Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Viduka on the spot to fire Leeds a lifeline
Leeds United 2 Manchester City 1
By Tim Rich
23 March 2004

The club is riddled with debt, forced upon it by excessive spending on underachieving players which triggered their chairman's resignation. Their manager's position is uncertain and every fan who left Elland Road last night would have understood the catastrophic consequences of relegation.
Manchester City this morning find themselves in the truly uncomfortable position of owing more money than Leeds United, who are now precisely five points behind them. Once more, they demonstrated the art of outplaying opponents and losing, and Kevin Keegan's voice was laced with emotion and anger not just at the penalty awarded for a foul on Alan Smith outside the area but the dismissal of Daniel van Buyten which followed it. As Keegan noted grimly, this was the second time in successive matches that Alan Wiley had sent off one his players.
Football has an ambivalent attitude to luck; arguing that you cannot buy it, you make your own or that it evens itself out across a season. Leeds, denied a championship under Don Revie through one outrageously bad linesman's decision, required it desperately last night. A penalty which even their manager, Eddie Gray, considered debatable and a goal from a man who had not found the net in more than four years ought to have fulfilled their needs.
Gray, who has been given no guarantee by his new employers whether he or any of his leading players will be at Elland Road next season, admitted Leeds did not play well. "But in our situation you can't afford to be gracious. We gave the ball away too easily. There was a lot of tension and expectation given what's happened with the takeover. The players were nervous."
Since four of Gray's starting line-up last night knew they had no future under the new regime, this was understandable. Given his record of having started five games this season and not having scored since December 1999, Stephen McPhail, a forgotten relic of the David O'Leary years, would be among those considering his options and, like the decisive penalty won by Smith and converted by Mark Viduka, there was a dollop of fortune about his goal.
Unsurprisingly, McPhail was not aiming for the net last night; but he managed to drift in a free-kick which eluded everybody and was palmed in via the post by David James. Smith, as strikers do, instinctively claimed it but, if so, it must have skimmed the highest follicles of his bleached hair.
Keegan has often wondered aloud how a side with so much ability as Manchester City could be so near to the relegation zone but the statistic of one clean sheet in 19 matches offers the most obvious clue.
They should, however, have the firepower to shoot their way clear. Even before Nicolas Anelka's equaliser, the warnings were blaring through the Leeds back four. There was Shaun Wright-Phillips striking the side-netting, Michael Tarnat sending a venomous free-kick on to the foot of the post, Robbie Fowler seeing a deflected shot curl on to the top of the net.
But Anelka is on a different plane to any of them and his goal was surgical; directing a drive between two white shirts into the corner of the net. It should have been a platform for victory; instead it proved not enough.
Gray has always argued that Leeds' fate would be decided at Elland Road, and events seem to be bearing him out with games looming against Leicester, Everton and Portsmouth. Should they be won, Gerald Krasner's business plan for the Nationwide League, which appears to involve selling everything not physically nailed down, might not have to be implemented.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Robinson 6; Kelly 5, Caldwell 6, Matteo 6, Domi 5; Pennant 5, McPhail 6, Seth Johnson 4, Milner 5; Smith 6, Viduka 5. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Harte, Radebe, Lennon, Simon Johnson.
Manchester City (4-4-2): James 6, Dunne 4, Van Buyten 4, Distin 6, Tarnat 6, Wright-Phillips 7, Bosvelt 4 (Sun Jihai, 80), Sibierski 5, Barton 4, Fowler 5, Anelka 7. Substitutes not used: Arason (gk), Wanchope, Macken, Sinclair.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire) 4

