Now we’ve got a takeover time and price, let’s take interest in the 49ers again • The Square Ball



The Athletic’s David Ornstein and Phil Hay say the bit by bit investment that 49ers Enterprises, the money-not-football arm growing from throwing-not-kicking club San Francisco 49ers, has a structure to it that we didn’t know about before. While negotiating to get their shareholding up to 37 per cent in January 2021 — since increased to 44 per cent in November — the investors, led by 49ers executive vice president Paraag Marathe and including a cast of tech founders, sport investors, property developers and who knows who but maybe even LL Cool J, sorted out how a full takeover can look. They have a deal to buy 100 per cent of Leeds United and the Elland Road stadium by January 2024 for a price between £400m and £475m. That includes what they’ve already paid, meaning they have to find another £200m or so.

It sounds like they’re gonna, too, and they’re not even going to wait until then. Hay ‘n’ Ornstein’s (Hornstein?) sources say the total buy out ‘is likely to come sooner’. They’re seven per cent from majority control as it is, although I’d still be tempted to buy five per cent and enjoy being the 49ers with 49 per cent for a while. Andrea Radrizzani might retain a small stake when all is done, which makes sense because he seems like a sentimental fella, and also because his big stake has quadrupled in value so far so why wouldn’t he.

Another detail of Hornstein’s report stands out: that if Aser, Radrizzani’s company for all his sports and media interests, buy another football club anywhere on planet earth before January 2024 then it voids the deal with 49ers Enterprises. Presumably if the total 49ers takeover is done before then Radrizzani can do what he likes, and it’s not a non-compete clause (‘don’t buy Salernitana until 2024, give us a chance!’). But I’m also presuming 49ers Enterprises have listened to Radrizzani’s plans for a network of European clubs and decided they’d rather just buy an unfettered Leeds United AFC, thank you very much for the fascinating concept all the same.

The headline is the sale price compared to the purchase price: Radrizzani said his initial investment in Leeds, to get the club off of Massimo Cellino and the stadium out of the British Virgin Islands, was £100m. That was summer 2018. To get the shell of a club Cellino handed over into the Premier League and agree to sell it for more than four times as much, within four years, is not a bad effort for a first timer. A framed portrait of Marcelo Bielsa should have pride of place, I think, on the new coffee table he’ll buy with his profits, but it’s a better look than Ken Bates glaring angrily at plans for the Lowfields motel that was going to make his fortune if only the sickpots and dissidents hadn’t made it all so hard.

The stadium Bates was going to bolt all that hotel and nightclub nonsense onto is a crucial factor in the deal, by being included. Although putting it in control of a separate but related Radrizzani company — Greenfield Investment Pte Ltd in Singapore — made sense based on talk of hideous material influences Gulf Finance House still somehow held/hold over the club’s assets (I bet Salem Patel has the paperwork sewn into his suit), it made for worry about future moves. Would Radrizzani hold onto it and charge rent, or inflate a future purchase price? For good or ill, it looks like it’s all going to the 49ers Enterprises, and given its redevelopment value, getting it chucked in with a Premier League (we hope) football club for under £500m sounds like a good deal for them, while making its ownership easier to track for us.

(Newcastle were sold this season for £305m. Burnley were sold in February for around £170m, although that involved chucking a load of debt on the club.)

With all this heating up, we should probably take even more interest in the 49ers than we have already. They don’t just buy soccer clubs, they’re all to do with a team called the San Francisco 49ers playing slow padded rugby beneath the unforgiving Santa Clara sun. Last time we checked in on the franchise, their fans were pretty miserable about feeling their foreheads glowing in the uncovered cheap seats like they’re sitting inside a chip shop countertop, while the team they travel forty miles from San Francisco to watch wasn’t generating much heat. A win in December 2019 over the LA Rams. A win in October 2020 over the LA Rams. And finally a win in November 2021, over the LA Rams, with Radrizzani there to watch. That’s not a good enough number or variety of home wins for a team the fans think should be going to the Super Bowl!

Under fire head coach Kyle Shanahan and maligned quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo have been having a pretty good time since then, though. Some of the time, anyway. The Niners went to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars and started by kicking the ball through the one-legged rugby posts for three points. Then they gave the ball to their coolest player, Deebo Samuel, who ran to the side and past all the defenders, scoring a touchdown. There was another kick but only for one point and the score was 10-0. Brandon Aiyuk caught a throw from Garoppolo and got more points because he was standing behind the goal line, then both teams kicked three point goals although the Niners’ was better because it was from much further away. Another Garoppolo throw went to George Kittle, who ain’t no kitten the way he grabbed that ol’ pig! That was another touchdown. The fourth quarter got weird as each team kept tackling the other team’s quarterback, and players kept going down injured, so maybe they should wear more padding. Niners did another three point kick, and right at the end the Jaguars, who I don’t think have any connection to British Leyland, barged over for a touchdown, making the final score 30-10 to our guys. A good win, but keep in mind that at time of writing Jacksonville are 2-10 for the season, meaning two wins and ten defeats, and their coach Urban Meyer is grimly holding onto his job despite his carefully cultivated self-image as a family man eroding when he was filmed flirting with a woman not his wife in a bar, and his players reportedly laughed behind his back when his attempted apology claimed she was ‘just there dancing’ and her backside being in his frontside was just unfortunate for everybody.

