Sheikh set to save Leeds with Â£35m bid
Friday 16 January 2004
While Eddie Gray was expressing his confidence yesterday in the loyalty at Elland Road, Leeds United looked to have avoided the prospect of administration after it was reported last night that Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa has raised £35m to save the club.
Al-Khalifa was putting the final touches to his offer yesterday after frantic efforts to find the money needed to buy shares, pay creditors and bills and put up around £15m for new players.
In an astonishing act of faith in Leeds' future, it is believed the Bahraini has persuaded friends and business partners to back his rescue package in just over a month.
The offer will be put to Leeds United's board today and, with the deadline, they are under huge pressure to accept and allow the sheikh and his team to take over. The move comes as Leeds try to find ways to pay bills by Monday, with the only options being the sale of either Alan Smith or Paul Robinson.
Mark Viduka's compassionate leave in Australia means it would be hard to sell the striker before the end of the month. But the cash injection will prop up Leeds for the rest of the season, with the sheikh determined to keep them from administration. However, the plan is also to release funds for signings, although it may mean that a new manager is brought in.
The sheikh's bid to save Leeds United began two months ago when the former plc chairman Allan Leighton asked him to come up with £2.2m for a relaunch. But before he could raise those funds by the 14 December deadline Leeds announced they might have to go into administration. Because of that change of plan the sheikh had to find even more money quickly to make a takeover bid instead.
Leeds dismissed his offer of 5p a share - or £17m altogether - at the end of December. So he had to go away again and rethink his strategy. The member of the Bahrain royal family has spent the last three weeks looking for allies and investors. It has been hard because many financial experts thought it was mad to consider buying a club with such debts, but Al-Khalifa knew that was a price that had to be paid.
The breakthrough came a few days ago and the sheikh, who has been in London since Christmas, is in a position to make the formal offer. A close aide said: "The sheikh is happy with the way this package is put together. He has had to change direction in many ways, but his driving force was in saving the club.
"However, he did not want those who put Leeds United into this mess to profit. The money he has raised has to pay some debts but - above all - he wants a kitty for players."
Gray, meanwhile, speaking before news had broken of the renewed interest from the Middle East, said he cannot see a reason why anybody at the club would decline to help given the desperation of the situation. "It's up to the acting chairman and players and I'm sure they'll be in discussions together and we will wait and see what happens," he said.
"I don't know what will happen with regard to that situation," he added. "I will wait to see what the chairman wants to do, but I think everybody would help out."
For now, with Leeds one place off the bottom of the Premiership and five points adrift of safety, Gray is mainly concerned with trying to raise morale and win matches. Leeds head to Southampton tomorrow on the back of four successive defeats, and with a squad hampered by injuries, suspensions and international call-ups.
Currently unavailable are the midfielder David Batty (ankle) and the defenders Michael Duberry and Lucas Radebe (both hamstring) while the captain, Dominic Matteo, and Stephen McPhail serve one-match bans. Lamine Sakho and Salomon Olembe are both on African Nations Cup duty.
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