Monday, March 22, 2004


Leeds' new owners will keep club at Elland Road
By Tim Rich
23 March 2004

Mr Fixit Fox, one of the characters created by the children's author Richard Scarry, solved the problem of a leaking boat by drilling a second hole in the floor of the vessel to let the water out.
Yesterday Gerald Krasner, Elland Road's third chairman in a year, and the latest band of Fixit Foxes arrived for their first day at Leeds United, a club which, until their takeover on Friday, resembled an ocean-going colander.
The strategy adopted by Krasner and his Yorkshire consortium, who took over the club for £22m, is that even if Leeds survive in the Premiership there will be a wholesale player sale to remove some £15m from the wage bill. Nevertheless, although Elland Road may be sold and leased back, the ground which acclaimed the deeds of Don Revie's merciless side will not be becoming a Tesco's with a Peter Lorimer memorial delicatessen.
Lorimer is now on Krasner's board, to provide credibility and a link with the supporters. Yesterday he was scathing about the men who ran the club he had helped take to the pinnacle of English football. "Harry Reynolds, Manny Cousins, Don Revie, John Charles and Billy Bremner; people who gave this club a great reputation, I shudder to imagine what they would think of this. They would be spinning in their graves." For someone who describes himself as a 'blunt-talking Yorkshireman', Krasner proved remarkably elusive. He would not reveal how much the club still owes, though it is believed to be in the region of £30m. He would not reveal who had provided the finance for the takeover, although Jack Petchey, the former Watford chairman, is believed to have made £15m available.
Even the position of Geoffrey Richmond, the former Bradford chairman, who has advised the Yorkshire consortium was unclear. Richmond joked that he has not even been paid in cigarettes but he is likely to become the club's new chief executive on the departure of Trevor Birch, whom Krasner credits with saving Leeds from administration and oblivion.
There have been remarkable positives from the deal; the wage deferrals which have been in place for a month, are now over while Leeds are no longer paying part of Robbie Fowler's salary at Manchester City. From now on, the revenue from every season ticket sold which had previously gone straight to the bondholders, will go to the club. Leeds also own outright the contracts of all their players, some of whom had been signed on hire purchase. Now all the players have to do is keep Leeds in the Premiership.
It is not hard to see who will leave. All those brought on loan by Peter Reid; Didier Domi, Salomon Olembe, Lamine Sakho and Jermaine Pennant will go as will Steven Caldwell. So will three veteran big-wage earners, David Batty, Lucas Radebe and Jason Wilcox. Mark Viduka, who earns £3.5m a year, may be too costly to retain while the sale of goalkeeper Paul Robinson to Tottenham is reportedly a done deal.
"I could take you upstairs, show you some of the contracts and you would be shocked," said Richmond, whose regime at Bradford collapsed with £36m of debts, epitomised by the arrival of Benito Carbone on wages of £40,000 a week. "Fifteen players are on £1m a year or more. Their combined wages are £30m and you still have 45 professionals to pay. £11m worth of contracts expire on 30 June. It is unlikely that the board will offer renewals to any of those."
That the bondholders, who had loaned £60m to refinance the club, and the Guernsey-based company, Registered European Football Finance, who provided £22m to buy players for David O'Leary had settled for such a relatively small sum was a triumph for the consortium.
"The bondholders were faced with a very difficult situation," Richmond said. "If the club went into administration, they had the security of this stadium but would you really like to be the person who sells Elland Road and starts building a supermarket? The bondholders probably did as well or better this side of administration as they would have done the other side."
When Richmond was first asked for his help, he refused, saying the consortium was "crazy" that they should wait for Leeds to slip into administration. The stakes are high. Two of the consortium have their houses on the line, one has risked his business. Richmond said that the collapse of Bradford left him "very nearly a broken man". Krasner must hope he will leave Leeds intact, financially and emotionally.
Leeds United Football Club - Plan Is To Get United Back In The Big Time

