Sheffield United: Chance encounter at a Champions League clash led to historic agreement

Sheffield United's Florent Cuvelier discusses his move to Sheffield United with The Star's James Shield  � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Sheffield United's Florent Cuvelier discusses his move to Sheffield United with The Star's James Shield � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
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A chance conversation in a London restaurant set in motion the chain of events which heralded Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s arrival at Bramall Lane, writes James Shield.

The 47-year-old, a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, had been approached by two Championship sides, when Kevin McCabe, Sheffield United’s owner and plc chairman, opted to sell the League One club as a more attractive proposal for his investment instead.

Why spend millions securing a controlling stake elsewhere, McCabe argued, when a nominal sum would secure a 50 per cent share in a team which, despite languishing in the third tier of English competition, positively oozes with potential?

He clearly presented a compelling case, with Prince Abdullah signing the paperwork which should mark the start of an exciting new chapter in S2 towards the end of last week.

“His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah was in the capital to watch a Champions League fixture, at Chelsea if I remember rightly, when we first met each other,” McCabe told The Star. “We got talking and things pretty much went from there.

“He was very impressive and has clearly got a great enthusiasm for the game.

“We have met various people in the past with regards to bringing new investment on board but, until that moment, we never felt they were the right people.

“But now we have a serious businessman with great expertise. And, crucially, someone who wants to come on board for the right reasons.”

So who is Prince Abdullah?

The answer, according to those within his inner-circle, is a devoted family man with seven children, homes in Riyadh, Beverley Hills and London and passion for football. English and NFL.

Having served as president of 37 time Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal before vacating the post to build a paper manufacturing business which floated on the Saudi stock exchange seven years ago, Prince Abdullah now spends much of his time following European and North American sports.

“One of the things which really struck a chord about the Prince is the fact that he wants to learn about Sheffield United and its history,” McCabe continued. “He wants to immerse himself and understand what we are all about and where we came from.

“That, as far as we were concerned, was a great thing because it shows he wants to stay true to the traditions of our club.

“He wants success, as we all do, but he wants to do it in a manner that respects our history too.”

“One of the first things he asked when we agreed to enter into this,” McCabe added. “Was for us to draw up all the information about Sheffield United, past and present, that we could.

“That was because he wanted to learn about it, understand it and take it on board.”

With lower league clubs subject to the demands of Salary Cost Management Protocol, which prohibits United from spending more than 60 per cent of their turnover on wages, coaching staff have been informed they must still deliver value for money in the transfer market.

Manager David Weir, who was kept informed of developments throughout the due diligence process, is unlikely to re-draft his list of long-term targets as a result of Prince Abdullah’s decision to purchase a 50 per cent stake in United’s footballing arm.

“This is the start of a brand new era,” McCabe said. “And an exciting one at that.”

Meanwhile, Florent Cuvelier completed his much-anticipated move from Stoke City to United yesterday. Cuvelier, a Belgium under-21 international, put pen to paper on a three year contract with David Weir’s side.

United could award the 20-year-old his debut when they visit Scunthorpe in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy this evening.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1