The Chair of the Trust reflects on a strange but typical Leeds United month and then looks forward.
There have been quite a few developments since my last update: the away allocation debacle and U-turn; an ownership ban for Massimo Cellino and a court date set for his embezzlement charges in Italy; an awful home defeat and the first signs of mass protest against his ownership; a promise and retraction to sell to fans; marches and demonstrations planned; a massive away win at local rivals; new bidders for the club including a well-known Leeds fan; and marches put on hold by fans to give time for sale to be achieved… Throw in all the usual speculation and … it’s just another normal Leeds United month.
I feel no need to go over that ground piece by piece, the Trust’s positions and reactions can be found in the tweets and radio interviews done. What I will say, however, is the case for stability has never been needed to be made more. As I write this, it’s the 10th Anniversary of the comeback from 3-0 down to win 4-3 at Southampton - and I don’t believe for a minute anyone, including myself, leaving St Mary’s after that win that day would have believed the mess to follow for next decade.
Let’s not wallow in that wasted period, water will always flow under the Leeds United bridge, let’s not even list the outrages we have endured, instead let’s look forward and particularly to the prospect of a new owner of Leeds United.
The Trust has a duty during takeover speculation periods, it is to ensure that whatever spin is placed on events by present owners, future owners or unsuccessful bidders, the fans of Leeds United get an honest broker analysis of the options and the likely outcomes. We judge that it is of no real significance whether Massimo Cellino really meant it when he said he now wants to sell, events will ensure he does, all that is to be resolved is how and when.
The Trust will always judge future owners through the prism of integrity, transparency, the capacity to reach out to the support, knowledge of the English game and realism of plans. Whether it’s our good friends at Leeds Fans United, Steve Parkin and associates, an American-based sports business, Middle-Eastern high-rollers, Far-East syndicates or flighty Italian megalomaniacs in partnership with even more flighty bankers, the Trust will say what it sees.
Once the LFU majority stake bid was blown out of the water by the consistent inconsistency of Cellino, the reality has always been that money will talk loudest. However the issue that can’t be over-looked is the need to ensure stability, which is only possible with a clean break from our past.
A “total solution” or “anything but what we have” are the options that seem to be around. The latter could potentially involve all of GFH, Cellino and family and the lingering tentacles of Bates entitlements being retained under a new majority owner. Realistically if you’re a buyer with limited funds and a wariness of what might be lurking in the darker reaches of the club accounts that might seem an attractive approach, whilst better than what we have with Massimo in the driver’s seat it is hardly a base-camp for future stability.
The monies involved are less than the total solution would require, but even then any deal on equity and debt for all or parts of Cellino’s 75% that is ball-park around the figures mentioned (£30-£40m) values the club way above its present worth (as valued independently).
The total solution is just that, a 100% equity buy-out, debt free, Elland Road and Thorpe Arch back as club owned assets, lingering long-standing matters resolved (the £5m for promotion before June 2017 or any parts of the Share Purchase Agreements for the sale of the club in January 2013 and January 2014) and any other issues likely to hold the club back post takeover also dealt with. Anyone with a modicum of understanding of the club’s situation knows that is a £70-£100m commitment (before a penny is spent on players, managers, ground improvement etc.), and one that could only be done by bidders with significant financial clout. In the absence of Mike Ashley 2 (and would we want that?) such bidders tend to be foreign. Again, such figures would be overpricing the club by some degree but as a bet on getting into the Premier League would not be such a mad pitch.
That total solution clearly provides a base camp for future stability (assuming we don’t get the new Vincent Tan…) but it can’t be at the expense of those values I listed earlier. No amount of largesse would make Red Bull acceptable owners of Leeds United (and thankfully all indications are they have dropped down the pecking order) and if the Bates/GFH/Cellino decade teaches us anything its check your incoming potential owners again and again and again. Leeds supporters can’t be too careful now. Never, ever just trust to luck with owners.
As indicated earlier, the Trust is pragmatic, not for us the hyperbole of assuming every new owner is the Messiah, nor condemning people on the basis of not being rich enough.
That pragmatism knows the outcome is always going to be more complex than perhaps is required and that a successful Leeds United won’t just appear without hard work, sound judgement and good luck. In the meantime, whether it’s the messy compromise, the local businessman, a left-field outsider or the next Abramovich, the Trust will continue to promote the virtues of supporters impute and equity ownership as the sustainable future of football.