Plan Is To Get United Back In The Big Time
New Leeds United director David Richmond has revealed that his consortium are extremely confident they can bring back the good times to Elland Road - but is warning it will take time and there may be casualties along the way.
Richmond is part of the six man consortium headed up by new chairman Gerald Krasner that completed the successful takeover of the club on Friday afternoon after eight weeks of negotiations, and he will have a hands on role at the club as the Commercial and Marketing Director.
The new board will outline their plans for United at a 12.00 noon Elland Road press conference today (to be broadcast live on Leedsunited.com), but they have wasted no time in making sure the players and coaching staff are aware of what the future holds, having met with them over the weekend.
Having finally reached a conclusion to the take-over, a massive weight has been lifted off all the members of the consortium.
"It's been unbelievably tense," said Richmond.
"I have been involved in a lot of negotiations for a lot of deals but this has been the hardest I have ever known. The lawyers have been involved and there have been over 100 of them, all described it as the most complex and difficult emotional rollercoaster all of them have ever known.
"To say it's all over, relief is a total understatement. We are all very relieved and happy now."
Richmond explained how the consortium, all of them United supporters, came together.
"We are all clients of Bartfields, Gerald's firm, who have been acting for me on a personal and business basis for the past 15 years, and the rest of the consortium.
"Really it was a conversation that all started as a joke "let's buy Leeds United" and moved to a more serious conversation and then we started discussing how to do it and it gathered momentum and ended with us actually buying the club."
The Yorkshire consortium's plans will be revealed later, but they are confident they will work and the club can move forward, away from the troubles of the past 18 months and once again be a source of pride for the city.
"It's easy to look at something and go right that's the club as it stands today. The club as it stands today clearly doesn't add up, it doesn't add up now and it most probably doesn't in the medium term future, however, we as businessmen believe we have a model that is a little bit different and we are absolutely convinced they will work.
"We have a lot of plans that have been dissected by a many, many people and we believe they will work for the long term betterment of Leeds United.
Success though is something that could take a long time to reach, but the consortium are definitely not just here to make a quick buck - the phrase "asset stripping" doesn't come into it.
Said David: "This is not a short term ride, we have been absolutely slaughtered by the Yorkshire Post, been called asset strippers and everything else. Let us not forget that there are no guarantees in anything you do, things can sometimes can go wrong, however each one of us have put up, between us now we are in for £5m and £5m of personal guarantees, that's £10m in total.
"Not one of us could be classed as a multi-multi millionaire, so it's an awful lot of money, so things can go wrong but we have got our necks on the line if it does go wrong. Our necks are on the line at an enormous level.
"What also has to be borne in mind is that we all live and work in Leeds. I have three children that go to school in Leeds and only a lunatic would go into something with bad intentions.
"We have investigated it thoroughly and we believe that the plan we have come up with is robust and will work. We believe we have a plan that in the medium to long term will get Leeds United back to where it actually belongs."
Richmond did openly admit that some cuts, potentially to the playing squad, are likely as they attempt to bring the running costs at the club into line with what has been a greatly reduced income in recent seasons.
"In the short term there may have to be some cost cuttings because the current costs are out of proportion with the income.
"We hope they do recognise savings have to be made, we will be open and honest and believe in telling people what is going on. Some of the news they may not like but we believe that sensible people will understand that what we are doing is for the long term interest. We will be here for a long time to come."
Richmond, a former Bradford City director, was also clear about his own personal feeling for Leeds United. He insists he has not suddenly become a supporter for convenience sakes, indeed, he has probably been through more highs and lows than most United supporters.
"There is no bandwagon, but let's be honest people are immediately going to say what is David - is he a Leeds fan or a Bradford fan?
"I was also on the board of Bradford City and I also attended every single Bradford City game on a home and away basis. Let me make it clear that Bradford City has a very special place in my heart and always will. However, up until the day we took over Bradford City I was an Elland Road regular. When I say Elland Road regular, for ten seasons in the Second Division I attended every game home and away. That's not what previous chairmen have said when there was nobody there to confirm they went to all the games. I went with a group of people who still go and can confirm that.
"I was at the Shrewsbury game here when there was just 8,300 people in the stadium when the standing areas were closed due to violence. I was at West Bromwich Albion when Leeds got relegated the first game round. So I have been man and boy a Leeds United supporter, obviously when I went to Bradford my focus went and they will always have a special place, but Leeds is my heart, my soul and my first and only true love."
Finally, Richmond cannot wait to get started on his role at Elland Road.
"I am feeling an unbelievable high, I have a sense of purpose and absolute excitement at the thought of starting work here on Monday."
BBC SPORT | Football | My Club | Leeds United | Leeds takeover completed

