Sheffield United: Critical few weeks ahead for proposed Henry Mauriss takeover

Although the paperwork he has submitted is still being scrutinised by the English Football League, senior figures at Sheffield United suspect events over the next few weeks will indicate if Henry Mauriss’ proposed takeover of the Championship club is likely to proceed.

By James Shield
Monday, 20th June 2022, 3:31 pm
Updated Monday, 20th June 2022, 3:49 pm

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The American businessman, who submitted a £115m offer for HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s shareholding earlier this year, recently saw the period of exclusivity he was granted by Bramall Lane’s board of directors lapse after failing to receive the green light from the governing body.

However, despite this apparent set-back, Mauriss is pressing ahead with efforts to satisfy the EFL’s financial experts that he possesses the funds required to complete a deal which has remained on the table for at least the past couple of months.

The time scale

The Star has learned, though, that officials at Bramall Lane believe there will shortly come a point when “something has to happen” - as one person with intimate knowledge of the situation recently put it - in order for the deal to remain viable. That explains why, three weeks since that statement was made before a number of private briefings to journalists, they now appear to be pressing ahead with a series of ideas which are unlikely to have been actioned had Mauriss already been in control. They include the kit deal, with Italian manufacturer Errea, which covers every member of United World; the network established by Prince Abdullah to oversee his portfolio of sporting interests, including Beerschot, Chateauroux, Kerala United and Al-Hilal United.

One independent source within the game, unconnected to either United or Mauriss but with an understanding of how high-worth purchases are completed, last night agreed “there will come a time soon” when “significant progress” must be demonstrated in order to keep all parties involved engaged.

Sheffield United are at the centre of a proposed takeover involving Henry Mauriss: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

That is likely to be fast approaching, although relations between Prince Abdullah’s associates and the 57-year-old are thought to remain cordial.

The delay, which mirrors what happened when Mauriss tried to acquire Newcastle from former owner Mike Ashley, stems from three key issues. They are the EFL’s beefed-up checks, introduced following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a series of financial problems involving some of its members, the complexity of the package Mauriss is putting together and scale of his future spending plans - which, although not eye-watering, are thought to be ambitious.

The EFL’s chief executive Trevor Birch, who once held the same position at United under Prince Abdullah’s predecessor Kevin McCabe, is known to be a stickler for the rules and has a forensic eye for detail. This means, as well as being time consuming, Mauriss and his representatives must also prove beyond all reasonable doubt that no one within their organisation has any ties to individuals or companies sanctioned following the outbreak of war in eastern Europe. The EFL does not suspect this is the case. But they still feel compelled to investigate. It is an indication of how seriously this is now being taken, both within the game and by other financial institutions, that one firm working within the sport with a similar name to another operating near Moscow now routinely sees its transactions delayed because of red flags issued by clearing institutions.

H.R.H Prince Abdullah bin Mosa'ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and chief executive Stephen Bettis: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The structure

Mauriss is using a bond structure to finance his deal. That is also likely to have contributed to the delay which saw him lose what was effectively his preferred bidder status, with ‘cash ready’ buyers such as Ashley facing fewer difficulties.

The Sports Direct chief has inevitably been linked with United since news of Mauriss’ approach to Prince Abdullah broke. But Ashley has not made any noises about trying to hijack the process, with folk behind the scenes at United believing his manoeuvrings around Derby County following the collapse of Chris Kirchener’s buy-out suggest, as one put it, “all in” on trying to purchase the stricken League One outfit.

Sheffield United and United World have signed a new kit deal with Errea

By using a bond, which is effectively a loan, Mauriss would avoid burdening United’s own balance sheet with any costs should he eventually take control. Instead, Clear TV, which provides tailored content for facilities such as surgeries and airports, would almost certainly assume responsibility for the repayments.

Mauriss could impose a “management fee” to cover these if he receives the green light. But United do not believe this forms part of his strategy.

Mauriss’ representatives are already known to have handed over a raft of documentation to the EFL, including bank statements detailing his wealth and access to funds. In order to try and speed things up, it is believed he began working with a well-known financial institution earlier this year - hoping their influence will help convince Birch and his colleagues of his ability to provide the backing he outlined during discussions with Prince Abdullah’s team shortly after Christmas.

The other details

Another aspect of Mauriss’ plan the EFL will be studying are the projections, outlining how much he plans to place at manager Paul Heckingbottom’s disposal for recruitment and other projects, over the course of the next few seasons. Mauriss is understood to have pitched these accurately, despite receiving advice that it would be better to ‘go in low’ and even if he expects to hand over more.

As well as asking for guarantees that he can afford to acquire United, the EFL will also want to see that he can fulfil these promises. Inadvertently, Mauriss could have made things more laborious for himself by providing accurate rather than conservative estimates.

In the meantime, aware that his pitch does not extend to the rest of UW, the Geneva based group has nevertheless decided to begin speaking openly once again about United’s position within its structure.

This confirms, although Mauriss’ interest is not dead, they have decided the moment has now arrived when failing to take any action would have a detrimental effect upon Heckingbottom’s planning for next term.