Leeds United: Whites in pursuit of Max Gradel

Max Gradel.
Max Gradel.
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Leeds United are in talks to bring former player of the year Max Gradel back to Elland Road as the club hover on the brink of new ownership.

United have opened discussions about a deal to re-sign Gradel from St Etienne next month, the second approach made by them for their popular ex-winger in the space of a year.

The board at Leeds enquired about Gradel’s availability during the last January transfer window but lacked the financial resources to sign him, but their latest attempt comes ahead of another takeover at Elland Road.

A consortium led by manager director David Haigh are in the process of buying a 75 per cent stake in Leeds having negotiated a sale with United’s current owner, GFH Capital.

Haigh and the group backing him have already signed a share acquisition agreement and are waiting for the Football League to approve the buy-out. Their purchase of United is due to go through in time for the start of FIFA’s winter transfer window.

The investors behind Haigh have remained anonymous since GFH Capital announced on November 30 that it had agreed to give up a controlling interest, but the YEP understands that Andrew Flowers – chairman and managing director of Enterprise Insurance – is one of the men involved in Haigh’s bid for control.

Flowers - a lifelong Leeds supporter – is helping to fund the takeover of United, though it is not yet clear whether he plans to take up a seat on the board at Elland Road once the change of ownership is confirmed.

He has been a senior employee at Enterprise Insurance since the company was formed in 2004 and the Gibraltar-based firm became United’s primary shirt sponsor prior to start of the 2011-12 season.

In September of this year that agreement was extended to the 2016-17 term, with Leeds describing it as the “longest deal of this kind in the history of the club.”

Speaking at the time, Flowers said: “As a lifelong supporter I’m delighted to be able to support the club for an extended period as we seek to return to the top flight of English football.”

Newspaper reports earlier this month indicated that Flowers was preparing to sell shares in Enterprise Insurance, a company which is believed to be valued at around £100m.

The Haigh-led offer for a 75 per cent stake in Leeds came with the promise of significant investment and increased transfer funds next month, and United’s approach of Gradel is the first sign of plans to strengthen their first-team squad.

The club lie sixth in the Championship after a 3-0 win over Doncaster Rovers on Saturday and a spate of business in January would improve Brian McDermott’s prospects of winning promotion to the Premier League in his first full term as manager.

McDermott has long bemoaned the absence of out-and-out wingers at Elland Road and the signing of Gradel would tackle that area of weakness.

The Ivory Coast international spent 18 months at Elland Road in 2010 and 2011 having first completed a successful loan from Leicester City.

He earned much acclaim during his only full season in Yorkshire by scoring 18 goals and helping United finish seventh in the Championship.

His move to St Etienne for less than £2m in 2011 was another highly controversial exit from Leeds but the club are attempting to secure the return of a player who appeared 84 times for them. Gradel, 26, spent much of 2013 recovering from a serious knee injury but he regained a place in St Etienne’s team in October and scored in a 1-0 win over Montpellier last week.