Leeds to stay put
Leeds United will not be forced to sell Elland Road, according to the club's new chairman.
Supporters had feared the stadium was set to be knocked down, with a supermarket built in its place.
But on Monday Gerald Krasner said: "Elland Road will continue to be the home of Leeds United Football Club as long as I am chairman."
On Friday Krasner led a local-based consortium in a £30m takeover of the Premiership club.
He revealed the club had been £100m in debt before Friday's takeover and had been on the verge of selling the ground.
"This club was facing insolvency, this club was facing extinction," said Krasner.
Despite the takeover, Krasner said he expected it to take three to four years to resolve Leeds' financial woes.
"This is not the end of the pain," he said. "We came off life support on Friday and we are now in recuperation."
And he and fellow board member Peter Lorimer apologised to fans for the difficulties faced as a result of the growing debts.
"Their loyalty is amazing," said Lorimer. "And we must also apologise to the shareholders, who will have lost a lot of money. I'm looking forward to trying to build some broken bridges."
The former Leeds player also hit out at the club's mismanagement by former officials at Elland Road.
Lorimer was appointed to the new Leeds board on Friday.
And on Monday he said: "This is a football club which has been guilty of gross mismanagement.
"It's amazing how quickly this team became a laughing stock. They have been in bottom three for most of season and were almost bankrupt."
Leeds' players, who agreed to a wage deferral to help the club's plight, will now receive all back-dated pay.
· Leeds chief executive Trevor Birch is set to leave the club in the wake of Friday's takeover.
Krasner said Birch would only stay at the club for a few months before "pursuing pastures new".
"Trevor had always said he had come in to do a job, which was to save Leeds United Football Club, which he has done," said Krasner.
"I asked him to stay on as a consultant until the end of the season, which he has agreed to do."
Times Online - Sport

Red Adair of Elland Road prepares for next mission
THERE WERE TIMES during the past five months when Trevor Birch could not see any hope of salvation for Leeds United. Liquidation was a real possibility while a club with about £100 million in debts was being messed around by Bahraini sheikhs and Ugandan property developers. “There was a genuine prospect that, if the club had gone into administration, liquidation would have followed,” Birch said yesterday, 48 hours after resigning as chief executive and handing control to a new consortium. “That would have meant the club folding completely. There were a number of times when I couldn’t see a solution because of the enormity of the problems.”
It remains to be seen whether the men behind Adulant Force Ltd, the company that now owns Leeds, have the abilities and resources to be heralded as saviours, but no one else who came forward had the means to avert financial ruin. “Others, like the sheikh, might have had the club’s interests at heart but this consortium was the only one that stepped up with the money,” Birch said.
On the back of his work at Chelsea, where he was brought in to avoid a similar disaster and negotiated the takeover by Roman Abramovich, Birch is developing a reputation as football’s Red Adair. After months of complex and delicate negotiations, the former insolvency specialist succeeded in persuading the main creditors to write off about £60 million in debt, which allowed the consortium to pay £22 million for the football club.
Saving the club from administration was vital, but Birch’s most important achievement may yet turn out to be keeping the first team intact after previous fire sales. Although Leeds are bottom of the Barclaycard Premiership and five points behind Leicester City, they face Manchester City tonight with a chance of avoiding the drop, which would certainly not have been the case if Alan Smith, Paul Robinson and Mark Viduka had been sold.
“My aim all along was to keep the squad intact because we had all seen that selling players had only made the problems worse,” Birch said. “Premiership survival was always paramount and I would like to think that the team is going into the last couple of months with a fighting chance.
“I had a great relationship with Eddie Gray (the caretaker manager). He hugely impressed me with the way he conducted himself throughout a difficult time. With players like Mark Viduka, I believe the team can climb out of the bottom three. Mark has really set about galvanising the players in recent weeks. He is the one walking around the training pitch saying, ‘Come on, we aren’t going down’. ”
Relegation would cost the new consortium about £20 million and could stretch their resources to the limit, but there was no other escape route for Leeds. The deal is sure to have outraged some Premiership rivals because, as with Leicester City, where the club went into administration and wiped off vast debts, they have not had to pay the full price for the terrible mis-management by Peter Ridsdale, the former chairman.
“The success is tempered by the fact that shareholders do not receive anything, but there is the huge positive that administration, and all the uncertainty it brings, has been avoided,” Birch said. He will stay on at Elland Road until the end of the season when he may look for a new job in football. He was previously offered the chief executive’s post at Aston Villa.
Guardian Unlimited Football | News | Leeds have to sell for survival

Wage bill 'unsustainable'

