Leeds United takeover: It’s high time for more openness - Hay

WAITING GAME: Ninety five days on since news of a possible takeover of Leeds United surfaced, a deal now seems as far off as ever.
WAITING GAME: Ninety five days on since news of a possible takeover of Leeds United surfaced, a deal now seems as far off as ever.
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It took seven days to arrive but communication from GFH Capital Limited, the Dubai-based firm brokering the takeover of Leeds United, landed in my email account last Sunday morning.

The message was as curt as it was courteous, sent by the company’s deputy chief executive officer. In full it read: “Dear Philip, thanks for your email, best, David Haigh.”

Haigh needs no introduction as one of the two members of GFH Capital’s senior management team – the other, Salem Patel – who attended United’s game against Wolves on August 18. They were guests of club chairman Ken Bates and my original email was a request for comment about the purpose of their visit and GFH Capital’s involvement in plans by a Middle Eastern consortium to buy Leeds.

The reply from Dubai struck me as a lot of effort to go to in saying nothing at all; an email which a company tied up in a deal so secretive might reasonably have deleted without acknowledging. But these are strange times at Elland Road and none so strange as this past week. Curiouser and curiouser, as Lewis Carroll once wrote.

GFH Capital were anonymous players in the proposed takeover of United until Haigh and Patel stuck their necks out at Elland Road two weeks ago. To give the firm its due, it knows how to play to the crowd. Haigh’s Twitter account has been piled high with Leeds United references since the day of the club’s win over Wolves, and GFH Capital’s official account joined in on Wednesday by tweeting the message: “Thank you to all our new #LUFC followers.” Interaction like that is no way of keeping a low profile.

It might be that there is some subliminal message behind all this; a way of GFH Capital making its continuing presence known without breaching its commitment to confidentiality. As hard as it is to believe, the planned buy-out of Leeds is still drawing breath and soldiering on, though the present picture shows two entrenched sides sitting tight and waiting for the other to concede crucial ground. You’d be tempted to think that someone, somewhere will lose patience soon were it not for the fact that neither party saw it necessary to draw a line in the sand while the transfer window was open. In terms of public awareness, this takeover is into its 95th day.

The nods and winks from GFH Capital, if that is what they were supposed to be, are a poor substitute for official comment about the state of play at the negotiating table. Earlier this week Haigh tweeted about a visit to Bahrain – the country where the Middle Eastern consortium are believed to be tied to – and a flight to the UK the following day. Significant or not? Only he can say but the Tweet was later deleted. Perhaps someone mentioned the frenzy and bewilderment created in Leeds by the vacuum of information.

Certain United supporters, including members of the Leeds United Supporters Trust (LUST), looked for snippets of their own when they were phoned directly by Bates over the Bank Holiday weekend, apparently in response to letters sent to United’s owner.

They were understandably surprised to hear his voice but it is best to expect the unexpected at Leeds. Nothing this week was more unpredictable than Bates using his column in Tuesday’s matchday programme to reach out to the Leeds United Supporters Club (LUSC) and show solidarity over their decision to give up the tenancy of the Old Peacock pub opposite Elland Road.

Bates said he had “a lot of sympathy for the Supporters Club” and claimed that “pubs are shutting every week up and down the country and it is down to the greed of pub owners.” He later suggested that it was “perhaps time for rapprochement” with LUSC, a group which has been at odds with him throughout his time as chairman.

An end to years of hostility would be the most unlikely reconciliation but the offer appears to have been sincere. Prior to United’s League Cup game against Oxford United, club chief executive Shaun Harvey met with Ray Fell, the chairman of LUSC, in what was described as an “amicable meeting” and “a bit of an olive branch.” Things you never thought you would see, part one. But why the gesture and why now, especially when a deal to buy the club remains on the table and under discussion?

It has been one of those months and one of those summers; hard to join the dots. Yesterday (August 31) was not the first time that Leeds have reached the end of a transfer window in under-whelming fashion but it was extraordinary insofar as the absence of any last-minute signings seemed utterly inevitable. No ifs and no buts, just a general acceptance that there was no money to spend and no realistic chance of creating any before the deadline.

As far back as August 4, after United’s pre-season friendly at Preston North End, manager Neil Warnock admitted that he lacked the funds needed to fulfil his two remaining requirements, a right winger and an additional forward. In the days that followed, his doubts about cash becoming available became an assumption on his part that no further signings – El-Hadji Diouf aside – would be possible before the window closed. He spent the closing stages of August watching clubs crawl over players he coveted as Ipswich Town bid for George Boyd, Norwich City moved for Craig Mackail-Smith and Cardiff City agreed a fee for Nicky Maynard. All while, Leeds fought to tie Diouf to a deal worth £5,000 a week.

The loan market is Warnock’s only reprieve now, until January at least, but the financial picture at Elland Road is not clear enough for him to be sure that help will be at hand when the emergency window opens.

“We’re thin on the ground,” he said at his press conference on Thursday, a comment made for the umpteenth time. But is anyone listening and will anyone help? Or are he and his squad destined to be the collateral damage of a wearing fight for the ownership of Leeds? It is high time for more disclosure from both sides of the fence.

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