Leeds United: Deal for Brighton’s Barnes blocked by GFH

Ashley Barnes (left) with then Brighton teammate Andrew Crofts.
Ashley Barnes (left) with then Brighton teammate Andrew Crofts.
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The proposed transfer of Ashley Barnes from Brighton to Leeds United was blocked by senior officials at club owner Gulf Finance House, the Yorkshire Evening Post can reveal.

The firm’s refusal to sign off the six-figure move last week saw a major target of manager Brian McDermott’s bypass Leeds and join Burnley instead.

United are understood to have had cash in place to pay Brighton an up-front fee of £500,000 and were confident of persuading Barnes to reject Burnley’s offer in favour of signing a contract at Elland Road.

But individuals with Gulf Finance House (GFH), the parent company of Leeds’ majority shareholder GFH Capital, objected to the signing despite the availability of funds needed to finalise a transfer.

Bahrain-based Gulf Finance House is in the process of selling a controlling interest in United to a consortium led by Leeds managing director David Haigh but the Islamic bank is technically in charge of operations at Elland Road with the takeover still to go through.

Haigh’s group, which includes Andrew Flowers, the managing director of United shirt sponsor Enterprise Insurance, have helped to finance United this season and claim to have invested around £6m into the club prior to the turn of the year.

They also stated that transfer funds were being given to McDermott prior to completion of their buy-out, a deal which has been dependent on Football League approval and is now running into the second half of the January window.

The influence of the consortium – operating under the name Sport Capital – suggested that GFH’s involvement in the running of United had significantly reduced but the dispute over Barnes and the failure to conclude a move which one source claimed was “as good as done” raises questions about high-level divisions at Elland Road with ownership of Leeds yet to change hands.

United completed two signings last week, bringing Cameron Stewart in from Hull City and taking Jimmy Kebe on loan from Crystal Palace, but Barnes was prominent on McDermott’s list of potential signings and his switch to Burnley came as a frustrating setback.

The Leeds boss looks increasingly likely to bid for Reading’s Adam Le Fondre with a new striker a priority and his squad are under pressure after four straight defeats, the most recent a 6-0 thrashing at Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday.

A spokesman for GFH Capital was contacted about Barnes by the YEP last night but refused to comment.

Sport Capital’s planned buy-out of Leeds is set to see Haigh, Flowers and two other backers acquire a 75 per cent stake in the club with GFH Capital retaining a minority shareholding.

GFH Capital – a Dubai-based private equity firm and a subsidiary of GFH – bought Leeds from Ken Bates in December 2012 but has been looking to sell a large portion of its shares for much of its time in charge.

In a statement issued last week, United said Sport Capital had been “funding the club during the transactional period and will continue to do so ahead of completion”, implying that GFH was no longer the main supply of financial support.

Haigh added: “There are funds in place for the January transfer window and we are working closely with Brian McDermott regarding his plans. Hopefully we will all see some of this work come to fruition in the coming days.”

Football League approval is still to be officially confirmed by Leeds but the YEP understands that the governing body has not objected to the takeover and is willing to allow it to proceed.

GFH was prompted to outline its agreement with Haigh’s consortium yesterday after what it called “extra-ordinary trading of GFH shares” in Kuwait and Dubai.

In a statement to the Dubai Financial Market, GFH said: “We would like to notify our shareholders and the market that GFH has recently signed an agreement with a consortium of British investors for a partial sale of its stake in Leeds United Football Club.

“The investors are currently in their final stage to fulfil their subsequent obligation to obtain the transaction and obtain approval from the English Football (League).”

Meanwhile, United’s Sky Bet Championship clash at Brighton and Hove Albion has been re-arranged for Tuesday February 11 (7.45pm).

The game was due to take place on Saturday, January 25, but was cancelled due to Brighton’s involvement in the FA Cup.

Elsewhere, United’s opponents on Saturday – Leicester City – have signed veteran striker Kevin Phillips on a short-term deal until the end of the season.

Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom in the snow during Saturday's 2-1 loss at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Leeds United 1 Sheffield Wednesday 2: Heckingbottom - bad decisions, not lack of effort cost us the game