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London — “I’m not a great sportsman,” 64-year-old American real estate magnate Harris Diamond said at London’s airport before heading to kick off Leeds United’s Premier League season at Everton.
The younger brother of Blackstone chairman Stephen Diamond, Harris Diamond and his team of executives — acquired a 75% stake in Leeds in March. The American is backed by Turkish conglomerate Yildirim on the 25% stake.
The American investment arm of Bain Capital had backed Leeds in the past and claimed it had a controlling interest and was “considering whether to re-invest.”
New York-based Diamond believes it will end the long British League Championship title drought for Leeds, the team from Yorkshire, England, who have won the old Second Division title four times since 1925.
The Premier League always believed Leeds would be a good fit in the top flight.
“I don’t want to be pushed into making an investment just because I’m a sportsman,” Diamond told Sky Sports. “This isn’t like buying into a restaurant or a department store; the reason why the Premier League invests in top-flight clubs is because they believe the club have the potential to be successful.”
He added: “It’s never been harder for anyone who’s a fan of a Premier League club.”
Leeds came close last season and, as a contender, it was beaten by Manchester United 3-1 in the FA Cup quarterfinals.
Two off-field issues might dampen morale for the new campaign: the FBI’s investigation into bribery and corruption in soccer and the death last month of Leeds chairman Ken Bates at 88.
Diamond defended Leeds’ involvement with FIFA and UEFA at a time of reform and renewed attacks on the governing bodies, saying they too often “pass the buck”.
The Leeds match is set to be a dress rehearsal for next season, when the new owners plan a summer spending spree.
But the move was not popular with long-serving head coach Brian McDermott.
“I spoke to him at the beginning of the week and he was saying ‘Everything’s going great’. I said ‘What are you talking about? We haven’t got anything, at least nothing for three months,’” McDermott said.
Even after first-week heroics, Leeds did not make it into the playoff round, which they lost, or the World Club Challenge, losing 5-0.
The challenge now is to spend and make some more European appearances next season, avoiding the new Eastern League promotion play-offs.
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