Leeds United investment: San Francisco 49ers chief Paraag Marathe says they hope to increase stake and input
Leeds' Italian owner spoke to the local media on a Zoom call, from a hotel somewhere in Europe ahead of a meeting about a potential new signing, and admitted the club would need fresh investment in order to achieve their short term aim of remaining a top flight club for at least three years. Radrizzani believes that a three year stay in the Premier League will allow them to then build towards their ultimate goal of challenging for a place at the table of European football.
"We are happy, we enjoy the fantastic success but unfortunately we have done it in a particular year when COVID is hitting the club financially," he said.
"We will need additional investment to be competitive and maintain the league, that is our target to maintain our position in the Premier League. We will need to add on."
Radrizzani said additional finance would come from his own firm Aser, but also took the opportunity to publicly call on the owners of the NFL's 49ers, who took a 10 per cent stake in Leeds United in 2018, to increase their involvement.
"They have done a good deed in investing in the club, they see their investment probably worth 3.5 times higher than what they put," he said.
"They are good friends, a good partner and they could bring more value in the management of the club than what has been done until now. I expect them to help us more, step up more with club management, the things they do very well in the US."
Now Paraag Marathe, president of 49ers Enterprises and executive vice president of football operations for the NFL outfit, has made noises that suggest they will heed Radrizzani's suggestion.
In an interview with the New York Times, Marathe said it's in their current thinking.
“It’s something that we are absolutely hoping to do,” he said, when asked about upping their stake - which currently sits at around 13 per cent - and their input.
He believes Premier League status opens up an exciting future for the Whites.
“It obviously had fallen on hard times under multiple ownership groups,” he said.
"But the brand equity is still there, the fans, and the amount of people that care about that club. We just knew that not only do they belong in the Premier League, but if they got to the Premier League, that the sky’s the limit.”
“The journey isn’t concluded, it’s just beginning.”
And the financial backers behind the 49ers appear to see themselves as part of the journey for the longterm.
Marathe added: "This is more about continuing the journey than it is about what the multiple on our investment is."
Leeds have been engulfed by rumours of investment and a potential takeover by Qatar Sports Investment for over a year and the talk intensified around the club's centenary when Radrizzani openly discussed investment offers on the table, including one from QSI, in an interview with the Times. He quickly clarified the comments, insisting his regime's focus was entirely on getting Leeds promoted and that he would only sell when the time was right.
Responding to a question about Qatari interest in his recent Zoom call, the owner said: "We have a very good friendship, we have been talking but we haven't reached a concrete point. If they want to seriously to come they can find my door open for discussion."
Most, if not all of the speculation in the media regarding a takeover of Leeds has focused on QSI, ignoring the investors with their feet already under the Elland Road boardroom table.
The 49ers have a proactive relationship with the decision makers in LS11, Marathe is on the board of directors and Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnear is in regular dialogue with his counterpart in San Francisco. The 49ers made regular visits to Leeds before the global pandemic and Kinnear told the YEP they are an ideal partner because they have brought expertise along with finance to the table.
"We have a great relationship with the 49ers, they visit regularly and we spend time in San Francisco with them as well," Kinnear told the YEP last year.
"They're incredibly interested and supportive of our long term objectives.
"They advise us from a business perspective and from a sporting perspective, there's a lot of knowledge sharing at that level.
"That's exactly the type of partner Andrea was looking for that would be prepared to commit financially but would also bring expertise and guidance to the club at board level."
Marathe's latest comments contained no concrete news of further investment but if someone is going to 'step up' and aid Radrizzani in his bid to make Leeds United an established Premier League club, the 49ers are well equipped - their 2019 valuation stood at £3.5bn - and well placed to do so.