But a source close to the Saudi royal, who became United’s co-owner in 2013, last night confirmed his immediate priority is “achieving promotionteam building” rather than Bramall Lane’s freehold and leasehold interests including Steelphalt Academy training complex and development centre at Crookes.
A statement, released by United last month, confirmed Prince Abdullah was holding talks with fellow co-owner Kevin McCabe “regarding the transfer of ownership and control” in response to a process commenced by one of the Scarborough-based businessman’s companies.
Although those negotiations have yet to be concluded, the terms of the agreement they signed five years ago stipulates Prince Abdullah must acquire the freehold of United’s stadium and long leaseholds covering the Copthorne Hotel, Enterprise Centre, their training ground and junior development complex in the city’s suburbs in order to become United’s sole-owner. Recent events elsewhere, including at non-league Dulwich Hamlet, illustrate the importance of clubs owning the grounds on which they play.
The source, a trusted confidant of Prince Abdullah, explained that while he is prepared to buy the freehold and leaseholds at “a fair market value”, the “immediate priority” is “pushing to promotion.”
Chris Wilder’s are preparing for Saturday’s match against Nottingham Forest ranked seventh in the Championship table; two points behind sixth-placed Middlesbrough following Tuesday’s victory over Burton Albion.
Prince Abdullah provided various financial guarantees after paying £1 for his 50 per cent stake in United and subsequently funded their footballing activities for the next three seasons, which saw them reach the semi-finals of both the FA and EFL cups. The next two, including last term’s League One title winning campaign, have been jointly under-written with McCabe.
Jan Van Winckel, technical director of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and previously assistant manager of Olympique de Marseille, was appointed to the board of United’s parent company Blades Leisure Limited in December while Yusuf Giansiracusa, a lawyer based in Riyadh, has also become a director of both BLL and Sheffield United Football Club within the past seven months. Giansiracusa works for Jones Day, one of the largest law firms in the world, and represents “a number of the Kingdom’s prominent industrial and service enterprises” according to the company’s website.
United published a statement confirming the discussions between Prince Abdullah and McCabe on February 8 which read: “Ownership of Blades Leisure Limited is governed by an investment agreement dated 30th August 2013 which provides for the transfer of control of (The) Blades to the Prince. The investment agreement also includes a provision for the transfer of the club in certain circumstances of the freeholds of Bramall Lane Stadium (and the long leasehold interests in the Copthorne Hotel and Enterprise Centre) plus Shirecliffe Academy and the Junior Development Centre.”