The soft drinks giant Red Bull has made a bid to buy Leeds United, the club’s disqualified owner Massimo Cellino claimed last night.
Cellino said Eleonora Sport, the majority shareholder at Elland Road, was considering a formal offer from Red Bull amid reports that the firm is ready to pay around £60m for control of Leeds.
Red Bull, which already owns three clubs in Germany, Austria and the USA, has been heavily linked with a takeover of United for the past six months and is understood to have studied the club closely before Christmas.
Rumours of a buy-out at Elland Road are being fuelled by the doubts over Cellino’s ownership of Leeds. The Italian is currently banned from running the club due to a conviction for tax evasion imposed on him in Cagliari last year.
Cellino, 58, is two months into a Football League disqualification and will not be allowed to retake control of United until his ban ends on May 4.
He is currently in Miami but plans to return to England later this month.
Asked by the YEP about reports of an impending Red Bull buy-out, Cellino initially said that they were “not true, it’s just another story.”
But in a later conversation, Cellino said: “There is an offer. I didn’t know about it but I spoke just now with Giampaolo Caboni, one of the directors of Eleonora Sport.
“He said Red Bull has made an offer for the club. The shareholder will have to think about it. I don’t know what they will do.”
The YEP has been unable to corroborate Cellino’s claim. Red Bull and United chairman Andrew Umbers have been asked to comment.
A report in the Daily Mirror last night said sources close to Red Bull were hopeful of securing ownership of Leeds in the next three weeks.
The company has a history of football club ownership and runs RB Leipzig in Germany, Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and New York Red Bulls in America’s MLS.
Red Bull’s style of ownership has been the source of controversy, however. It’s buy-out of Salzburg in 2005 led to a change of the club’s name and strip and led to the creation of a new team by angry supporters, SV Austria Salzburg.
Back in November, the company denied that it was planning to by Leeds, saying: “Red Bull has no plans to take over Leeds Utd nor take a stake in the club.”
Shares at Leeds are split between Eleonora Sport and Gulf Finance House, the Bahraini bank which owned United before Cellino bought them out in an £11m deal last April.
The Italian inherited large amount of debt from GFH and has been plagued by problems throughout his short time at Elland Road.
The Football League banned him as owner on December 1 - a decision which was upheld in January after a failed appeal by Cellino - and he faces other court cases in Italy which could incur fresh disqualifications from the governing body.
Allegations that Cellino avoided paying VAT on a Range Rover are due to be heard by a court in Cagliari in 10 days’ time.
The former Cagliari owner has been absent from Leeds ever since his ban came into force, leaving the club in the hands of Umbers, but the volatility seen at stages of Cellino’s reign resurfaced this week with the unexplained suspension of assistant head coach Steve Thompson and boardroom pressure on head coach Neil Redfearn not to use Mirco Antenucci due a clause in the striker contract.
Cellino, who is strictly barred by the Football League from influencing decisions at Leeds, said he “knew nothing” of Thompson’s suspension and claimed he was still intending to renew his involvement with United when his disqualification ends.
“I will come back to Leeds,” he said. “From May (4), I’m allowed to come back.”