Friday, 21 November 2014

Full statement from GFH Capital about 'rogue' tweets

GFH Capital statement:

"It has come to our attention that there has been an abuse of the GFH-Capital web domain and our Twitter account over the last few days, such that a third party has placed malicious and misleading content on them.

"We can confirm that there has been no compromise of our corporate computer systems. We have now established that the ex-Deputy CEO of GFH-Capital, David Haigh, retained administrative rights over these web accounts after his employment ended and we believe that Mr Haigh, through his associates, is responsible for these malicious attacks on our web presence.

"We are taking urgent action to recover these web accounts and will pursue legal action against those that have perpetrated and assisted in these malicious acts while spreading false accusations and misinformation."

GFH Capital also provided this 'background note':

"David Haigh was arrested in Dubai in May 2014, after the discovery of frauds carried out against GFH-Capital including the issuing of 100 false invoices that resulted in more than £4m of the Bank's money ending up in bank accounts belonging to him or a close associate.

"This has been certified by the relevant banks’ compliance officers. Courts in Dubai, the United Kingdom and Guernsey have also issued orders freezing his assets in those jurisdictions based upon the weight of the evidence against him.

"GFH-Capital remains confident that its claims of fraud against Mr Haigh will be proven in Court."

Haigh has always protested his innocence.

Dave Whelan: Time for sports media to look at itself?

Dave Whelan’s comments yesterday about Jewish and Chinese people were wrong. We agree.

That’s the easy bit over with.

To recap, the Wigan owner said it was acceptable to use the word ‘chink’, which has been widely used as an offensive and derogatory term.

He also pedalled a familiar stereotype about Jewish people – that they ‘chase money more than everybody else’ - a stereotype which has led to persecution.

A mob quickly formed to condemn Whelan – on Twitter, on websites, on radio stations, on 24-hour news channels.

Everyone agreed that the words, the sentiments, were not acceptable in this day and age. Whelan had become an easy target - take aim, fire.

In the age of 24-hour news, the story was manna from heaven.

Report the quotes, get someone on to condemn them (this was easy, as people were queuing up to do so) and then get Whelan himself on to issue a grovelling apology.

The journalists and commentators whipped themselves up into more and more of a frenzy and the adjectives became more and more hysterical - ‘outrageous’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘moral maze’, ‘cesspit’.

Simon Johnson - the former CEO of England’s 2018 World Cup bid team, which had tried to get a job for a family friend of the disgraced Jack Warner and thrown a £35,000 gala dinner for Warner and Caribbean football officials – was fastest to condemn Whelan.

Fair enough, Johnson is chief executive of the Jewish leadership council, but it stuck in the craw to hear him decrying the morals of the game.

I think much of the reaction was easy, lazy, hysterical and hypocritical.

As we know from school, there’s nothing easier than joining the crowd and picking on one kid.

Yet don’t we agree that intentions are more important than words? And deeds are certainly more important than words.

You can learn the politically-acceptable language of the day. However, simply doing this isn't enough.

I remember watching an old tape from the late 1970s of a football match involving West Brom. The commentator kept referring to the “wonderful trio of coloured players” and, as a modern viewer, it was uncomfortable to hear.

That wouldn’t be acceptable now and the commentator subsequently stopped using the word “coloured” when he covered matches.

But does that mean his thoughts had necessarily changed?

Conversely, Alan Hansen was forced to issue a grovelling apology when he used the term “coloured” on Match of the Day in 2011.

Yet he was using a term which had been deemed acceptable when he was playing.

His former team-mate John Barnes said it was ridiculous Hansen was forced to apologise and that the man he knew so well was definitely no racist.

"In the 1970s people were afraid to call me black because they thought it was an insult," Barnes said. "They would say 'coloured'. Now it has gone full circle. It's not an issue. The INTENTION is the most important thing."

Words versus intentions. Words versus deeds.

Many of those condemning Whelan work for newspapers and broadcasters which are overwhelmingly – in fact staggeringly - white.

How many non-white sports columnists do you know on the newspapers?

How many non-white sports correspondents, presenters and reporters?

How many non-white editors of newspapers, or of TV sports programmes?

In fact how many people of black or ethnic background do you know who work on the sports desks in any capacity?

I’ll tell you – hardly any.

And I was staggered to find out that not a single black UK newspaper journalist was sent to cover the World Cup.

There’s been a lot of talk of the need for a Rooney Rule in football and I actually think it should be introduced.

But maybe there needs to be a Rooney Rule in the media - and sports media in particular - as well.

Sport is played, watched and read about by a lot of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

Back to Whelan.

He’s a 77-year-old man from a different era.

Do you know many people in their 70s? I know a few.

Would you be confident that - if they were quizzed about issues of race and ethnicity - then they’d use appropriate language?

