Latest takeover news may finally satisfy United fans

Ken Bates with potential new investors
Ken Bates with potential new investors
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AN indication of just how desperate Leeds United fans have become in the quest to get to the bottom of the protracted takeover saga came yesterday via an innocuous tweet from Lee Peltier.

The United captain decided to start the morning by asking his 30,000 or so followers on Twitter: “How’s everyone (sic) day?”

On the surface, an amiable enough question often asked by famous sportsmen and women on that particular form of social media. Within minutes, however, Peltier’s words were being pored over by fans on internet messageboards and analysed for a deeper meaning.

“Does he know?” asked one supporter who had woken up to confirmation from Gulf Finance House that they had “signed an exclusive agreement to lead and arrange the acquisition” of United.

“He knows the news and is being cheeky,” came another suggestion before further fuel was added to the theory that the Leeds captain knew more than he was letting on about the takeover when one fan added in a very matter-of-fact fashion: “Lee Peltier is renowned for not asking questions.”

That last point may, or may not, be true. But the way the conspiracy theories took hold so quickly merely underlined just how hungry for news supporters have become during a summer in which reliable information was at a premium in the public arena.

Yesterday’s statement from GFH – released via a letter to the Bahrain Stock Exchange – did not move the saga along too much.

The presence of, among others, chief executive David Haigh at three home games this season – including two in the past week – had already as good as confirmed GFH’s role in the buyout.

But what – following on from Ken Bates breaking his public silence on the possible deal ahead of last Saturday’s win over Nottingham Forest – the admission of GFH’s involvement through their Dubai-based subsidiary, GFH Capital Limited, did do is suggest we are finally approaching the endgame in a saga that is about to wearily enter a fifth month.

And as I am sure all parties will agree, a conclusion cannot come soon enough with the current uncertainty doing no one any favours.

Certainly, Gulf Finances’s statement yesterday suggests they are keen to finalise the deal and get down to work at Elland Road.

GFH Capital Limited specialise in getting involved with companies boasting sufficient growth potential to earn the firm’s own investors a significant return.

Football is a field the equity firm has not extended into in the past, but Haigh is a Leeds supporter with family from the city. Gulf Finance’s chairman, Essam Yousif Janahi, was also educated in England, as was director Salem Patel who has attended two games with Haigh this season.

The 2011 turnover of the Bahrain-based parent company, Gulf Finance House, that these three men run was close to £43m, while the company’s profit stood at £235,000. This year has brought an improved performance with the first six months producing a surplus of almost £3.5m on income of £20m. These contrast sharply with back-to-back losses of £450m and £215m respectively in the immediate aftermath of the worldwide economic crash of 2008.

Why Gulf Finance has locked on to United is easy to understand. Over the past four years, the club has posted a total profit of £10m – a tidy sum for any club, never mind one that spent those years playing in the Championship and League One.

Comparative riches, however, await if Leeds can return to the Premier League and it was clear in yesterday’s statement as to how dependent on promotion the prospective new owner’s business plan is.

“Football teams,” the key paragraph began, “in England have recently received a significant revenue boost due to the renegotiation of broadcasting rights and it is expected from next season each team in the Premier League will receive a minimum of £60m per season due to the increase in broadcasting rights. LUFC would also benefit from this if it can achieve promotion.”

A return to the top flight being so central to Gulf Finance’s thinking will, of course, come as music to the ears of supporters as it suggests transfer funds will be handed to manager Neil Warnock.

In a division as competitive as the Championship, it is amazing how far a couple of million quid can go. Warnock has already made clear he wants to add at least one striker to his squad, while midfield is an area that has looked decidedly threadbare since injury ruled out David Norris and Paul Green.

Any spending, of course, is dependent on GFH Capital successfully concluding a deal to buy United but that prospect does now seem tantalisingly close following the events of the past week – meaning Peltier may soon be able to tweet without fear of causing a frenzy among United supporters desperate to know what is happening at Elland Road.

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