Non-divisive Radebe could be golden ticket in bid for Leeds United’s soul

Lucas Radebe.
Lucas Radebe.
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Lucas Radebe is a man without enemies or none that we know of. And when you consider how toxic the past 10 years at Leeds United have been, that’s some achievement.

It’s the mark of a diplomat or a skilled politician but really, Radebe is devoid of a bad bone in his body; an icon with Nelson Mandela in his corner. If you want a figurehead for a buy-out of Leeds, Lucas is your man. He carries no baggage and is as close as any other ex-player to a non-divisive presence.

There is nothing surprising about the consortium who bid to buy Leeds last weekend attempting to align themselves with Radebe. It’s a surprise that nobody tried this strategy before, though his personal circumstances were deeply challenging for many years. He’s a winner in a PR sense and an easy sell – powerful currency in the fight for credibility. But these squabbles for equity always rest on real currency and real money.

Radebe’s name will not open the door to anything more than negotiations. Saturday’s bid of £7m for 80 per cent of United’s shares was too little for the club’s owners, some of whom seem to think that the offer and the group behind it are entirely without substance. GFH Capital has spent the past week ridiculing the approach.

The consortium responsible involves Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome To Yorkshire, and Mike Farnan, a man whose commercial experience in football came from employment at Manchester United, Sunderland and Sheffield United. He worked for the company Red Strike Marketing, who helped to arrange the deal which saw Macron become United’s kit maker, and Frank Devoy – another member of the group bidding for United – is a business colleague of his.

Their offer is said to involve structured payments on top of a £7m hit but the initial price was seen by GFH Capital as laughable. The firm paid around £20m for its own buy-out last year and has invested more than £30m through its takeover and 12 months of ownership. Steve Parkin, the Yorkshire businessman who carried out due diligence on Leeds in the spring, was offering £12m or thereabouts for a controlling stake.

So if last week’s approach was a final offer, it is dead in the water. If the approach was an opening bid, it has some ground to cover. They will argue on one side that Leeds have a limited value but GFH Capital – or its parent company, Gulf Finance House – has a heavy stake in this and much money committed. The lower the offers, the more tempting it will be to stick around.

United were highly unimpressed by leaks about the consortium’s bid and an invitation for Verity to attend today’s game against Middlesbrough as a boardroom guest duly vanished, though it does appear that he will be at next month’s meeting with Wigan. The club’s board might resent the level of the offer or the publicity it received but objecting to the offer in principle seems duplicitous when investment is the name of the game at Elland Road.

Leeds, according to Gulf Finance House’s latest accounts, are an asset ‘held for sale’ as they have been since the day they were bought. It is no secret that the board at United spend much time discussing equity sales. A spokesperson for GFH Capital said this week that the firm was continuing to look for “strategic investors” but there is no explanation of what that means or what it is that GFH Capital wants.

United’s shares are already split three ways and there are, you feel, only so many times a cake can be divided between men or women with money and egos. It is telling that both Parkin and this latest consortium sought to run the club, rather than share in its management. This is either GFH Capital’s baby or it is somebody else’s. Whether it likes the bids it receives does not change the fact that it is openly asking for them.

Radebe’s intention is to work with GFH Capital. His statement on Wednesday said as much and he was a guest of United’s during their 4-0 win over Birmingham last month. He and managing director David Haigh met and spoke at length. His conciliatory tone of his statement was at odds with the aggressive move to buy Leeds last Saturday and he did not make clear whether the group he represents is in fact the group who offered £7m a week ago. We assume that it is.

Radebe has enough gumption to tread with caution when deciding who or what to back. Likewise, you would hope that anyone approaching him for support would do so in good faith rather than in search of a cynical means of blowing up their profile. Boardroom jobs can do damage to seemingly untouchable figures. Walter Smith, the nine-in-a-row stalwart at Rangers, would tell him that. So would Peter Lorimer. But if a personality as decent as Radebe can’t ride the turbulence of hard decisions, no former Leeds player could.

An aside to the question of what GFH Capital wants is the question of what Leeds United want. Even now, 12 months on from GFH Capital’s takeover, the bottom line is assurance; assurance and security.

With enough authority Radebe has the wit and intelligence to nurture that, an ambassador who would not see high-level association with Leeds as an in-and-out job. In the right management team and the right circumstances, he is United’s golden ticket – a figurehead to die for. Unless this really is all about being filthy rich.

Paul Heckingbottom.

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