Sheffield United High Court case: ‘Manager Chris Wilder could leave depending on outcome,’ barrister claims
Chris Wilder could walk out on Sheffield United depending on the outcome of the High Court battle for ownership of the club, the ongoing case has heard.
The claim was made by Paul Downes QC, who is representing Kevin McCabe’s SUL, while he was cross-examining the club’s current chief executive Stephen Bettis at the High Court.
Mr McCabe and his co-owner Prince Abdullah have spent almost two years locked in a power struggle after launching rival takeover bids in 2017. The case will decide on who gets full ownership of the club.
Mr Bettis, appearing as a witness for UTB – a company controlled by the Saudi Prince’s – told Mr Justice Fancourt he was ‘close’ to United manager Wilder.
During his cross-examination, Mr Downes QC said: “Mr Chris Wilder is emotionally attached to Sheffield United and feels a great deal of love and loyalty to Kevin McCabe personally.
“Kevin McCabe has been attacked personally in this case and he [Wilder] is not going to stay, is he, if Prince Abdullah wins?”
He added that if Prince Abdullah’s UTB ‘won’ the case he would get 50 per cent of £100 million for a £5 million investment and that there were around 9,000 Sheffield United fans had shares in SUL.
Mr Downes said: “If Prince Abdullah wins the result would be to cheat a lot of football fans out of fair value for their shares."
Mr Justice Fancourt interrupted Mr Bettis and told him that 'speculation was not going to help’ and added that Wilder was not being called by either SUL or UTB as a witness.
Mr Downes had earlier said Mr Bettis ‘had a very good relationship’ with Wilder, to which the chief executive, replied: “I do, yes.”
The barrister added: “Chris Wilder has a very good relationship with Kevin McCabe. He would be broken hearted if he thought Mr McCabe was being disrespected.”
Mr Bettis said: “Yes, he has a huge amount of respect for what he has done for the club.”
Mr Bettis also told Mr Justice Fancourt how Wilder was ‘not entirely relaxed’ about the appointment of Jan Van Winckel to the board in December 2017.
The case also heard how Mr Bettis’ pay was stopped when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue other business interests in 2017.
Speaking about whether he would continue to work for the club, Mr Bettis said: "The fact of the matter was that I had an history with the football club and I had already built relationships with members of staff and I felt that with technology [...] I could have still been a value in that role to the football club."
Mr Bettis said that he left a board meeting in October 2017, he understood his position was still being considered but he was not paid in November.
Asked about his involvement in November 2017, Mr Bettis said: "Ask Chris Wilder, who is the manager of the football club, if I was involved in November 2017 and know what his answer would be. Mr Downes QC said: "Well, he is not a witness in the case."
Mr Bettis added he spoke to Mr McCabe after his pay was stopped and added ‘there were no hard feelings’.
The case continues.