One definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different outcome. On June 2nd, 2016, Garry Monk was unveiled as Leeds United manager succeeding Steve Evans. It was hoped that new leadership would be exactly what was needed to propel Leeds back to the Premier League for the first time in 12 years (then). This would prove to be the 6th and final managerial appointment made by Massimo Cellino in just 3 years as owner of the club. It wouldn’t be unfair to assume Cellino was expecting a different outcome each time.
Dubbed the ‘manager eater’, Cellino’s brief tenure as Leeds Owner was nothing if not turbulent. Beginning with Cellino failing the Football League’s ‘Owner’s Test’ and having to appeal the decision to even be allowed to buy the club in the first place. The decision, based on Cellino’s previous criminal convictions, was eventually overturned – this arguably being questionable at the very least when considering his later controversies.
Cellino’s various misconducts have been well documented. He was accused of anything from tax evasion to banning Sky Sports cameras from entering Elland Road. He flirted with the idea of selling the club (not unlike how Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has recently done) which cruelly piqued fans’ interests only to reveal his tyrannical grip appeared unwavering. To add to the club’s misery, during this time Leeds failed to finish higher than 13th.
Cellino wasn’t the first guileful owner in Leeds United’s history but for the time being, he hopefully may be the last. The 23rd May 2017 was the date the heist on Leeds United was finally. This was when the flashy, new-man-on-the-scene, Andrea Radrizzani finished acquiring 100% of Leeds United, prising the club from the reluctant, handcuff marked hands of his countryman. This was to be a new era for Leeds United.
According to UK Gov’s companies house, at the time of writing, Radrizzani is the director of 4 institutes (3 of them being Leeds United affiliates.) The 4th, ‘Aser Capital Limited’ is where the Italian is currently registered, but he made his fortune with another company: MP and Silva Limited – a global investment company in sports rights.
Neither of these companies particularly roll off the tongue but they are important in understanding the environment and culture in which Radrizzani likes to operate.
In 2016, MP and Silva was reached its highest market capitalisation reaching around $1 Billion. At this time, it was sold with a majority stake being acquired by 2 Chinese firms. In the process, Radrizzani’s personal wealth soared to an estimated £450 million.
Radrizzani made his money from sports broadcasting rights and has been intimately involved in the sporting world since 2003. Growing up, he was an avid supporter of Juventus much to the dismay of his father – a staunch follower of the Rossanieri
Appearing on Amazon’s ‘Take Us Home’ documentary, Ruggero Magnoni, a business associate of Radrizzani, revealed “Impossible bets is what he specialises in. Turning the table to his favour.” If anyone could flip 16 years of overturned tables in West Yorkshire, it would be him.
According to ‘somersetlive.co.uk’, at the start of the 19/20 season Andrea Radrizzani was the 10th richest owner in the Championship, behind the likes of Aston Villa, Stoke City, WBA and Bristol City’s owners to name a few. I feel this shouldn’t be a figure overlooked with haste. It shows that Radrizanni’s purchase of the club was not merely a pet project for the super-rich it was labour of love and one that came with fairly significant personal risk. From the outside looking in Radrizanni was as invested in Leeds’ success as the most die-hard White.
This was evidenced further, if that were needed, following the lacklustre 17/18 season under Thomas Christensen. Leeds finished 13th, 39 points adrift from champions Wolves. Radrizzani decided change was needed from the top down and assembled a trident of triumph with himself situated in the middle. He brought in Victor Orta from Middlesbrough as Director of Football to work alongside himself and Angus Kinnear the chief executive.
Radrizzani (correctly!) assumed building his staff in the image he wanted for the club from the boardroom down would be a long-term strategy for success.
Thomas Christensen then left the club allowing Leeds’ board to choose a new head coach. Previous Leeds owners had employed coaches with expense being a chief priority. Names like Paul Heckingbottom and Uwe Rösler would have pleased Cellino’s chequebook but not worried the top of the table to any degree. Radrizzani recognised if Leeds were to flourish under him a proven, world class manager would be needed.
CEO Angus Kinnear jokingly remarked that “neither of them (Radrizzani and Orta) lack ambition”. It was the will of the Chairman and Director of Football that Marcelo Bielsa be the new Leeds United manager for the 18/19 season. Kinnear and Orta flew to Buenos Aires to meet with Bielsa and his people and an agreement was made within 12 hours. Testament to Radrizzani’s intent, upon leaving Argentina, Kinnear admitted “we shook hands knowing that he (Bielsa) was going to be the next Leeds United head coach. But not knowing anything about what the contract would contain.” Radrizzani had made his decision regardless of cost incurred.
I have previously written about the career pre/during Leeds of Marcelo Bielsa. His exploits are such that to include them in this piece would be to massively overestimate how engaging I think my work is for those reading! As it happens I may have already done so anyway! Linked below is my Bielsa piece for those who are interested in reading more about ‘El Loco.’
