THE new owners of Leeds United last night ushered in a new era at Elland Road by telling supporters: The buck now stops with us.
Dubai-based investment bank GFH Capital completed their takeover of the Championship club earlier this week following protracted talks lasting 206 days.
As revealed in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, GFH deputy chief executive David Haigh, executive director Salem Patel and board member Hisham Alrayes have joined the Elland Road board and will work alongside United chief executive Shaun Harvey, who will continue in his current role.
Under an agreement struck to push through the deal – purported to be worth £52m – Ken Bates will remain as chairman until the end of the season before becoming club president.
In terms of the day-to-day running, however, it seems the new directors will be the men driving the club forward over the coming weeks and months.
Haigh, a Leeds fan in his youth before the family relocated to Cornwall, said: “As of today, Salem has joined the board of the football club. I joined a couple of weeks ago.
“Our CEO Hisham (Alrayes) has joined the board, together with Ken and Shaun. We are now very much in control and the buck does now stop with us.
“Ken will remain chairman until the end of the season and, thereafter, become honorary president of the club. And we very much see an honorary president as not a day-to-day executive role.”
The successful conclusion to the takeover saga saw GFH Capital buy not only Bates’s 72.85 per cent stake in Leeds City Holdings, United’s parent company, but also all the remaining shareholding.
It brought to an end a reign that began in January 2005 when the former Chelsea chairman took charge at Elland Road as the club was buckling under the weight of relegation from the Premier League.
At the time, Leeds were losing £120,000 per week but, after slipping into administration following demotion to League One in 2007, the club have posted a collective profit to the tune of £10m over the past four seasons.
Haigh added: “Ken has been a fantastic steward of the club. He has taken it from difficult times and he has primed it off the pitch for the Premier League.
“We have got a lot of thanks to give him for that. We spent seven months with (Bates’s wife) Suzannah and Ken and seven months with the club, learning all about the club.”
Asked what the thinking was behind Bates staying on as chairman until the end of the season, 35-year-old Haigh replied: “We are in a transitional period where we have just taken ownership.
“We are in the middle of the season and we have got to make sure we have got the best chance of getting to the Premier League as possible. The way to do that is to strengthen what is already here and that is exactly what we are doing.
“We all have the same goal: To get this club back to where it belongs. To wake the sleeping giant, do you have as many people help as possible? Of course you do.”
Bates was a notable absentee from yesterday’s proceedings in the Bremner Suite at Elland Road, Leeds chief executive Harvey explaining: “This press conference is about Leeds United going forward.
“As everyone knows, he (Bates) will remain chairman of the club and it is going to be a very important transition period for everyone between now and the end of the season.
“But we wanted the focus to be on the future going forward and on GFH’s takeover of Leeds United, rather than anything else. That is the reason (for Bates being absent) – it is about the future.”
Bates’s continued role at Elland Road, first as chairman and then president, may have caused disquiet among the section of the United support who have grown increasingly hostile to him over the past 16 or so months.
But it was clear from yesterday’s press unveiling that the new owners are already implementing their own ideas.
A half-year season ticket scheme has already been reintroduced to cover the final 10 games of the season, and the club yesterday launched its own official twitter account in an attempt to reach out directly to supporters.
However, on the future of Elland Road and the club’s Thorp Arch training ground, Patel admitted GFH Capital, who are a subsidiary of Bahrain-based Gulf Finance House, were unable to put any timescale on a possible buy-back of the stadium.
Leeds, who will pay £1.8m to rent the two properties this year, have an option to purchase their home at a set price under the terms of the 25-year lease the club signed in 2004.
“Any club would love to own its own stadium,” said Patel, who was born in 1976 and raised in Walthamstow and Ilford but is now based in Bahrain. “The stadium is the heart of the activity of a football club.
“Currently, Leeds United do not own their stadium or the training facilities. It is part of our plans to buy back the stadium, but we are not at liberty at this moment to put a timescale on it.”
Both Haigh and Patel were at Wednesday night’s Capital One Cup quarter-final defeat to Chelsea when Elland Road hosted its largest attendance in almost two years.
Patel, who has spent the past few months travelling from the Middle East to Yorkshire in an attempt to strike a deal with Bates, said: “This is a fresh start and we will take a fresh approach (to running Leeds United).
“We realise the club is part of the city. On Wednesday night, the hotels and the restaurants were full.
“Same with the bars and the taxis. The city must have been grateful that such a big game was taking place.
“We want to see that throughout the season. I think having a thriving football team helps. Leeds is by no means one of the worst cities in England.
“It is thriving. But we think a successful football team can help the city to also grow and expand.
“What we hope to achieve with this club is to bring back the type of atmosphere that we all witnessed on Wednesday.”
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