Interest in European football is nothing new for the Gulf’s money men.
In recent years, the high-profile acquisitions of elite clubs such as Manchester City and Paris St-Germain have added to lucrative sponsorship deals signed with Barcelona, AC Milan, Real Madrid and Arsenal, giving leagues in England, Spain, Italy, France and beyond a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour.
But while groups such as Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited, Qatar Investment Authority, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways have targeted some of the continent’s heavyweights, Dubai-based GFH Capital have done things a little differently.
The private equity investment, advisory and fund management company made headlines in November 2012 when it finalised a £52m ($80.4m) deal to take over English second-tier club Leeds United, gaining a 100 percent shareholding.
Despite the rich history of the club, its ranking over recent years has been well below that of the Barcelonas and Real Madrids of the world, with financial woes and a lack of form sending Leeds from the Premier League to League One (the third tier) in just three years before its promotion to the Championship in 2010.
It’s a far cry from the club’s flirtation with the UEFA Champions League in the early years of the 20th century, and its last major success — winning the old First Division title in the 1991-1992 season, the year before the Premiership era.
And there are now generations of United fans who weren’t born during the golden age in the 1960s and 1970s, which brought both domestic and European success.
But rather than putting GFH Capital off acquiring the club, its recent downfall made it all the more attractive as an investment proposition.
“The term ‘sleeping giant’ is often bandied around, but I think in this case it really is true,” says David Haigh, deputy CEO of GFH Capital, managing director of Leeds United, and — perhaps most importantly — a life-long Leeds fan.
He continues: “People ask ‘why Leeds?’ And the short answer is because it’s Leeds United, full stop.
“Leeds is very special. It’s got a phenomenal history and we want to bring back those glory days. It’s got global reach on a par with top Premier League clubs, and it’s a fantastic investment opportunity in a sector which could gain the interest of new investors, as well as being good fun.
“It’s always nice to have an investment that everyone’s interested in — and it’s one where we feel we can advance and have an impact on the business and community surrounding it.”
Formerly known as Injazat Capital, Islamic private equity investor GFH Capital is a 100 percent subsidiary of Gulf Finance House, based in Bahrain, and is better known for its acquisitions in sectors that include real estate, telecoms and healthcare.
Its current portfolio includes Specialised Technical Services (STS), Solidarity Group Holding, and First Energy Bank among others, with Jordanian production house Rubicon perhaps the best known of its exited portfolio.
Article continued on next page...