Football: Leeds United poised for Italian switch?

Andrea Radrizzani
Andrea Radrizzani

MP & Silva vice-chairman in talks to take over English club from his compatriot Cellini

After months of speculation, Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani has finally broken his silence and confirmed his interest in acquiring English football club Leeds United.

The 42-year-old Italian, a co-founder of Singapore and London-based media rights group MP & Silva, told The Straits Times that he was in "advanced negotiations" with compatriot Massimo Cellino, Leeds' current owner.

Negotiations started in May and Radrizzani is optimistic that a deal - through his investment firm Aser, which launched online streaming service provider Eleven Sports Network and cycling channel Bike - can be completed soon.

Cellino reportedly paid more than £30 million (S$53 million) for a majority 75 per cent stake in Leeds in 2014. He completed his takeover in September this year.

Radrizzani said: "Massimo has 100 per cent now and if I do the deal, I will enter the club during this season with 50 per cent and have the option to buy him out completely in June next summer."

UNTAPPED POTENTIAL

Leeds are exciting. They are a sleeping giant as everyone knows. Probably the only big brand left in English football that could grow in terms of value.

ANDREA RADRIZZANI, MP & Silva co-founder, on why he is thinking of buying English football club Leeds United.

The Juventus supporter, who has visited Elland Road several times this season to watch matches from the stands, is aware of the history of the three-time English champions despite their current struggles in the second-tier Championship.

He said: "Leeds are exciting. They are a sleeping giant as everyone knows. Probably the only big brand left in English football that could grow in terms of value."

A major force in the 1960s and 1970s under former player Don Revie, including runner-up finishes in the 1973 Cup-Winners' Cup and 1975 European Cup, Leeds featured in 12 consecutive seasons in the Premier League from the competition's inception in 1992.

The Yorkshire club had a memorable run to the Champions League semi-final in the 2000-2001 campaign but were relegated three years later and have bounced between the lower rungs of English football since.

In May, Chinese financial services company Everbright Securities and Internet entertainment firm Beijing Baofeng Technology acquired a 65 per cent stake in MP & Silva. Radrizzani was appointed vice-chairman of MP & Silva and president of Baofeng Sports International.

Bloomberg News reported that the deal valued the Italian-owned group at US$1.4 billion (S$2 billion).

While Chinese investors have ploughed vast amounts of money into English football recently - Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion now have Chinese owners - Radrizzani was quick to play down Everbright or Baofeng having an active role in Leeds.

He said: "This deal does not involve any Chinese parties at all... I will eventually bring my team and management but I will speak more about my project and plan once this is finalised."

He also declined to discuss the future of current manager and former Swansea City boss Garry Monk, who was appointed in June to replace Steve Evans, or if he would spend on squad reinforcements.

Under Cellino, Leeds have kept their costs down and actually made a profit of £6.7 million in player transfers over two years.

While Radrizzani is no longer actively involved in MP & Silva's dealings with the Football Association of Singapore - both parties signed a record six-year, $25-million media rights partnership in February last year - he stressed that projects to bring top clubs to Singapore are still possible.

He said: "We've talked with organisers of the International Champions Cup (an exhibition tournament involving European giants like Manchester City and Real Madrid) and one possibility is to do the events in China as well as Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Leeds poised for Italian switch'. Print Edition | Subscribe