Jason Gee
Monday March 22, 2004
The Guardian

Geoffrey Richmond, the former Bradford City chairman who is acting as adviser to the consortium in charge at Leeds, has confirmed the club will have to sell key players to bring down the wage bill.
"What remains is a wage bill for players which is unsustainable," Richmond said only two days after the consortium finalised a deal with the club's creditors, who were owed £104m. "There are 60 professional footballers on contracts at Leeds United. Fifteen of those footballers are on contracts north of a million pounds a year. It doesn't take a genius in economics to know that that is unsustainable. So there will be players leaving the club."
Gerald Krasner, who heads the six-man consortium that paid £22m for the club on Friday, gave the beleaguered Leeds supporters a more positive message when he backed the caretaker manager Eddie Gray with a vote of confidence, saying the Scot will keep his job for "the foreseeable future". Richmond added that speculation linking Leeds with Gordon Strachan was untrue.
With the club's financial future looking slightly more rosey, Leeds have the opportunity to climb off the foot of the Premiership table with a victory over Manchester City tonight.
Yet Gray first has to avoid an unwanted hat-trick. For the first time since his £6m move to Manchester City 14 months ago, Robbie Fowler returns to Elland Road. Gray has already been haunted by the return of another two former players in the past two months, with Robbie Keane scoring Spurs' winner in a 1-0 victory in January and then Harry Kewell finding the net as Liverpool drew 2-2 three weeks ago.
Gray's problem is that Fowler is a man in form, with four goals in his past four games. "Robbie is looking sharp again," he said. "When he was with us it was difficult for him because he was out for a while through injury, but I used to watch him in training and he is as good as any finisher I've ever seen. It looks now as if he is getting fitter and sharper, which is what he needs, but it spells danger for us. I'm sure he'd like to put one over on us."

Sunday, March 21, 2004


Lorimer: 'the five games we must win'
Leeds are rescued, but for how long? Steve Tongue talks to an old hero about the new fight
21 March 2004

Jubilant as Leeds United may be this weekend after agreeing a £22m sale to a local consortium, any feeling that they have done the hard part and can now relax should be resisted. Indeed, it can be tested by checking the Premiership table and listening to one of the new board members, Peter Lorimer, who describes tomorrow's fixture at home to Manchester City as "one of the biggest games the club have ever had".
Coming from someone who played for them in a European Cup final, four FA Cup finals and various championship deciders, that assessment alone is a vivid reminder of Leeds' predicament at the bottom of the table.
Even though most of the £100m debt has been cleared by offering creditors something like a fifth of what they are owed, analysts believe it will still be difficult to meet running costs without severe pruning - notably among a squad that supporters learnt on Friday has no fewer than 15 players earning £1m a year or more, with one on £3.5m, or £67,000 a week.
Lorimer's particular responsibilities as a director will be advising on football matters and liaising with the media and fans, two groups who have not wholeheartedly welcomed the consortium because of the presence in the shadows of the former Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond. Having left their local rivals in such a financial mess - administration followed relegation in the same pattern Leeds had feared - Richmond has emerged as an advisory member to the consortium, with his son David taking a place on the board.
"There's been a little bit of a witch-hunt about Geoffrey," Lorimer told Sportsweek yesterday. "His intentions are honourable and they've rescued the club, so what more do people want? There were five so-called syndicates in at the beginning of all this who all dropped out. If it hadn't been for this one, where would we have been? Administration and then goodness knows what happens. They've done a great job staying the course."
He also insists that although relegation would still have serious footballing implications, it has now been catered for: "The new board had to take into consideration a real possibility of going down, and they've budgeted accordingly. There's basically two budgets and it's not as if you've got to start rethinking if we go down. There are five massive home fixtures, all winnable, and obviously if we were to lose this one tomorrow the pressure would be piling up."

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Telegraph | Sport | Takeover ensures Leeds survival