That was back to back wins for our brave Nines, but could they do it back home? Well, Santa Clara. The Minnesota Vikings came all the way from Norway for the Thanksgiving matchup, and boy did this game swing! As the fans on the sunny side squinted at a pitch in shade of the posh boxes opposite, Vikings went ahead twice, 49ers got them back twice, so half-time was 14-14. The first Niners score was the best, my man Deebo Samuel getting the ball and just running wide and along the touchline, making the tackling attempts look pretty silly on his way to the downzone, where he did a barrel roll just for kicks. Deebo was doing it again in the second half/third quarter, running 49 yards and pushing people out of his way and skipping around them to help set up a touchdown for himself, from another cute run through the gaps. He’s really good at this game, and he has lots of different celebrations! I like him.

From the restart 49ers intercepted, took the ball straight to the Norse goal line, then scored again for an important 28-14 lead. Gunnar Halle’s boys got a touchdown back, so Santa Clara scored a kick goal, but they let Kene Nwangwu score a 99 yard touchdown just by running through them, the idiots. Norway did their own idiot move, not kicking the conversion even though they took it right in front of the posts. The Niners showed how you kick between the posts and that was the last score, a 36-24 win, and the first time the 49ers had beaten a non-Ram team in Santa Clara since November 24th 2019, also the last time they won back to back home games. Now they’d won three games in a row!

This weekend they were in Seattle against the Seahawks, who had beaten the Niners three times in a row, and fifteen out of the last nineteen times, but only won three games this season, losing eight. We got another bout of topsy turvy scoring in a stadium noted for its rockin’ atmosphere, especially compared to Santa Clara where all anyone screams for is shade and water. The Niners love giving players those long run touchdowns, 77 yards and a forward flip for Travis Homer to goal first. Gimme that 49ers equaliser though, Garoppolo throwing to Kittle from a long way, really hard and he caught it. Elijah Mitchell added another for the Niners, running through loads of people from a couple of yards after good running from Kittle before, and a field goal at the start of the second quarter gave them a 17-7 lead. That’s loads of points, this game was in the bag! Seahawks scored after a cool long throw was caught a yard from the line then Adrian Peterson just ran the ball in from there, but Kittle also scored from miles away, the edges of his toes on the out-of-bounds line as he ran to goal, to restore the lead, almost — the extra point kick hit the post so they lost that point. And then damn these Seahawks, or maybe damn these 49ers who kept giving away ‘personal fouls’ so the Ocean Kestrels moved up the pitch and scored, then something called a ‘safety’ gave them two points for tackling Garoppolo in the endzone. It didn’t look very safe to me, they grabbed him and threw him on the floor! I guess this is why Niners fans want hip young Trey Lance in the team instead of old Garoppolo. Now it was 23-23, and it got worse. On a first down, meaning there were still plenty of downs to move the ball ten yards forward, Garoppolo threw the whole thing straight to an Air-Narwhal guy, and they ended up throwing a loopy shot into the touchdown bit for a goal, making this a 23-30 defeat. The camera cut to Garoppolo sitting on the bench, looking pretty miserable in a bobble hat. He must have been missing, like I was, Deebo Samuel, who couldn’t play because of a groin strain. Also Trenton Cannon got knocked unconscious and went away in am ambulance. I don’t know what a running back does but it can’t have helped things. With eighteen seconds left an almost-touchdown pass by Garoppolo was inches away from equalising, but a Seahawk beak clipped the ball away.

“You do all this, good, bad, indifferent, whatever it is,” said Garoppolo, “and that whole football game comes down to one play at the end.” Sounds a lot like Leeds, man. Except we score.

We also have some quotes from coach Kyle Shanahan. “We’re very frustrated,” he said. “We felt we had a lot of self-inflicted stuff that isn’t always caused by the other team. I’m not taking anything away from them, but we thought we had an opportunity at the beginning of the game. It really felt like we were ready to go.” Also Deebo wasn’t there, Kyle, I think you missed Deebo. Just put it down to Deebo and move on! Or, talk about your quarterback. “He did some good things,” he said about Garoppolo. “Those two picks [interceptions] weren’t good plays. He’s gotta get better with the ball.” Some observers felt that last time I wrote about the Niners I was being unfair comparing Shanahan to Paul Heckingbottom, as a young coach with a good reputation thrust into his first big job (I did at least say Shanahan has ‘done some stuff’). But we’re not far from hearing Shanahan talking about Garoppolo without the ball, here. As far as the fans are concerned, though, it’s Joffy time. Sorry, Trey Lance time. Same thing.

This makes the 49ers season record won six lost six, leaving them 7th in the National Football Conference (not sponsored by Vauxhall to my knowledge), in the last of three wild card places that would get them into the post-season play-offs where they want to be, I think. They’re only 1-4 in some tiny league called NFC West and that affects things? It’s really confusing, and people say they’ll probably only lose in the play-offs, so to sum them up they’re at the point where people are saying that with injuries and not much to play for they should get Eddie Gray in, play the kids, and build for next season. Anyway, right now they’re getting what you get for winning six and losing six. At least they won’t get relegated! ⬢

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