Leeds United will follow the San Francisco 49ers blueprint to recreating their former glories and challenge the Champions League elite, the club’s newly-appointed vice-chairman Paraag Marathe has told ESPN.
Marathe, the 49ers Enterprises president, has been appointed to the Leeds board after the NFL franchise’s increased investment in the Elland Road club, which now sees them own a 37% stake following last week’s reported £50 million share purchase.
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Three-time English champions Leeds are back in the Premier League this season, 16 years after being relegated from the top-flight, and on course to achieve a mid-table finish under coach Marcelo Bielsa.
And after helping to oversee the 49ers’ progression from a struggling franchise to Super Bowl finalists, Marathe believes the expertise of the NFL team’s hierarchy can have a similar impact at Leeds.
“Leeds today reminds me of the 49ers 15 years ago,” Marathe told ESPN. “Both teams with a great fanbase and history. The 49ers had such great success in the ’80s and ’90s, like Leeds in the ’70s, and both were struggling a little bit on and off the pitch and the 49ers were playing, at the time, at the oldest un-renovated stadium in the NFL.
“We built a new stadium, which completely transformed our franchise and it’s the same thing that we want to do here at Leeds.
“We have the right people, the expertise and the playbook blueprint to be able to intellectually grow our broader organisation and we wanted to go into the Premier League and use that expertise to be able to help another club grow in the same way that we grew the 49ers from a bottom-tier franchise to a team which came a few minutes short of winning the Super Bowl last year.
“Leeds certainly have the bones and the infrastructure and the capability to be competing at the very top, but that’s going to take some time to build and we want to grow thoughtfully, incrementally.
“The first step is showing that we can be sustainably competitive within the Premier League, and not just be a flash in the pan and hang on by the laces of our shoes.
“We want to be in the Premier League for the next 2-3-4-5 years and beyond and then it’s qualify for the Europa League and then the Champions League, to be competing with the best clubs.”
Marathe, who said Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani will continue to lead the club on a day-to-basis, relied on former Chelsea director Mike Forde, now executive chairman of New York-based Sportsology, to “scout several opportunities in Europe” before choosing to invest in Leeds.
And Marathe believes that Leeds can become an established force by using both the 49ers’ knowledge and examples of success within the Premier League.
“There are certainly good examples for us to follow,” he said. “Andrea [Radrizzani] mentioned Leicester the other day is an example of a club that did it with smart investment and recruitment.
“I also look to our domestic friends in the U.S. and what they’ve done, with what John W Henry enacted with his group and what they’ve done with Liverpool as another good example of growing a franchise and developing a club.
“Those are two examples that come to mind, but at the end of the day, you still need to build properly.
“You don’t want to just go all in and then crash and burn the following year.”