Leeds United ownership under spotlight amid boardroom row

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GFH Capital’s ownership of Leeds United is the focus of fresh attention after the company was forced to intervene in an unseemly dispute between the club’s new vice-chairman and their Thorp Arch academy.

Representatives of Leeds’ owner found themselves at odds with director and shareholder Salah Nooruddin following an attempt by Nooruddin to secure an academy place for the son of one of his business contacts.

United offered a trial to Idris Tahar last month in response to a request from Nooruddin but they rejected the 18-year-old outright on the basis of his ability. Nooruddin is alleged to have put pressure on Leeds’ academy staff - led by development squad coach Neil Redfearn - to sign Tahar, despite the initial refusal.

Nooruddin, a 49-year-old businessman from Bahrain, joined United’s board at the end of April and was named as the club’s vice-chairman last month. He holds a 3.33 per cent stake in Leeds having bought his share directly from GFH Capital.

The Dubai-based firm, which itself is wholly owned by Bahrain-based bank Gulf Finance House, is believed to have been deeply unhappy with Nooruddin’s bid to force Tahar into Thorp Arch and instead backed the stance of United’s academy coaches.

The YEP understands that Tahar has not been offered a place in the youth-team set-up and will not be offered a place in the future. In what seems to be a clear division of boardroom views, executives from GFH Capital have overruled Nooruddin.

A spokesman for GFH Capital declined to comment on the situation in detail when contacted by the YEP but said: “Academy places will always be offered on the basis of footballing merit alone.”

GFH Capital’s move to assert its authority and resolve the conflict nevertheless leaves questions about Nooruddin’s future influence as a director of Leeds.

News of the dispute comes at a critical point in the year and at a telling stage of GFH Capital’s first 12 months in charge at Elland Road.

United are in the thick of the summer transfer window but are yet to make their first close-season signing. Manager Brian McDermott has so far tabled offers for four players and is aiming to substantially change his squad after Leeds finished the recent term in the bottom half of the Championship.

GFH Capital has faced persistent questions about its financial position and its ability to finance player recruitment, and Leeds have been hampered this summer by the need to use £3.3million of season-ticket income to pay off the loan taken out for the redevelopment of Elland Road’s East Stand in 2011.

The structure of United’s boardroom has changed substantially during GFH Capital’s short reign and Nooruddin is the most recently appointed director.

His selection as vice-chairman on May 21 came with firm indications that he would succeed Ken Bates as chairman when Bates stepped down to become club president at the end of this month. However, the YEP has been told that Nooruddin’s promotion to the head of the board on July 1 is far from agreed and not at all certain.

GFH Capital deputy chief-executive David Haigh - one of the men who led the company’s buy-out of Leeds last November - was seen for some time as Bates’ most likely successor but neither the club nor their owner have made any comment on who is preparing to replace the 81-year-old.

GFH Capital recently revealed that it had agreed to appoint Bates as president on a three-year term, with United’s former owner relinquishing all of his executive power.