LEEDS UNITED’S new dawn under freshly-anointed owners GFH Capital is underway – although concerns have been expressed by a leading fans group that chairman Ken Bates will remain on in an official capacity at Elland Road.
The Dubai-based investment bank finally signed a deal to acquire the club after almost seven months of negotiations late on Tuesday night and will complete a 100 per cent takeover on December 21 – following a transitional period of one month.
The deal does not involve the purchase of Elland Road, which belongs to a British Virgin Island registered company, Teak Commercial Ltd, with the club paying around £2m per annum in rent.
GFH Capital deputy CEO David Haigh joins the board with immediate effect – with fellow GFH Capital executives Hisham Alrayes and Salem Patel joining next month. Bates, 80, will stay on as chairman until the end of the season to assist the new owners before becoming club president.
On the transitional spell, former Chelsea supremo Bates, who has divided Whites fans since he took over the cash-stricken club back in January 2005, said: “Nothing will change. I will continue as chairman until the end of the season when I look forward to handing over to my successor and becoming president, sitting back and taking a bit more time off and enjoying eight years of very hard work.”
As an immediate gesture after the takeover news, new board member Haigh, a Leeds supporter since childhood, has confirmed additional funds have been made available by GFH Capital for Neil Warnock to utilise with the United boss working feverishly to bring in some new blood ahead of the closure of the emergency loan window at 5pm today.
This follows funds of at least £2m provided by GFH Capital to help Warnock boost his squad after entering into an exclusivity period to lead a takeover on June 26.
Haigh said: “We have injected further funds into the club and now we look to the future and starting an exciting journey to take Leeds back into a prime position in English football once again. We want to thank all the fans in the UK and around the world for their patience and support, while the negotiations have been taking place. Let’s now march on together, taking the club back to the Premier League as soon as possible.”
Bates’s relationship with an increasing number of fans has plummeted in the past season-and-a-half with protests taking place at some games last season. While fans have greeted the news of GFH Capital’s takeover as a positive development, Leeds United Supporters Trust (LUST) – whose membership stands at over 8,500 – have revealed worries about Bates’s continued presence.
Gary Cooper, chairman of LUST said: “GFH Capital have talked a great game all the way through this and they have talked about a really ambitious future.
“If they can do what they have promised, then great. But I do feel there is going to be a problem with Ken Bates remaining as chairman to begin with and then president. In my view, it is going to make things incredibly difficult and I think it is a mistake. An awful lot of the Trust’s members take the same view.”
The news regarding the takeover ends a protracted saga which has recently been played out amid an alarming downturn on the pitch, with Leeds without a win in seven matches and in 18th spot in the Championship.
But Bates has defended the ‘slowly, but surely’ policy regarding negotiations with GFH Capital and their representatives and insists it was vitally important that deliberation was taken.
He said: “I make no secret that we’ve been looking for additional partners since I joined the club. There are a number of reasons why it has not succeeded before, one of them being that there are so many chancers, liars and conmen attracted to football. It’s been a very slow, steady process in weeding out these people. I couldn’t let them anywhere near Elland Road.
“The problems with other clubs is very clear to demonstrate the dangers of that. But we have achieved our target and our ambition.
“Apart of anything else, they (GFH Capital) know nothing about the day-to-day running of Leeds United. I’m very happy to work in tandem with them to make sure the learning curve is as smooth and as easy as possible.
“These people have the resources and are backed by a very rich individual who’s very close to the government of Bahrain. It gives us confidence that we’ve made the right choice.”
A number of former United stars have welcomed the takeover developments and are pinning their hopes on a renaissance in the club’s fortunes now starting to take place on the pitch.
Club legend Eddie Gray said: “The mood has been doom and gloom and this gives everyone a lift – the management, staff, fans and players. The new owners will be delighted it is resolved and let’s hope they can get the club in the position where the fans feel it should be in.”
Mick Jones, one of a number of ex-United players who work at Elland Road on match-days, added: “I am all over the ground talking to the supporters in the (corporate) boxes and the first question they ask is: ‘Have you heard anything?’ But we were in the dark as much as anybody.
“There were rumours going around all the time so you do not know where you are. Now there is a little bit of light at end of the tunnel.”