It's back: as warned in February, when rumors start to swirl around the ownership of Leeds United, Papa Red Bull's name is rarely far from the mix. We were expecting another round of Red-Bull-bids-for-Leeds chat.
"Red Bull ready to buy Leeds United" has been a staple of the rumor mill in England since 2013, if not before. More recently, Papa was alleged to be ready to invest in the Yorkshire club in November and December of last year. It's surprising it has taken until April for another iteration of the story to find its way into the UK press.
What is the rumor this time? The Daily Mirror is reporting Red Bull GmbH is in "advanced talks" to take over Leeds United. The paper suggests Papa has about $90 million (or GBP60 million, which is more accurately described as $89.5 million or approximately 9/10 of a new MLS franchise at current market rates) on the table and that "high-ranking staff have visited Elland Road to sample the match-day atmosphere". When football club executives watch football matches, you know something is up.
Of course, given the relentless nature of this particular rumor, it would be no surprise at all if there were some truth to it.
The Mirror suggests there are two sticking points. One is the simple fact current LUFC owner Massimo Cellino is presently banned from acting as a "relevant person" in club matters until May 3, which is the end of the season for most Championship teams (the promotion playoffs will occupy a little more time for four sides; Leeds is currently 16 points outside the playoff positions with seven games to play).
The second issue might be more significant: Red Bull is said to have concerns about navigating UEFA regulations restricting the simultaneous ownership of multiple clubs (think what would happen if Papa owned three of four clubs involved in the Champions League semifinals, for example).
The Mirror suggests there is talk of Red Bull selling either Brother Salzburg or Cousin Leipzig to make room for a new addition to the RB family. The paper also says Leeds might become Papa's "priority club". These are certainly smart ideas to float if you're negotiating with UEFA about your portfolio of soccer teams, or possibly about to take over a big English club with a fan base likely to show little patience with another sub-optimal owner.
Is there any truth to the rumor? Well, the article does include a line that sounds suspiciously like the sort of talk we've been hearing recently around Harrison:
And the firm feel Leeds, with a young side and thriving academy, fit in well with their philosophy.
Papa does love synergy.
Last time these rumors surfaced, Red Bull came out quickly to slap them down. Twice.
The Mirror thinks the deal could be wrapped up in "two to three weeks". Be it another official denial from Red Bull or increased speculation over the rest of this month, expect to hear more about Papa and Leeds in the near future.
What does this mean for the New York Red Bulls? It's hard to say. If Red Bull needs to reshuffle its European soccer holdings to make room for Leeds, that might mean Papa will hang on to his American investment. After all, if he can throw $90 million at LUFC, running a reduced-cost, "team is the star"-era RBNY ought not to be much of a concern.
Conversely, the idea Papa wants to sell his MLS stake has been around almost as long the notion he's thinking of buying Leeds. And it's just as persistent. If Red Bull can get anywhere close to the $300 million offer Grant Wahl suggested Papa was waiting for, that's the sort of money that can turn a mid-table Championship team into a contender for a return to the Premier League.
And one must take into account that despite a seemingly constant stream of reports alleging Red Bull is buying Leeds or selling RBNY, neither has actually happened and Papa has consistently denied both allegations.
There's a strong likelihood we'll have more information on this subject shortly. Once A Metro will continue to follow the story.