LEEDS UNITED last night moved a step closer to a change of ownership after it was confirmed the club have entered “a period of exclusivity” with one interested party.
Elland Road officials have been in discussions for several weeks with a host of would-be investors over a possible buyout.
Among those bidding to get involved in the Championship outfit have been groups from the USA, Canada and mainland Europe plus serious interest from at least one consortium with links to the Middle East.
The granting of an exclusivity period – meaning no talks can take place with a rival bidder – to allow due diligence to take place suggests a deal has been agreed in principle.
Since first confirming discussions were underway on May 29, the club have maintained that any deal would be on an investment basis.
But the Yorkshire Post has understood all along that a majority buyout was on the table – a belief that has been given added credence by yesterday’s official statement, which while confirming due diligence was under way also went on to claim the mystery bidder would “have no issues in satisfying the requirements” of the Football League’s fit and proper persons test.
League rules state that this test only applies to anyone with a minimum 30 per cent stake in a club, suggesting that the deal on the table for United involves more than just mere investment.
A confidentiality clause agreed with the bidding party means the club are unable to comment further as due diligence – an examination of United’s books by the would-be purchaser – continues.
But the statement also made it clear that Leeds are confident the group granted the exclusivity period has “the financial resources to support the club”.
United’s complicated ownership structure – Ken Bates owns 72.85 per cent but mystery surrounds who has control of the remaining shares – plus neither Elland Road nor Thorp Arch being under the club’s control means putting a timescale on a deal being concluded is difficult.
Manager Neil Warnock, however, is likely to be buoyed by the news that the drawn-out saga is edging closer to a conclusion.
The United manager has brought in three new faces since the end of last season following the double capture of Norwich City left-back Adam Drury and Derby County midfielder Paul Green on free transfers a week ago.
Jason Pearce had already joined in a £500,000 deal from Portsmouth in early May but Warnock wanted to have been much more active in the transfer market by this stage of the close season.
A £500,000 deal for QPR’s Paddy Kenny has been on the table for several weeks but until fresh funding is brought in it is believed Leeds will be unable to push the move through. The former Sheffield United goalkeeper, who has been signed three times in his career by Warnock, has told friends he remains desperate to be reunited with his old manager.
But Kenny is also aware of other interest with Ipswich Town already having made one unsuccessful bid to tempt the Halifax-born goalkeeper to Suffolk from Loftus Road.
United are also believed to be keen on Leicester City full-back Lee Peltier, while a takeover – accompanied by an injection of funds – would also boost hopes of hanging on to captain Robert Snodgrass.
The Scottish international is seen as a key part of next season’s plans by Warnock but has only a year remaining on his Elland Road contract. A new offer has been made to Snodgrass that, if accepted, would make him the highest paid player at the club.
However, the Scot is understood to have rejected the deal meaning if no agreement can be reached, United will run the risk of him leaving on a free transfer next summer.
Ross McCormack is another who has baulked at committing his future to Leeds despite being offered new terms several weeks ago, while Ady White, a target for Celtic, will be out of contract in just a few days.
The club statement read: “Leeds United can confirm they have granted an exclusivity period to enable a potential investor to carry out the appropriate due diligence.
“It is anticipated this will be a fairly straightforward process. A confidentiality clause prevents the club from making any further comment.
“However, our discussions with them have left us very comfortable that they have the financial resources to support the club and that they will have no issues in satisfying the requirements of the Football League’s Owners and Directors Test, unlike many of the previous approaches we have had to endure.
“We will not be making any further announcements in the near future.”
Meanwhile, United’s opening day clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers on August 18 will be shown live by Sky Sports, kick-off 12.45pm.
The Yorkshire derby at Sheffield Wednesday has also been selected for live transmission by the satellite broadcaster and brought forward to Friday, October 19.