Home Coach outlet profit Red Bull buying Leeds from Massimo Cellino – did the rumor really exist?

Red Bull buying Leeds from Massimo Cellino – did the rumor really exist?

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Three months after a day of claims and counterclaims, the Jean-Kevin Augustin case is still in the hands of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In keeping with the whole saga, there was no quick resolution to the dispute; no expedited verdict on whether Leeds United or RB Leipzig should bear the cost of a transfer that didn’t happen or how the tangle would straighten out.

As the row over Augustin simmered and escalated, eventually landing on the CAS desk in March, relations between Leeds and the Red Bull empire became increasingly strained.

Yet despite the bad feeling, communication channels were stable enough to allow the Premier League club to complete the signings of Brenden Aaronson and Rasmus Kristensen from Red Bull Salzburg as early as the end of last season, proving that even conflicting organizations can find a way to do business.

Red Bull are asking for £18million in compensation for Augustin, the fee Leeds had to pay for him two years ago, but by selling Aaronson and Kristensen to the same club their Salzburg branch raised £35million – a sum that supports the Austrian club’s model of bringing in emerging talent and leveraging those players further down the line to turn a healthy profit.

Leeds and Red Bull are currently intertwined: battling on one front, negotiating on others and crossing paths with regularity.

Even Leeds head coach Jesse Marsch has held three of his four previous managerial roles in the Red Bull stable of clubs in three different countries, and is a man the energy drink company knows inside out.

Leeds, as a fan base and cultural entity, see themselves as the antithesis of Red Bull’s football investing style.

Red Bull is the corporate machine, a financial powerhouse that doesn’t shy away from renaming clubs, redesigning shirts and renaming in whatever way suits its strategy. The group are extraordinarily tough on facing criticism and ignoring the accusation that their clubs are built for the plastic generation.


Marsch at the helm of the New York Red Bulls, before working for Red Bull Salzburg then RB Leipzig (Photo: Ira L Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

Leeds, on the other hand, thrive on authenticity, on old-school ideas of what football should be.

This is the club where a wildly unpopular attempt by new owner Andrea Radrizzani to change his badge in January 2018 died in the space of six hours, buried by an onslaught of public opposition.

There was a time, however, when the prospect of Red Bull buying Leeds United was more than a bad dream on the streets of Beeston.

Red Bull still needs to diversify into the English leagues. But for more than a year of Massimo Cellino’s stint as owner of Leeds, investment in the drinks conglomerate – which also owns a football club in Brazil, a Formula 1 team and has sponsored a series of events across the world ranging from extreme sports to volleyball – was the cause of conversation around the Yorkshire club, with some of the chatter fueled by Cellino himself.

The prospect went nowhere and it hasn’t surfaced since, but several people involved at a higher level at Elland Road in 2014 and 2015 believe the interest was real. that at that time Leeds were genuinely on Red Bull’s radar.

At the end of 2014, Red Bull was already well advanced in the process of building its global network of football teams. He had entered the market by acquiring SV Austria Salzburg in 2005 and renaming them Red Bull Salzburg. He used another Austrian club, FC Liefering, as a feeder team for Salzburg, almost the equivalent of a reserve team.

Four years later in Germany, SSV Markranstadt – a minor club based near Leipzig, playing well below the Bundesliga – became RasenBallsport Leipzig (RB Leipzig). Meanwhile, in MLS, the Metrostars had become the New York Red Bulls, a club Marsch would join as head coach in 2015.

This expansion of the football group was aggressive and there was significant funding behind it. Resistance to the cosmetic changes that Red Bull has attempted to implement has not deterred the company from moving forward.

Cellino, at the end of 2014, had owned Leeds for several months.

Very little was straightforward with the Italian. He won control of Leeds on appeal, after initially being found to be in breach of the EFL Owners and Directors test, but the EFL bided his time and came back to hit him with an ownership ban in late 2014, a sanction linked to cases of tax evasion in Italy.

Cellino was a survivor and a difficult man to control but his suspension had the effect of making Leeds look like a club for sale; a business that, under the circumstances, he might have no choice but to sell.

In November of the same year, as the EFL rallied to disqualify Cellino, a story appeared in the Daily Mail about the possibility of a bid for the club arriving from Red Bull. The news came from an intermediary claiming to represent the company requesting and obtaining a meeting with Cellino in the UK.