Takeover ensures Leeds survival
By Mihir Bose
(Filed: 20/03/2004)
Leeds United yesterday staved off the threat of financial meltdown when a Yorkshire-based consortium completed a £22 million takeover of the Premiership's bottom club.
The deal ended three months of uncertainty since Leeds announced a financial standstill arrangement with major creditors, and two months of negotiations involving teams of lawyers. Gerald Krasner, an insolvency practitioner with chartered accountants Bartfields who has been the consortium's representative in the last few weeks, has been named as Leeds chairman.
As revealed by The Daily Telegraph this week, the deal was financed by Jack Petchey, the former Watford owner who has a 16.5 per cent stake in Aston Villa. He is lending £15 million, while the consortium, Adulant Force Ltd, find another £7 million. Petchey will not be on the board and expects to be repaid within 12 months.
Leeds United plc, whose financial wheeling and dealing under former chairman Peter Ridsdale brought the club to this sorry pass, have been stripped of their assets and liabilities and put into administration. The football club, who were a subsidiary, become a private company. They take over the debts and the assets of the plc, agreement having been reached with the creditors, who are owed more than £80 million.
The 20,000 shareholders of Leeds United plc, supporters mostly, will not recover any element of their investment. The shares were suspended at 2.75p on Feb 27 and the plc will eventually be dissolved.
The plc directors may find themselves answering questions from the Department of Trade and Industry as Brendan Guilfoyle, a chartered accountant, has been appointed to look into their conduct and report whether there are grounds for any disqualifications.
Krasner's football club board comprises Peter Lorimer, the former Leeds and Scotland player, property developers Simon Morris and Melvin Helme, entrepreneur Melvyn Levi, and David Richmond, son of the former Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond.
They will benefit from an £11 million cut in the annual wage bill at the end of the season as player contracts run out. However, relegation would mean a £20 million 'hit' in terms of reduced income.
Even though projections have taken relegation into account, yesterday's nifty financial footwork may turn out to be only the story of the first half should Leeds drop into the Nationwide League.
Times Online - Sport

Role of Richmond in takeover leaves Leeds fans uneasy
AFTER talk of Ugandan property developers, Bahraini sheikhs and Chinese billionaires coming to their rescue, Leeds United yesterday found salvation closer to home when a Yorkshire-based consortium agreed a takeover. The endangered Barclaycard Premiership club is now in the hands of a group of local businessman, with links to Geoffrey Richmond, the former Bradford City chairman, who have invested an estimated £22 million to avoid administration by paying off the main creditors.
Leeds had accumulated debts of about £100 million after a player spending spree under Peter Ridsdale, the former chairman, predicated on the assumption they would qualify for the Champions League every season. Most of that debt has been wiped out by the takeover. It is understood that the new owners have settled a £60 million loan with three bondholders — M&G in the UK and MetLife and Teachers in the US — as well as a £22 million debt to Registered European Football Finance, a Guernsey-based player leasing company, and Gerling, its insurers.
The companies were prepared to accept an up-front payment considerably lower than the sum they were owed over 25 years for fear of receiving nothing at all if the club went into administration. Should Leeds perform well in the future, they will be entitled to bonus repayments. Shareholders in Leeds, including Professor John McKenzie, the former chairman, will receive nothing after the public company that owned the club was put into administration.
“I am convinced this is the best deal,” Garry Wilson, joint administrator and a partner at Ernst & Young, said. “We marketed this worldwide but the financial position was so dire the interest was limited. We had the sheikh and the Ugandan businessman but this was the only consortium that was able to provide evidence of funding to convince the creditors a deal could be done.”
The football club, the Elland Road stadium and the Thorp Arch training grounds are now owned by Adulant Force Limited, the company formed by the businessmen led by Gerald Krasner, a local insolvency expert. The new owners are still left with trade debts of £20 million. Eddie Gray, the caretaker manager, said: “I think it will ease the minds of people around the club and hopefully we will go forward.”
Krasner, appointed club chairman, sought to reassure fans about the future of Elland Road by “categorically” denying that a move was on the agenda. “Leeds is off life support,” he said after seven weeks of intense negotiation ended in a deal. He is expected to meet the players next week to reassure them their deferred wages will be paid at the end of the season.
However, there is still discomfort among fans over the involvement of Richmond, who left Bradford heavily in debt. The club recently went into administration for the second time since his departure. He advised the Leeds consortium and his son, David, who was also on the Bradford board, is Leeds’s new commercial director. “These people cannot have the interests of fans at heart or they would not have let a man like Richmond near Leeds,” John Boocock, chairman of the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, said.
In a move interpreted as an appeasing nod towards the fans, the consortium has appointed Peter Lorimer, the club’s goalscoring legend, to the board. It is unlikely to impress many fans who have endured much over the past two years. One, a former club mascot, said: “These people are to football what King Herod was to babysitting. I fear for the future of my club.”
Yet the deal was the only one on the table for Trevor Birch, the former insolvency specialist credited with saving the club. He is expected to stay on at Leeds for a few months but is expected to leave for another job in football.
In the meantime, he and other directors involved with the club over the past three years can expect to be quizzed by one of the administrators. Brendan Guilfoyle of The P&A Partnership, the insolvency specialists, will compile a report for the Department of Trade and Industry on the situation at Leeds. The DTI will then decide if it is in the public interest to disqualify any directors.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Sky Sports - The Best Sport Coverage From Around The World

