KEVIN McCabe has made some poor decisions during his involvement over more than two decades at Bramall Lane. He’s made some good ones too, the appointment of manager Chris Wilder being the finest hour. He would argue the worst was inviting Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to share his vision for Sheffield United in 2013.
In truth, whatever the shortcomings of their original agreement and the frustration it caused, the biggest error was an ill-judged kamikaze attempt to rid the club of his Saudi partner which began with a £5million cash offer and ended this week by spectacularly backfiring.
I have it on good authority that Prince Abdullah and his legal advisors were confident from the start of winning the High Court battle brought by McCabe to settle the ownership issue which first bubbled to the surface in 2017 and escalated into a full-blown war. That confidence grew substantially as the six-week case unfolded and the club’s dirty linen was aired in public.
The reasons as explained to ViewFromTheJohnStreet.com from an inside source made such sound sense that a judgment in favour of McCabe would have been the real surprise. Quite simply McCabe’s core claims didn’t hold water and Mr Justice Fancourt, whilst acknowledging the 71-year-old’s commitment and contribution at the Lane, had no option but to rule in favour of Prince Abdullah.
McCabe wasn’t out-foxed by underhand means as he alleged, after launching a £5m bid to regain total control of the club which was unexpectedly reciprocated. He simply set himself a trap and, having fallen in to it, let his legal council resort to desperate claims including bribery and an attempted smear involving the Bin Laden family. All of which was nothing to do with the written agreement between the two men regarding any takeover.
That was Mr Justice Fancourt’s only concern as he waded through the transcripts of evidence given by both sides. McCabe’s camp was increasingly clutching at straws. His cool-headed partner, whose team conducted a professional rebuttal, knew it.
That is not to say that McCabe who was said in court to have invested about £100m into United, does not have justification for believing that Prince Abdullah didn’t live up to what was advertised in the brochure. He bought 50 per cent of McCabe’s shareholding for £1 in return for the promise of substantial funding to aid a speedy return to the Premier League as United languished in League One.
In truth it was anything but substantial, closer to less than adequate, and certainly not a “game-changer” which McCabe had enthusiastically declared on the Saudi’s arrival six years ago. He even defended his partner when that big investment didn’t appear to be forthcoming, saying it would be once United returned to the Championship.
Why Prince Abdullah formed another holding company (UTB 2018) so that he could split his own shareholding and thus avoid buying United’s property portfolio – including Bramall Lane, the club’s Shirecliffe training complex and the Copthorne Hotel – as per agreement is fairly obvious.
Crucially, however, in legal terms he did nothing wrong. Since then he has stated his intention to buy all the property involved but that was after United were promoted to the Premier League and became a far wealthier entity.
Prince Abdullah released a statement immediately after the ruling in London, saying: “This morning, the High Court issued its judgment requiring Sheffield United Limited [controlled by McCabe] to sell its shares of Blades Leisure Limited [a parent company of Sheffield United Limited] to me and dismissing all of the claims which SUL has made against my and my lawyer, Mr Yusuf Giansiracusa.
“I am delighted that this judgment brings to an end the uncertainty over Sheffield United's future. Our manager Chris Wilder and the team are off to a promising start and we can now focus on this vital Premier League season under stable ownership.”
What cannot be denied, however, is the contribution lifelong Blades supporter McCabe has made to the club. He has taken flak from fans over the years during the clubs peaks and troughs, much of it unjustified, and whatever the view most would agree that his heart is in the right place.
A sad day said former United midfield star Tony Currie with feeling on hearing the news of McCabe’s court defeat before, in a show of solidarity, quitting the seat on the Board which the latter appointed him to in April. Now everything is crossed that Wilder doesn’t decide to follow.
There is widespread concern about the man from the Middle East and justifiably so. He has rarely visited Sheffield during his six years of involvement with communication skills to match. What are his motives? Is he in this now to try and make a quick buck? It’s doubtful, unlike McCabe, he is in for the long haul and whatever the length of his tenure he needs to introduce some transparency. Maybe an alien concept to a man brought up in Saudi Arabia.
The reason McCabe introduced Prince Abdullah to the club was, of course, because he was looking for someone to take some of the burden off his shoulders before eventually bowing out. He recently revealed that a deal was waiting in the wings with AKL Capital, run by an American financial consortium, to take a controlling interest if he won the court battle.
AKL are reported to remain interested should Prince Abdullah wish to pursue a deal. Even if he were it’s unlikely he would want to give up his new-found control so soon, instead seeking a financial partnership where AKL would, initially at least, be in a support role. Whether they would want that remains to be seen.
McCabe may not be finished yet. He has 21 days to appeal the High Court judgment even though it might appear to be futile.
Remember his well intentioned but failed initiative after United returned to the Premier League in 2006 – ‘The Blades are bouncing back, Europe in five years’? There appears to be no bouncing back from this one.