An American group are behind advanced plans for a takeover of Leeds United, the Yorkshire Evening Post can confirm.
The mystery consortium – believed to be based in Chicago – are looking to secure a major shareholding in Leeds after travelling to England for talks last week.
The YEP understands that members of the group were shown around Leeds’ stadium and Thorp Arch training ground on Thursday with a view to pushing through a buy-out of the Championship side.
United chairman Ken Bates currently holds a controlling interest in Leeds having acquired 72.85 per cent of the club’s shares last year.
Bates purchased the stake for an undisclosed sum from former owners Forward Sports Fund (FSF), buying FSF’s interest through another offshore firm, Outro Limited.
United are actively seeking investment, however, and have attracted serious interest from across the Atlantic, leading to meetings in Leeds in the past seven days.
The identity of the American group is as yet unconfirmed but Chicago firm Club 9 Sports, who tried unsuccessfully to buy Sheffield Wednesday in 2010, are not involved in the bidding, with chief executive Jon Pritchett saying the company “have had no discussion whatsoever about Leeds United.”
In a short statement, Leeds said: “The club can confirm that talks are taking place regarding investment for the long-term future.
“The club has always publicly stated that it would welcome potential investment but has maintained a belief whereby the but has maintained a belief whereby the quality of the investor is the most important factor in terms of the long-term development of Leeds United.”
Leeds have been financially stable since their insolvency in 2007 but the need for an injection of cash at Elland Road appeared to be underlined by the club’s recent failure to tie up the signing of Joel Ward from Portsmouth.
The 22-year-old was primed for a move to Leeds after holding discussions with manager Neil Warnock three weeks ago but Ward signed for Crystal Palace on Monday with United unable or unwilling to pay the £400,000 fee set by Portsmouth’s administrators.
Leeds are under growing pressure to back Warnock in the transfer market having finished 14th in the Championship this term and seen their average home attendance fall by more than 4,000.
Warnock has so far been able to secure only one new signing - centre-back Jason Pearce from Portsmouth - and the struggle to land Ward raised serious doubts about the current board’s ability to supply Warnock with the funds needed to compete for promotion next season.
But the prospect of major investment has now come to light with business figures in Leeds believing any serious offer of investment would constitute an attempt to take full control of the club, rather than the purchase of a minority stake.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), a Canadian company who own ice hockey club Toronto Maple Leafs and Major League Soccer team Toronto FC, were initially said to be behind last week’s approach but they like Club 9 Sports have denied any interest in buying Leeds.
Beyond the American approach, the YEP is aware of one other party tentatively interested in taking charge at Elland Road. The group has connections to both England and Dubai but no official approach has been made by them.
Bates, 80, has been chairman of Leeds since 2005 when he fronted a takeover from the board headed by ex-chairman Gerald Krasner.
Having remained in charge after United’s administration in 2007, he bought FSF’s shares in April of last year amid growing questions about the ownership structure at Elland Road.