Kevin McCabe, the chairman of Sheffield United, has appointed City bankers to look at a possible sale of his stake in the Championship club.
McCabe, a property tycoon who has an estimated personal fortune of £175m, has hired Akur Partners, the Square Mile corporate finance company, to handle a review of his ownership of the Blades. David Shapton, a director at Akur, is conducting the process with a number of prospective buyers already thought to having been sounded out.
McCabe is believed to have ploughed as much as £50m into Sheffield United since he took over the club, although any sale is likely to fetch much less.
Earlier in the year Blades' chief executive Trevor Birch dismissed claims that the club was in financial difficulty following the publication of accounts that made for grim reading. Although United are not encumbered with debt held directly against them like some Championship sides, they rely on a £2m "soft loan" from McCabe and his Scarborough property business. The club has also around £20m of bank debt secured on property assets such as a hotel at the Bramall Lane complex.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountancy firm, is currently helping McCabe restructure Scarborough Group International, which according to the company's latest available set of accounts from 2008 has debts in excess of £320m.
As part of the restructuring it has been reported that McCabe will create a specific leisure business within Scarborough, which alongside a 75 per cent stake in United, will also include investments in foreign clubs including China's Chengdu Blades and the Hungarian side Ferencvaros, now managed by former Blades defender Craig Short.
After narrowly missing out on promotion to the Premier League last year, losing to Burnley in the play-off final at Wembley, an injury-ravaged United ended this season in a disappointing eighth place, amid growing unrest among supporters.
Manager Kevin Blackwell has called on United to flex their muscles in the transfer market this summer. "We've got to build something, build our own squad, to be able to compete with teams like Newcastle," said Blackwell, who last week received a vote of confidence from McCabe.
A spokesman for the club said: "Sheffield United is a go-ahead and forward thinking championship club focused on securing a place in the Premier League. As has been previously indicated through the chairman and owner Kevin McCabe and Chief Executive Trevor Birch, it is no secret that the club is seeking to further enhance its financial standing by bringing additional investment to the club. Such plans were outlined at recent fans’ forums held in Sheffield. As part of the process, which is continuing, the club has appointed an independent corporate finance and equity capital markets advisory firm - AKUR - to help find a partner investor for Mr McCabe and the club’s management team as it seeks to bring long-term sustainable benefits for Sheffield United."