marcelo Bielsa, if he remains as head coach, would want to retain the likes of Kalvin Phillips and the club hope Bielsa will say formally commit to the offer of a second season in charge at some stage this week. He was philosophical when Ronaldo Vieira was sold last July to pay for the signing of Patrick Bamford but is less likely to tolerate departures which shake the spine of the team he developed in his first 12 months.
United’s strategy in the transfer market will rotate around loan options available at Premier League level, despite the fact that only one of their four loanees this season, Manchester City’s Jack Harrison, made any sort of impression. The cost of those deals, however, is understood to have run close to £5m and Leeds believe that a temporary budget at that level or higher should have worked more effectively for Bielsa in the Championship. The club will bank again on the Argentinian’s tactical wit making them a serious force in the league.
QSI, which has thrown money in spades at PSG but is widely reported to be keen to step into English football, would probably take a different approach, though FFP constraints would control their spending nonetheless and Leeds continue to contend that an investment deal between QSI and Radrizzani is not in the offing. Instead, they say, Radrizzani is shaping up for another season at the wheel, in the hope of making it third time lucky and fighting his way into the Premier League, where club owners have the power to sell from a position of strength.