LEEDS UNITED are attracting interest from a consortium in China who could be about to launch a bid to take over at Elland Road.
The consortium of entrepreneurs and a private equity group has been assembled by Harrogate-born Leeds United fan Steve Tappin, who is the chief executive officer and founder of consultancy firm Xinfu.
Tappin, who is also the presenter of the CEO Guru series on BBC World, has been holding talks in Beijing this week, and has been reported as saying “there is definite interest in buying Leeds.”
The bid for United is likely to include working capital and could involve a payment for the club of more than £100m.
Whites chairman Massimo Cellino has previously said he will sell the club if he receives the right offer.
In the wake of recent Chinese takeovers of fellow Championship clubs Aston Villa and Wolves, Tappin believes interest is there within the country to purchase the Elland Road outfit.
In an article in Friday’s Chinese newspaper China Daily, Tappin is reported as saying: “I have had a series of meetings with related parties all this week, and there is definite interest in buying Leeds, but I want to ensure it would be with long-term investment, significant working capital and the right governance so it can be a stable platform for sustainable Premier League success.
“Leeds United is a big club with a very strong fan base and huge potential for investors, particularly if it can be returned to the Premiership.
“There is huge potential for Chinese investors. Leeds is a sleeping giant. The brand valuations of Manchester United, Manchester City and Barcelona run into billions of dollars and not long ago Leeds used to be up among them.”
United’s Italian chairman and owner Cellino has divided the Elland Road fan-base during his two-year tenure with the sacking of six coaches and a number of off-the-field incidents and the selling of academy products.
Cellino was banned by the Football League in 2014 after being found guilty of tax evasion in his homeland and recently had another ban overturned.
He has regularly claimed he is willing to sell the club and last year said he would do so to a group of supporters, only to renege within seven days.
His most recent comments regarding a sale came in May when he said he would sell if he received the right offer.
Leeds have been out of the Premier League since a financial meltdown caused their 2004 relegation.
They have lurched from crisis to crisis since and last season finished 13th in the Championship, prompting Cellino to replace Steve Evans with Garry Monk as head coach.
Wolves were taken over by Chinese group Fosun earlier this month, after which Tappin said: “It’s so frustrating that Fosun are investing into Wolves rather than Leeds United.”
United have been linked with several potential takeovers over the last few years with Cellino believed to have held discussions with energy drink firm Red Bull in November, 2014.
Cellino is thought to have met a Red Bull representative but, at the time, the Italian did not want to relinquish full control of the club. The firm were also believed to have been put off by the asking price in any case.
Hollywood star Russell Crowe then explored the possibility of buying the club in February, 2015.
Crowe, who supports Leeds, took to social media to ask fans if it was a “good idea” to buy the club but later ruled the idea out.
He said: “Economics tell the folks in my organisation we could smash this, but, I know the personal toll it takes.
“Without my actual hands on the wheel in Leeds I can’t guarantee investors a return. I’ve loved Leeds all my life. I will always.
“I will not steal any more of my children’s time – it’s that simple.”
Lifelong Leeds fan and businessman Steve Parkin was then linked with buying the club last autumn.
Parkin, responsible for the rise of distribution firm Clipper Logistics, was reported to be negotiating a £30m takeover of United in November but those rumours came to nothing.
Parkin, who previously tried to buy Leeds in 2004 and 2013, said at the time: “I’m not into having my mugshot all over the papers. I’ve got four young children.
“That’s what scares me about it. At the moment, I wouldn’t do it because I haven’t got time.
“When the children grow up maybe but the youngest is nine. At some stage I’ll ease off here (at Clipper Logistics) but if I put my money into Leeds I’d want to being running it.
“I’d want to know what was going on and I haven’t got time for that right now.”
Leeds face Italian Serie A side Atalanta in the club’s final pre-season friendly today at Elland Road, ahead of next Sunday’s Championship opener at Queens Park Rangers.
Cellino has been abroad this week but is set to return to England this weekend.