Man United director transfers to Leeds

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The football transfer merry-go-round took a new turn yesterday when Robin Launders resigned as finance director of Manchester United to join arch-rival Leeds as chief executive for an undisclosed sum.

The signing is a coup for the Yorkshire club, which was recently bought for pounds 16.5m by the quoted media group Caspian, and comes days after Manchester United sold its unsettled winger Lee Sharpe to Leeds for pounds 4.5m.

James Henderson, a spokesman for Caspian, said: "This is exceptionally good news for Leeds and a real coup because Mr Launders is widely regarded as the man who turned around Manchester United's financial performance.

"He was the driving force behind Manchester United being floated five or six years ago and since then the company's share value has rocketed from approximately pounds 50m to pounds 300m."

Mr Launders helped transform Manchester United from an underperforming, family-run business into one of the most profitable brand names in the country. Last year, the Old Trafford club made a whopping pounds 20m on sales of pounds 60.6m - four times the amount Leeds turned over.

The bulk of revenues came from off-the-field activities such as marketing and merchandising that capitalised on United's unique franchise.

All manner of goods were branded, including own-label French wine, shampoo and a Manchester United Gameboy launched by Nintendo.

Mr Launders, who will also become a main board director of Caspian, said he was looking forward to the "wider scope" and "new challenges" offered by the chief executive's role at Leeds.

"Leeds have done very well, invested in players and are a club with great prospects. But there is still a lot to do, and I know I can do something."

Mr Launders played an active role in recent negotiations over screening rights for Premier League football, which satellite broadcaster BSkyB retained in a five-year deal worth a record pounds 670m. He is also known to be an enthusiastic advocate of pay-per-view television, which could net top Premier League clubs pounds 2.5bn a year.

Leeds pipped United to the League title in the 1991/92 season, but finished 13th in the Premier League last season. Manchester United, by contrast, clinched the League and FA Cup "double" in May for an unprecedented second time.

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