English Championship side Leeds United were on Thursday in line to become the latest football club to have Gulf backing, after Bahrain-based investors announced plans to acquire control of the high-profile team.
Gulf Finance House said in a statement posted on the Bahrain and Kuwaiti stock exchanges that its subsidiary GFH Capital Limited had signed an exclusive agreement to lead and arrange the acquisition of the Elland Road club.
“Due to a confidentiality provision, no further details can be given about the commercial terms of the transaction,” GFH added in the statement.
A sports industry source in Bahrain however told AFP that the value of the deal was 50 million pounds ($75 million, 63 million euros).
Although currently in the second tier of English football, Leeds have a proud history in the top flight and a huge fan base.
There was no immediate comment on the announcement by the club but the chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust, Gary Cooper, described the development as “great news”.
“The Trust has been calling for the potential buyer and the club to say something and this is what we’ve all been waiting to hear,” he was quoted as saying on the website of the local Yorkshire Post newspaper in northern England.
Leeds chairman Ken Bates, under fire from fans for a perceived lack of investment, revealed earlier this year that talks for a potential new owner were on and Cooper said he hoped any new owners would share supporters’ ambitions for the famous club.
“We’re hoping for investment in the team and for Leeds United to be glorious again,” he added.
The newspaper said that members of GFH’s senior management team attended a Leeds match against Wolverhampton Wanderers last month and were also at the last league game against Nottingham Forest as well as Tuesday’s league cup win over Everton.
The potential acquisition comes against a backdrop of massive financial investment in football clubs by Gulf-based institutions, most notably at English Premier League champions Manchester City and French giants Paris Saint-Germain.
Manchester City were bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group, a private equity firm owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, while PSG is now controlled by Nasser Al Khelaifi’s Qatar Sports Investment.
Leeds, currently mid-table of the Championship, are considered one of English football’s “sleeping giants” and are gunning for a return to the top flight after years in the wilderness.
Under manager Don Revie, Leeds were the team to beat in the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s, winning the old First Division title twice in 1968-1969 as well as making the FA Cup four times between 1965 and 1973, lifting the trophy in 1972.
Leeds also made the final of the 1975 European Cup but were beaten 2-0 by Bayern Munich.
The club were the last winners of the First Division in 1991-1992 and played in the Premier League from its creation the following year, even making the semi-final of the Champions League in 2001.
But they were relegated in 2004, amid persistent financial troubles, and have failed to make it back to the top flight since, even dropping to the third-tier League One for three seasons until promotion to the Championship in 2010.