As anger boiled over during Leeds United’s final minutes in the Premier League, it seemed a world away from when they were in the Champions League places having defeated Chelsea. Back then, a fan waved a USA flag at Jesse Marsch, with the stars and stripes ending up draped around Tyler Adams.
It was just nine months ago on that sunny day in August when only Manchester City and Arsenal were between Marsch’s team and the top of the Premier League. Brenden Aaronson had scored the opening goal and Marsch’s football was high-octane. No wonder there was talk of an American Revolution at Elland Road.
Marsch brought up Ted Lasso himself when he was unveiled at Leeds, saying the TV character gave American coaches a stigma. But the Wisconsin-born coach had to be taken seriously after seven points from the first three games of the season. Unfortunately, their August haul turned out to be almost a quarter of their points for the entire campaign.
They slipped out of the top flight after three seasons with Marsch a distant memory. Sam Allardyce in the dugout was an act of desperation but even the old-school British style of management could not get Leeds out of trouble. Aaronson did not start a game for Big Sam, Adams was injured for the final 12 games of the season, while Weston McKennie, another American, was a target for furious supporters.
But the American dream is not quite over at Leeds yet. There was a takeover agreement in place for 49ers Enterprises, the owners of NFL franchise San Francisco 49ers, to take control of the club but it was dependent on Premier League football. There could still be a takeover by the American group but it would be at a much lower price.
If the club was valued at more than £400 million at the top table of English football, dropping into the Championship would be expected to wipe £250million off that.
The 49ers would at least appear to have a clear run at taking control of Leeds. Owner Andrea Radrizzani has been focused this week on buying Italian club Sampdoria with his business partner Matteo Manfredi. Like Leeds, Sampdoria were relegated from the top flight and needed £34.4million to bolster their finances after heading to Serie B.
“It was a real race against time. A long and exhausting negotiation that only saw its positive conclusion on the evening of Tuesday 30 May,” read a statement confirming the takeover. “It was a real battle, but we can finally say that we have done it. We are nothing short of thrilled to be able to announce that we have completed the acquisition of this extraordinary club.”
While Radrizzani has always been the majority shareholder at Leeds, the 49ers have built up their stake in the club to 44 per cent. Paraag Marathe, President of 49ers Enterprises, has been on the board at Leeds since 2018 and two years ago was appointed vice-chairman. His roles with the 49ers include contract negotiations, “salary cap architect, while overseeing the team’s football analytics department” according to his official biography. So there would be an experienced sporting executive in place should the takeover go through.
It remains to be seen if US internationals will want to play in Championship
What would new owners inherit? It is expected to be one of the toughest seasons in the Championship, given Leicester and Southampton will also be competing for promotion along with the likes of Watford, Swansea and Norwich, who did not make the play-offs last season.
There are good commercial revenues in place, parachute payments and player assets to sell. The ones who remain are on wage reductions, although whether the American internationals in the squad will want to play in the Championship remains to be seen.
McKennie, arguably the man-of-the-match for USA against England at the World Cup, never found any rhythm during his loan from Juventus and was seen on a train departing Leeds shortly after relegation was confirmed. It is assumed that he will be at Juventus or a new club next season.
Adams’s reputation was untarnished as he missed the final part of the season. He could attract bids. Aaronson is one of the players with market-value relegation buyout clause in his contract, although he hardly put himself in the shop window after his goal against Chelsea. The “Medford Messi” looked lightweight, not ready yet for English football, let alone the relentless battle that the Championship will bring.
Leeds potential new owners would also inherit the payments owed on transfers, with deals in January loaded for later payments. This included a £35million club-record deal for Georginio Rutter, who failed to settle following his move from Hoffenheim. They will hope he eventually comes good like Joelinton at Newcastle after coming to England from the same Bundesliga club.
The good news should the Americans take charge at Elland Road is the excellent crop of youngsters, recruited by academy-football guru Craig Dean who has identified the likes of Sonny Perkins, Sam Greenwood and Crysencio Summerville. Joe Gelhardt, Charlie Cresswell and Cody Drameh return from loans and will be valuable Championship players. There is the foundation for a push at promotion, as tough as the campaign will be.
When he arrived at the club, Marsch revealed that he had spoken to people from 49ers Enterprises but his appointment was not because of them. “To say there is an Americanisation of this club would be inaccurate,” he said at the time.
The 49ers’ could still take control of the club and keeping the American Dream alive will take some shrewd decisions, starting with the right manager and director of football to get back to the Premier League.