I’d say it would be quite easy to catch them out.

Whelan talked more and more and dug himself deeper and deeper into a hole. He got very mixed up and muddled.

He thought he was talking positively about Jewish people.

After all, he’s someone who has devoted his life to money making, and thought, misguidedly, that he was paying a compliment.

“Do you think Jewish people chase money a little bit more than we do?

“I think they are a very shrewd people. The Jews don’t like losing money.

“Nobody likes losing money. I think Jewish people do chase money more than everybody else.

“I don’t think that’s offensive at all.”

And on the Chinese: “If an Englishman said he has never called a Chinaman a chink he is lying.

“There is nothing bad about doing that. It is like calling the British Brits, or the Irish paddies.”

When I was growing up, I often heard a Chinese takeaway described as a ‘chinky’. As a kid, I didn't have the confidence or the knowledge to challenge anyone about this.

As the owner of a football club and of a big business, Whelan should undoubtedly have known better. But has he ever been challenged about this before?

Words and deeds.

A lot of people have asked whether 'a man like this' should be running a football club?

Well, Whelan wasn’t elected - he bought the club.

And he’s run it very well, judging him on just about any criteria.

He’s built a new stadium, turned a profit, won the FA Cup, had long runs in the Premier League, promoted homegrown players and – up until the last couple of years – stuck with his managers.

He’s employed Spanish, German, Irish and Scottish managers. Never a black one, admittedly, but then he’s hardly alone there, is he?

And I’ll come back to that question of how many black people are currently employed in the mainstream sports media?

Whelan has also employed players from every corner of the globe – Ecuador, Grenada, Honduras, and so on and so on. That doesn't mean he isn't racist, of course, but then I’ve not heard any specific accusations of racism against him in the past either.

Perhaps, if he's been accustomed to using language or expressing views like this, he should have been challenged before, but that doesn't seem to have happened. Perhaps it's difficult to challenge the multi-millionaire owners of football clubs.

Whelan's biggest mistake has been to open himself up now, to the national media, as a man from a different era.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Why hasn't Cellino been able to buy back Elland Road?

Talking to Massimo Cellino over the course of 2014 has taught me that when he says ‘the deal is done’, he means ‘the deal is agreed’.

He doesn't necessarily mean 'the deal has been signed’, which is how you and I would probably take it.

This might seem insignificant, but it is an important distinction, as you'll see during the course of this post.

The distinction has become evident when the Italian has talked about transfers, incoming managers and, most recently, about the attempted buyback of Elland Road.

Back in August, I interviewed Cellino in the stands of the stadium for ITV Calendar.

On a sunny afternoon, he was bullish and buoyant and everything seemed good at Elland Road. Cellino announced that the terms of the share purchase agreement (SPA) with GFH had been renegotiated, essentially meaning that his debt to them was written off until the club reached the Premier League.

So he declared that the club was 'debt free'.

Cellino said all parties realised this was for the best of Leeds United. He would have more capital for the development of the team and purchase of the stadium and so the club would have a better chance of reaching the Premier League.

And for their part, GFH would have a stake that was significantly more valuable if the club were able to reach the promised land of the Premier League.

There was also another apparent reason for the compromise agreement - the parties disagreed about the state of the club’s finances when it was sold to Cellino, and this was a good way of avoiding potential legal action.

Cellino also made his now infamous promise to purchase Elland Road ‘by November’.

Originally, he had told me he would buy the ground back the day after his purchase of the club in April, but that obviously hadn't happened.

Fast forward to this week and we witnessed a very different Cellino - beleaguered. tired and weary.

Now he conceded he wouldn’t be able to buy the ground back by November after all. In fact he probably wouldn’t be able to buy it this year.

The exact reasons have been a little unclear, but I will try and shed as much light on them as I can.

Not only was Cellino a little hasty in promising to buy back Elland Road, but it turns out he was also hasty in saying a deal had been done with GFH over the SPA.

In fact it hadn’t been signed and still hasn’t.

Indeed GFH don't appear to have any intention of doing so. They want the original terms of the SPA to be honoured, meaning Cellino paying the next instalment due to them in December, for some £6 million.

Perhaps GFH now realise that those hopes of the club getting into the Premier League were a little premature and will have to wait for at least another season for that to happen.

I'm guessing their motives a bit, because I've tried to get a response from Salem Patel, via text and email, but received no reply.

Under the terms of the SPA, any substantive decision affecting GFH's shareholding has to be ratified by a majority vote of the board, including one of the two GFH-nominated directors, Salem Patel and Salah Nooruddin.

They have been unwilling to ratify a purchase of the stadium which would involve a contribution commensurate with their shareholding.

GFH have countered criticism of this stance by complaining that they thought the £10.75 million gained from the sale of Ross McCormack in the summer would be used to buy the ground.