Cellino was outraged, calling the story “disrespectful” and dismissing it as unfounded. “We spoke with an agent who worked for Red Bull but I had never met him before and I don’t know what Red Bull wants to do,” Cellino said. “I’m not selling the club.

Red Bull were not used to responding freely to speculation – their financial clout meant that rumors of their football project continuing to grow were not unusual – but in this case they took the time to respond publicly, however briefly. “We can confirm that Red Bull have no intention of taking over Leeds United or taking a stake in the club,” the statement read in full.

The claim had hit a wall in the space of 72 hours, slapped by both sides.

But three months later a development occurred which made Red Bull’s interest in Leeds much more tangible.

This was Leeds Fans Utd (LFU), a new group of supporters which had been set up with the aim of buying a minority stake in Leeds using money raised through pledges from the club’s fan base. The idea was that by buying a stake, Leeds’ support would have a small influence on the running and running of the club, and potentially a voice in the boardroom. Within three months of its formation, LFU’s fundraising campaign had raised around £400,000.

Cellino’s EFL suspension and doubts over his continued ownership prompted LFU to seek engagement with potential buyers of the club, to discuss with them the possibility of future fan involvement. In February 2015, the group received an email from a reputable British football agent, presenting them with a proposal. High-level Red Bull officials were willing to speak with LFU representatives if LFU representatives were willing to come to a meeting location in Soho Square in London.

The email claimed to offer face-to-face discussions with three people: Ralf Rangnick, then Red Bull sporting director, Oliver Mintzlaff, its head of world football, and a legal representative named Florian Muller.

There were no explicit details of what Red Bull was planning or what exactly it wanted to discuss. LFU was never able to say unequivocally whether the suggestion of a reunion was genuine or all it seemed. Nonetheless, there seemed no reason to suggest such a discussion if Red Bull weren’t at least considering the option of buying Leeds.


Radrizzani was the man who arrived to end Cellino’s reign (Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

But LFU turned down the invitation after seeking assurances that if Red Bull considered investing in Leeds it would give supporters a veto over issues such as renaming the club, changing their strip color or renaming Elland. Road. The intermediary could not make these promises and the communication stopped there.

Cellino, at this time, was absent from England, doing his penance. Leeds were officially in the hands of Eleonora Sport Ltd, the company with which he bought the club. Cellino, despite suggestions to the contrary, convinced the EFL that he was completely detached from the Elland Road assembly hall, uninvolved in any decision-making while his ban was in progress. But in April 2015, as that suspension was coming to an end, the story of Red Bull’s investment resurfaced.

Cellino responded to an initial media inquiry saying that was “not true, just another story” – only to quickly change his tune by phoning the same outlet five minutes later. “There is an offer,” he insisted. “I didn’t know it but I spoke earlier with Giampaolo Caboni, one of the managers of Eleonora Sport. He said Red Bull had made an offer for the club. Shareholders will have to think about it. I don’t know what they will do. Once again, Red Bull was quick to react. “A further involvement in football is not planned,” Mintzlaff told German media. It was as clear as the first denial six months earlier.

A former employee who worked with Cellino in Leeds told Athleticism that, although he was never aware of any meetings, he felt that Red Bull’s interest in the club was more than chatter.

Regarding the ownership structure of the club and the possibility of selling shares, Cellino was not used to sharing information with the staff around him, but many of them had taken over the Red Bull link. Another former member of staff said that despite all the talk of Red Bull, there was never a moment when senior executives at the club thought a sale was actually on the cards. There were many whispers, until they died away.

For a time at the start of the 2015-16 season, Red Bull continued to be the talk of the town at Elland Road. Rangnick reportedly attended at least one game at Leeds the previous year. Then-club manager Uwe Rosler explained he went to RB Leipzig to study them before taking the job at Elland Road, but there was ultimately no arrival from Red Bull to Leeds, no clash of unlikely and uncomfortable bedfellows. Seven years later, the group continues to operate without investment in English football.

The last time Cellino mentioned Red Bull was in 2016, in an interview with an Italian website. “I had an offer from Red Bull but I don’t want to sell,” he said. Except two days earlier, Radrizzani had been a guest at Cellino’s in Leeds’ first game of the 2016-17 season. , a 3-0 away loss to Queens Park Rangers.

And two days later, news broke that Radrizzani was in talks to acquire the club, launching a £45million takeover that would take place as soon as the season ended, ending Cellino’s reign. In the case of Red Bull, it was like that with Cellino: to question everything, to neglect nothing and to always be ready to guess.

(Top photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)