Birch ready to accept £22m offer for Leeds

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The Independent Online

The exact identity of the owners has still not been fully revealed, but Leeds United are expected to be taken over today after four months of tortuous negotiation.

The exact identity of the owners has still not been fully revealed, but Leeds United are expected to be taken over today after four months of tortuous negotiation.

A Yorkshire-based consortium, who remained the debt-ridden club's only suitors after assorted Bahraini sheikhs, Ugandan property developers and proposals by Leeds' former deputy chairman, Allan Leighton, melted away, have all but concluded a deal with the chief executive, Trevor Birch.

The consortium, fronted by the Leeds-based accountant Gerald Krasner and advised by the former Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond, will pay around £22m for the club. This will be sufficient to pay off the bondholders - M&G, MetLife and Teachers, of the United States - who provided £60m to refinance the club three years ago, as well as the Guernsey-based firm Registered European Football Finance and its insurers, Gerling, who raised £22m to buy an array of players, most of whom have since been sold at a loss. The squad's agreement to defer a quarter of their wages expires at the end of the season.

The new owners will, however, need to deal with remaining debts of around £30m and a wage bill that would cripple Leeds if they are relegated to the First Division. Significantly, Krasner, who is an expert on corporate recovery, has not ruled out selling and leasing back Elland Road as a way of raising anything up to £25m.

Leeds' lavish training complex at Thorp Arch, a highly desirable site in the Yorkshire countryside near Wetherby, is another substantial asset. The sale of Elland Road for development with the club groundsharing with Barnsley, a club run by their former chairman, Peter Ridsdale, has been emphatically rejected.

Nevertheless, Krasner's deal is unlikely to be wholeheartedly welcomed by Leeds supporters. The identity of his financial backers has never been properly confirmed, although chief among them is thought to be the property developer Jack Petchey, who was once Watford's chairman. Still more controversial is Richmond's presence, and not just because of his association with Bradford, a club he left with debts of £36m when he quit as chairman after their relegation from the Premiership in 2001.

Richmond initially denied his involvement with the consortium, claiming he had "nothing whatsoever to do with it". He then admitted to being merely "an advisor" and denies he will be taking a place on the board at Elland Road once the takeover is complete. These denials do not, however, prevent his son, David, from fulfilling such a role.

But Richmond has always been adamant that the Yorkshire consortium is Leeds' only hope, saying: "If the bid fails, the only realistic outcome is for the club to go into administration and possibly liquidation, which would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs."

The two most at risk are those occupied by Birch himself and the Leeds manager, Eddie Gray. Although Birch had been appointed on a salary of £500,000 from Chelsea, he has only worked on a month-to-month basis and has been courted by Aston Villa. Some members of the consortium are also believed to favour Gordon Strachan as a candidate to replace Gray, who is still officially acting in a caretaker capacity.

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