And, in fairness to them, Cellino did say that himself.

Yet Leeds probably only received about £9 million from the sale of the Scotland striker, as a portion went to his former club Cardiff. And the Elland Road buyback clause is for £16 million - quite a discrepancy.

In any case, the terms of the SPA do not require consultation with GFH over transfers. And would they really have vetoed the sale of a player they had agreed to sell to Cardiff for a fraction of that £10.75 million in only January?

So Cellino has been looking for a mortgage to make up the shortfall.

This has so far proved impossible, mainly because of the club’s poor credit rating, which was hardly helped by the winding-up orders issued against it earlier this year.

As a result Cellino, who is even conservatively estimated to be worth £500 million, has been left with a stark choice - pay 100% for an asset that will greatly increase the value of GFH’s shareholding, yet to which they have not contributed, or risk the wrath of supporters by breaking a key promise.

The Italian has plumped for the latter, but been reluctant to express his dilemma in such stark terms, perhaps understandably. He said buying the stadium outright could cause the club to fall foul of the Football League's financial fair play rules. Yet when I called the League to check this, they said any spending on infrastructure or stadia was exempt from FFP.

Cellino has told me he hates breaking promises and letting the fans down, but unfortunately that’s exactly what has happened - for the time being at least.

The 58-year-old flies to Miami on Sunday to recharge his batteries and try and think of a solution to the current impasse.

My personal opinion, based on experience, is that this is a man who has good intentions for the club and is not there to enrich himself at its expense.

He can, however, be extremely rash, both in terms of his decision-making and his pronouncements, and that trait has cost him once again.

So we are left with a club that is still no closer to owning its own stadium and which yesterday released a statement saying its aim was to ‘stay in the Championship’ this season.

That's all a far cry from those heady days when Cellino first took over.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Lowdown on Red Bull link with Leeds United

Not for the first time, there's been confusion surrounding recent events at Elland Road.

As fans and players were preparing for Neil Redfearn's bow as permanent manager at Cardiff on Saturday, a story was published on the Daily Mail website that took everyone, including me, by surprise.

It claimed that owner Massimo Cellino was in talks with Red Bull about selling the club.


It was bylined John Edwards, (long-standing Mail reporter) initially, before being changed to David Kent (website journalist) in the afternoon. I'm not quite sure why.

I made some initial inquiries with an insider at the club and was told the story of a takeover was 'horseshit'. Phil Hay, the excellent Yorkshire Evening Post correspondent, spoke to Cellino and was told a slight variation - that it was 'bullshit'.

Yet further inquiries revealed that Cellino HAD been involved in preliminary talks with a representative of the global drinks giant.

Apparently the Italian is NOT interested in selling a club he has already put so much money and effort into (frankly I'd have been amazed if he was). But I was told he IS interested in bringing additional finance to Elland Road.

This could, apparently, even involve Red Bull taking a stake in the club - potentially by buying GFH's 25% stake (although this would obviously be the Bahraini bank's choice) as well as some of Cellino's shareholding. It was emphasised that talks were at a very early stage and that all of these possible outcomes were hypotheticals.

The Italian does have the money to continue to bankroll the club, but has always been clear he doesn't like 'throwing money from the window'. He has lofty ambitions for Leeds - some of which are being thwarted at the moment - so any additional finance would come in very useful.

We know that he wants to buy back Elland Road, but has found it difficult to get a mortgage to help do this. And we know that he wants to build a new training centre.

I finally got a call from Cellino late last night, and he was very angry about the Mail story. This was mainly because he said he has absolutely no intention of selling the club and felt the story had undermined him in the eyes of the fans.

Yet he admitted he HAS been talking to someone purporting to be a representative of Red Bull (this purporting bit was a little confusing). This could potentially lead to the global giant investing in a new training centre for the club.

Cellino has never made any secret of his dislike for the current Thorp Arch training ground - too expensive, too far from his office at Elland Road and, in any case, an unlucky venue.

There have also been talks about possible investment in the stadium, although Cellino was at pains to point out that he would never allow the famous ground to be renamed.

He was also furious that the story of the Red Bull talks had been leaked to a newspaper. 'Who is the mole?' 'Who is trying to hurt me?' he shouted, asking the question to the heavens really.

Apparently Red Bull are also averse to news of their affairs and negotiations being leaked and were unhappy when this was done during preliminary takeover talks with the club last year, before Cellino was even on the scene.

So there are serious talks going on.

That much isn't horseshit or bullshit or any other kind of shit.

And who knows exactly where these talks will lead? Probably not even Cellino himself at this stage.

Possibly with the Austrian drinks company taking a stake in Leeds; possibly with them investing in the stadium and training ground; or possibly with nothing at all.

Whatever the case, there's barely ever a quiet day at Leeds United.