But financial courage is just one arrow in his quiver and Radrizzani is every bit the archer that was needed to fire Leeds back where they belong.
Relationships are important, arguably the most important part of what makes him an effective leader. Nedine Vos, Andrea’s wife, described him as “someone who is very approachable, he likes to have contact with people.” She later viewed those traits through the lens of Leeds United saying “for him it’s important (being approachable) because everyone brings value to the club.”
This is evidenced numerously throughout Amazon’s ‘Take Us Home.’ Radrizzani meets with members from all ends of the club’s hierarchy before matches and has organised numerous charity events for himself and players. One such meeting was with children who are suffering with illness. It made quite sobering viewing seeing Radrizzani interact with the family of a young girl in the Leeds ICU. His actions demonstrate he is every bit the man he would like people to see him as.
Speaking in 2018, BBC broadcaster Adam Pope described Radrizzani as being a man with no skeletons. It was fair for Leeds fans to be weary of new ownership having endured life under the calamitous Cellino but it didn’t take long for the Radrizzani regime to be both adopted and celebrated by the Elland Road faithful.
Leeds fans are tribal. Football fans are in general, but I think for Leeds there is something that sets their support out from other clubs. It’s born from Leeds being home to only 1 club, other British cities Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool are all home to at least 1 other rival. This sets deep rooted divisions out between neighbour, you’re either a Blue or a Red, a Hoop or a Ger but in Leeds, you’re just a White.
I have lived in Leeds for 14 years and can speak first-hand as to the acceptance and affability found here. The football club is no different, if you’re from Leeds or even just like the club you’re seen as one of the family. No divisions, no discrimination just Leeds.
Radrizzani realised this early on and was able to tap into the energy of Leeds’ fanbase. He is a regular Twitter user with over 120 thousand followers. Throughout his time with Leeds he has used Twitter to exploit a pipeline straight through to the fans. Maybe it’s an overstatement but I think his interactions, online and in person, with fans have done wonders for his PR. Radrizzani is truly liked, this goes a long way on cold night in February when the team are losing 2-0 at home.
Bielsa’s Leeds ended up being eliminated 4-3 by Derby County in the Championship play-off semi-final. A crippling loss which rippled throughout the whole of English football. Radrizzani’s model of clear, amicable leadership was admired by his critics and contemporaries alike and the general consensus was that Elland Road would be lucky to welcome Radrizzani back should he choose to remain as majority shareholder.
Speaking 2 weeks after the Derby loss, a slightly sombre Radrizzani reflected on the previous year and what that meant for his future at the club. He echoed Ruggero Magnoni’s sentiments made earlier. “guts, energy, stamina – which he has plenty of.” Radrizzani admitted he, not unlike Bielsa, is a man motivated by goals. In 18/19 he had failed to meet his goal and felt unfulfilled. The Leeds United project was not one that he was going to walk away from until he’d seen it through.
I feel this is the final arrow from Radrizzani’s quiver shot at the Premier League target. He has an infectious tenacity which resonates throughout the entire club. According to Phil Hay at The Athletic, after Bielsa’s first season:
- Losses rose from £4m to £21m
- Wage bill rose to £46m (15m more than previous year)
- Salaries accounted for 94% of annual turnover.
Phil goes on to say the “losses are manageable while Radrizzani or another investor soaks them up”. It was very fortunate that’s exactly what he chose to do for 19/20. A year which saw Leeds United promoted back to the Premier League for the first time in 16 years.
Leeds’ title winning season was remarkably uneventful considering the roller-coaster the previous year had been. The injury record was much more concise, presumably as the players had experienced a year of Bielsa’s demands already and had learned how to cope! Though I doubt Kinnear, Orta or Radrizzani would’ve minded the waters being more tranquil.
Entrepreneurs by their very nature take risks. The acquisition of Leeds United post Cellino was nothing short of a liability! But still the belief was there. Belief in the players, the staff, the fans, the city and most importantly, the belief in himself. Andrea Radrizzani saw his vision for Leeds United realised upon promotion. For a man who lets goals play God in his life it will be interesting to see where his sights are focused from here.
Radrizzani acknowledged the need to be open to the idea of other investors climbing aboard the Leeds United ship and in May 2018 sold 10% of the company to the York Family who own the San Francisco 49ers. Their wealth and expertise is another reason Leeds were able to gain promotion and their contribution should not be understated.
Andrea Radrizzani is clearly a maverick, making his long-term future impossible to pin down. Regardless of where the future takes the Italian, his contribution to Leeds United will be talked about for a long time to come. He has assembled a core group with consistent values and beliefs about the future of the club. A future that is bright and bracing. As for Radrizzani, he and the rest of Leeds United will continue Marching on Together.