They seem to have pulled off quite a coup down at Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane, with the announcement that Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (or “Prinny” for short) has purchased a 50% stake in the League One club, becoming joint owner with Kevin McCabe. No long and torturous process of due diligence for the Blunts – it’s a done deal, crash bang wallop, just like that. Quite a difference, it has to be said, from the goings-on at Elland Road last year when it took what seemed like centuries and millions of pages of internet speculation before our own impoverished Middle Eastern takeover was completed. So far, the main appeal of Leeds’ newish owners would seem to be their prized quality of Not Being Ken Bates. But it may well be that Sheffield United have got themselves a rich billionaire, and with hardly any fuss, bother or publicity.
Still though, some things about this takeover imply a less than bankrolled future for the humble Blunts. For a start, it’s been announced – highly conveniently – the day after the summer transfer window slammed shut. And of course the spectre of the new Financial Fair Play rules will haunt any club with ambitions to buy its way to a higher status, meaning that even if Sheffield United were technically minted due to the bulging coffers of its new co-owner, they will be decidedly hamstrung in terms of exactly how much of that wonga they can spend on team improvements. Then again, there may be ways around that, if your backroom staff includes a wily enough manipulator of accounts and accounting regulations. Whatever the case, Blunts fans have every right to be excited about what appears to be a notable development in their club’s profile and ability to plan for a brighter future.
All this is taking place within crowing distance of Elland Road, and many of the Bramall Lane faithful will be having a satisfied chuckle into their greasy chip butties tonight at the thought of how their beloved Blunts have out-done Big Brother up the M1. So what will this development mean for Leeds United AFC? This is, after all, a club whose current owners have been talking loud and long about their desire to attract inward investment on a scale to allow United to move forward on and off the pitch. Rumours were rife not so long back of a mega sponsorship package involving soft-drinks giants Red Bull, and only a day or so ago David Haigh was using his Twitter account to make cryptic references to that company. Other rumours have referred to nameless Saudi princes who may want to be involved with a club which, although some way from Premier League status, certainly have a historic global profile that puts them in a stratospherically different league to either Sheffield club. It’s being said that the new Prince of Bramall Lane could easily have afforded himself a Premier League club, but opted for life in Sheffield. Why would this be? Were Leeds owners GFH aware of the interest of this apparently mega-wealthy Saudi investor? Do they still have other irons in the fire? Should we be worried that Salem Patel hasn’t tweeted one of his enigmatic little winks lately? What IS going on behind the scenes?
One thing is for sure. We live in an age of instant knowledge and mass-sharing of said knowledge on a variety of social media. Football fans gossip on a scale undreamed of by the archetypal housewives over the garden fence, and if one consumer group feels that a rival consumer group is getting a better deal, they are liable to get twitchy, bordering on annoyed. The reaction of Leeds fans is out there already: why can’t WE get ourselves a billionaire investor? The potential at Elland Road, even under Financial Fair Play is much greater – so why aren’t we being snapped up by someone who doesn’t have to scrape down the back of the sofa every time we need the odd million for a Man U reserve. Why can’t we get lucky, just for once? Things are undeniably better than they were under Bates – but with a body of support such as Leeds United has, with their memories of glory days and a glittering history, how long are they going to settle for that?
Now that a near neighbour appears to have sorted itself out as a new rich kid on the block, expect rumblings of discontent at Elland Road if things dont start to move on our own investment front. It wasn’t a barren transfer window for Leeds, not by any means. But the way it fizzled out with inactivity on deadline day and no wingers or strikers arriving – that was uncomfortably reminiscent of the bad old days under Ken. GFH will need to be aware that Leeds fans will never be happy merely to keep up with the Joneses, and now that those Joneses seem to have won the lottery, we’re going to be mighty reluctant to settle for the role of poverty-stricken neighbours. With the pressure this development down the M1 has applied, there had better be some results forthcoming in the loan window – or the muffled protests will become a lot louder and the clamour for new signings in the January window is liable to be deafening.
The way the season pans out for both Uniteds, Sheffield and Leeds, should make for very interesting viewing. Watch this space.