It took less than two weeks for Once A Metro to get an answer to the question of whether the latest troubles piled up at Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino's door (he is facing a suspension by the Football League; he is being sued by a former employee; his team isn't very good at the moment) would result in fresh Red Bull takeover rumors.
The answer was yes, as glancingly reported by The Times on October 30, in an article most memorable for including Cellino's characteristically blunt assessment of his present feelings about owning the 19th-placed team in England's Championship:
I'm losing my balls.
It was a glum interview, but larded with the sort of vivid quotes that make Cellino a newspaper favorite in England, if not necessarily a fan favorite in Leeds:
Ten years ago, I had more balls, but since I came here it’s been a nightmare. Now I have a low quality of life. I feel shame when I walk to the shop to buy cigarettes if we lose a game. I convinced my family to come here and they have run away.
Before the day was out, Cellino had expanded on his comments with an interview on BBC Radio Leeds. As was widely reported subsequently, he indicated a willingness to sell his stake in Leeds United. Some reports pass one the news Cellino would be willing to forego any profit on the sale. The recipient of this largesse? Not Papa Red Bull. Cellino said he would sell to LUFC's fans:
100% I will sell to the fans, if they want to buy it and look after the club. The fans are the only asset the club has.
And that appeared to confirm a statement from Leeds Fans United, the group launched earlier this year to spearhead an effort to get a supporter-owned voice on the club's board:
Leeds Fans Utd has today reached agreement in principle with Massimo Cellino to purchase a majority stake in Leeds United Football Club.— Leeds Fans Utd (@LeedsFansUtd) October 30, 2015
The news brought a resurgent interest in shares in Leeds Fans United:
We've sold more shares between 6pm yesterday & 12 noon today than on launch day. More info to come next week. Thanks for all your support.— Leeds Fans Utd (@LeedsFansUtd) October 31, 2015
But, as some more skeptical voices have pointed out, there is a little more to running a football club than buying a stake in it:
I am not naive no one as the answers I want, how is the club going to be funded, will LFU even pass the owners test. #LUFC— nick briggs (@nickbriggs72) November 1, 2015
And Leeds Fans United is by no means naive about the scale of the investment required if it is to put its money where Cellino's mouth is, as it has made clear in a statement in its website:
An acquisition of this size and nature has never before been completed by fans in the UK, and we will be evaluating everything over the next few days and consulting widely with our teams. We will identify all issues, concerns and potential pitfalls so please get in touch if you have any thoughts on this.
Might a fan-owned club turn to a big-name backer to get the necessary cash in hand to put LUFC back at English soccer's top table? It might. But if Leeds Fans United takes a controlling interest in affairs at Elland Road, it will be surprising to see Red Bull join the effort to reinvigorate the team.
The last time we saw rumors of a Red Bull takeover - and they were much stronger earlier this year than they have been in recent days - it was very clearly stated by Leeds Fans United that there had been contact with the Austrian overlords of the New York Red Bulls, and the two parties were, essentially, incapable of reaching any agreement. Papa was said to be unmoved by the notion of a voice for supporters in the board room; Leeds Fans United, understandably, was not willing to endorse a potential owner who was opposed to any possibility of supporter ownership of the club.
Times change, of course. What was true then may not be true now. And whatever agreement has been reached between Cellino and Leeds Fans United is merely talk until or unless papers are signed and a deal is sealed. But if Leeds United is indeed about to become the highest-ranked supporter-owned club in England, it would suggest Papa's soccer millions (and the centrally controlled global soccer empire he is building) will not be welcomed.