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Leeds United’s chairman Andrea Radrizzani offered to use the club’s Elland Road stadium as security for a £26million bank loan which his company, Aser, and a bidding partner, Gestio Capital, intended to use to complete a takeover of the Italian club Sampdoria.

Under a heads of terms agreement co-signed by Radrizzani — essentially an agreement in principle — Elland Road would act as collateral as part of a deal by Radrizzani’s Aser and his bidding partner Gestio Capital to borrow €30m (£25.8m; $32.1m) from Italian bank Banca Sistema, helping to fund their Sampdoria buy-out.

Leeds were only relegated from the Premier League to the Championship on Sunday afternoon but their majority owner Radrizzani was not present at the final match of the campaign as he instead sought to finalise an agreement for Sampdoria.

Leeds are majority-owned by Radrizzani but the club’s minority shareholder, 49ers Enterprises, has been in discussions to acquire control of the club. No agreement has yet been reached, however, and sources close to the takeover process, who like others in this article wished not to be named to protect business relationships, told The Athletic that the 49ers had not been informed about the stadium being put forward as the security for a potential loan.

Less than 24 hours after Radrizzani announced that an agreement had been reached in principle for his group to purchase Sampdoria, The Athletic learned that a proposal had earlier been drawn up which meant that in order for the bank to approve the loan, it would be secured against Leeds’ Elland Road ground, which is controlled by Elland Road Ltd, the UK company which controls the stadium.

The proposed bridging loan would be due for repayment within two years, and also contains clauses showing that the bank would charge interest of provisionally between six and nine per cent per year during this period. However, the agreement would also enable the loan to be extended for up to a decade, which throws open the possibility that Leeds United’s home could act as security for Radrizzani’s Italian venture on Sampdoria for 10 years. The current status of the proposed loan and the extent to which it has progressed beyond a heads of terms agreement is unclear, but no charge has been registered, at the time of publication, on Companies House, the executive agency of the British government that maintains the register of companies.

The Leeds stadium is not owned by Leeds themselves but was bought by Radrizzani in 2017, shortly after he became owner of the Yorkshire club.

One of his first acts as majority shareholder was to activate a buy-back clause negotiated when Elland Road was first sold into private ownership by a previous Leeds regime in 2004.

The 2017 purchase was completed by a different Radrizzani company, Greenfield Investment Pte Ltd. Elland Road has since passed to Elland Road Limited, established in late 2020.

Radrizzani is a director of Elland Road Limited along with Leeds United chief executive Angus Kinnear, Massimo Marinelli — a prominent figure in Radrizzani’s investment firm, Aser — and Collin Meador, an official with minority Leeds shareholder 49ers Enterprises.

49ers Enterprises is currently attempting to take control of Leeds from Radrizzani and is locked in talks over a buy-out following the club’s relegation of the Premier League last weekend.

The parties had an agreement to close a takeover in the event Leeds remained in the Premier League but no price had been set in the event of relegation, which leaves Radrizzani and the 49ers to haggle over any potential takeover.

In a further twist, however, sources close to the takeover process insisted on Thursday morning that Leeds board members, including the 49ers and the club’s chief executive Kinnear, had not been informed of the proposal to use Elland Road as security against the loan. The sources added that Marinelli, a Leeds board member, an officer of Elland Road Ltd and the CEO of Aser, who are part of the group attempting to take over Sampdoria, had also not been informed. Radrizzani did not respond to a request for comment on this point.

It is understood the 49ers were only informed about Radrizzani’s proposal on Wednesday evening after The Athletic’s initial approach. It remains unclear whether the agreement in principle has progressed further, or if Radrizzani ultimately opted for a different approach to secure funding, but it is remarkable in itself that the Leeds chairman was prepared to put his name to securing the stadium of his current club against a loan to buy a different club. It is also likely to strain relations between Radrizzani and the 49ers just at the point supporters may be hoping they will thrash out a final agreement for a takeover. In an email to The Athletic on Wednesday evening, Radrizzani said: “You are not well informed as the deal has been done by Gestio Capital.” Gestio Capital did not respond to a request for comment.

Radrizzani has been lining up a purchase of debt-ridden Sampdoria as part of a bidding group which includes Aser and Matteo Manfredi, the founder of Gestio Capital. Qatar Sports Investments, the owners of Paris Saint-Germain, are also in discussions over assisting the takeover but sources familiar with the discussions insisted they have no involvement or knowledge of an agreement to use Elland Road as collateral.

But the potential of Elland Road as security against a loan risks angering Leeds supporters, raising serious questions about why the ground could be used to assist the purchase of a different club. It would be a remarkable development in any event, but even more so in the days following relegation. Elland Road has been the home of Leeds United ever since the club’s formation in 1919, which makes this a matter of significant public interest to both the local community and the club’s global fan base.

In his email, Radrizzani told The Athletic that “what Aser Ventures does with its assets which includes several companies including Leeds United, Greenfield and Elland Road.. it’s none of your business.”

He added: “You can do what you want but you are just trying to put Leeds United fans against myself. It is not nice.”

When asked directly whether he had offered Elland Road as security for a loan to buy a different club, which it was pointed out is a matter of great public interest to the club’s supporters, Radrizzani did not, at the point of publication, respond.

The prospect of the loan poses the risk of another financial implosion at Sampdoria leaving Elland Road exposed to an attempt by the bank to claw back any money it had loaned to the Radrizzani group.

Radrizzani’s purchase of Elland Road six years ago was viewed as a major step towards stability for Leeds, despite it not returning to the hands of the club directly. The indication was that any future takeover was likely to include the stadium as part of the deal, but that may now be in doubt.

Previously, Leeds had been paying rent of around £1.7m a year to use it. Those payments stopped temporarily after Radrizzani bought the ground, although the club’s promotion to the Premier League saw annual rent payments begin again.

Radrizzani hadn’t spoken publicly since the club’s relegation was confirmed by the 4-1 defeat by Tottenham on Sunday before releasing a statement on Wednesday evening apologising to supporters.

“I find it very hard to find the right words to say,” he said before insisting that “change is needed” at the club.

The statement continued: “We need a clear strategy to continue our vision for the club and work is underway to produce this which we hope will be reflected in some key appointments in different areas of the club.”

A club statement on Sunday read: “Everyone connected with Leeds United is deeply disappointed by the club’s relegation back to the Sky Bet Championship, after three seasons in the Premier League.

“Relegation is painful, and we apologise to our fanbase that the performances this season have not seen the club consolidate our status as we had all hoped.

“However, Leeds United remains in a strong position to build a team that can challenge for promotion from the Championship next season.

“We know things have not been good enough, we know we have to improve, but please be assured that behind the scenes we have worked hard to ensure that the past will not be repeated. Our focus is now on how we get straight back to the Premier League.”

(Top photo: Getty Images)



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