Leeds play down £90m bid as Ugandan issues ultimatum

Michael Ezra, the Ugandan property tycoon who claims he has £90m of funding ready to save Leeds United, said yesterday that a takeover is being hampered over his proposals for an all-foreign board. But as he issued an apparent ultimatum to Leeds to accept or reject his offer within 48 hours, a senior source at Elland Road played down reports of Ezra's approach, saying negotiations were "in the very earliest stages at best".

Ezra, 30, was reportedly given a guided tour of Leeds's Thorp Arch training ground on Monday. He then told the New Vision newspaper in Uganda that he had made a firm offer for the financially stricken club but that Leeds's chief executive, Trevor Birch, found some aspects of his takeover problematic.

"The six-man board that I had presented [in my plan] doesn't have any Britons and Leeds don't find that acceptable," Ezra said. "They also feel that my board lacks the technical expertise to bolster the club, but money is no longer the issue, that has been sorted.

"Leeds know that I have £60m, while my board would also spend an extra £30m to strengthen the team."

The Leeds source said that it was inaccurate to say that they had definitive proof of Ezra's resources, just as they still had no confirmation that a £20m offer from a consortium of Yorkshire-based businessman was any closer to fruition.

Leeds are likely to continue talking to Ezra, about whom they know very little, if only because they have to explore every option to save the club. Leeds's latest "standstill agreement" with their major creditors ends on Friday and although another extension is probable, time is running out. The club have gross debts of more than £100m and need to find a buyer to survive beyond the end of this season or else enter administration.

"The two main problems with any potential buyer is whether they have the money and whether Leeds are happy about their credentials," said a source.

Even in Uganda, few people know much about Ezra's business affairs. He has no major visible business assets within the country and little is known about his overseas real estate dealings, which have apparently made him rich. He has no long-term interest in football and his philanthropic work within Ugandan sport - he sponsors athletes and boxers - has been relatively recent. Though the billion Ugandan shillings he has invested in grass-roots sport at home makes him a major benefactor there, it is not, in itself, proof of vast wealth. A billion shillings is worth around £300,000.

While Birch was awaiting developments concerning Ezra, a new problem was surfacing in the wake of Eddie Gray's decision to inform David Batty he would not play any part in the Leeds team for the rest of the season.

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said Gray's treatment of Batty had been "disgraceful" and said the player has been humiliated and made "an outcast".

Gray claims his decision was made for "footballing reasons" and insists the 35-year-old "has not been shunned". But Taylor said Batty would have the PFA's full support if he decided to fight his club on the issue.

"To say David will not be considered for the first team is bad enough, but to say he will not be considered for the second team either is not on," Taylor said.

There is a suspicion among those close to Batty that he has been made a scapegoat for his leading role in the recent impasse about a wage deferral. Taylor said the PFA will support Batty if he decides to withdraw from the deferral agreement.

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