Friday 19th March 2004

Leeds United's immediate future has been secured after a consortium finally concluded the successful purchase of the Premiership club on Friday.
The stricken Elland Road side have been in talks with the Gerald Krasner-fronted consortium for some time and a deal has finally been concluded which will hopefully keep the West Yorkshire side's heads above water.
Leeds, who have massive debts, have been seeking new owners for some time and had been in talks with Krasner's group since January.
In the last few days, talks have progressed rapidly which has facilitated a deal being struck on Friday.
"The consortium has done its job, Leeds United is saved for the supporters," Krasner told Sky Sports News.
Whites legend Peter Lorimer will be handed a place on the board in the hope of helping steady the ship.
"I have been aware of it for the last two or three weeks," Lorimer told Sky Sports News. "I will be on the board to deal with the press and help with football matters.
"I am obviously delighted this has all gone through."
Former Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond has aided Krasner's consortium and he has revealed one of the first tasks will be to cut the wage bill.
"We have to cut costs," Richmond told Sky Sports News. "There are 60 professionals on the books, from first year professionals to internationals, and 15 of those 60 earn over £1 million a year, some substantially more than that.
"It is unsustainable and it cannot continue, we have to cut costs. One of them is earning over £3.5 million.
"It would have been sustainable had we qualified for the Champions League every year, but if you cannot do that it is all downhill.
"You cannot sustain the club on the necessity of reaching the group stages of the Champions League."
Leeds are currently bottom of The Premiership and fighting a desperate battle to avoid relegation.
Sporting Life - Football

"We're off life support" was how new Leeds chairman Gerald Krasner described the condition of a club which would appear to have been given a new lease of life.
In a deal understood to be worth £22million, Krasner has managed to rid the club of its major creditors and wipe out more than £80million worth of debt.
Krasner, an insolvency practitioner and the voice of the consortium since they entered into negotiations two months ago, heads a six-man board which has taken control of Leeds.
The life-long Leeds fan is joined by former United legend Peter Lorimer, who will become a director and responsible for interacting with the media.
The other names include property developers Simon Morris and Melvin Helme, the latter to serve as corporate finance director given his former role as a NatWest bank high-flier, and entrepreneur Melvyn Levi.
The last figure is that of the new commercial and marketing director David Richmond, the son of former Bradford chairman Geoffrey who has been acting as an unpaid advisor throughout the deal.
The fact the Richmonds are involved, given the financial legacy they left behind at Bradford as the club hurtled into administration with debts amounting to £36million, is certain to cause Leeds fans grave consternation.
Krasner, though, believes he and his board start with a clean slate as he said: "I hope the supporters will judge, not just me but the whole board, by what we do.
"There's been a lot of speculation that we are asset-strippers, which I've denied on a number of occasions.
"We're here, we've saved the club, we're off life support and now we're going to go and try to stay in the Premiership."
The nuances of the deal mean that Gerling Insurance Co, the credit insurers of player-leasing agents Registered European Football Finance Ltd and who were owed £21.3million, have cut their losses by accepting a one-off payment.
The bondholders in M&G, Teachers and MetLife have taken a lump sum now, but may receive further payments in future dependant on whether the club can recapture past glories.
The other major creditors - the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise, who between them are owed in the region of £10million, will be paid off over an extended period along with other minor debtors such as former managers David O'Leary and Peter Reid.
In short, Leeds' debts now stand at a more manageable figure of just over £20million, with Krasner adding: "When we got into this deal the debt was over £100million.
"As a result of the transaction we have done the club is solvent again. We've sorted out all the debt problems. Let's now go forward and get the club back on the football pages."
The consortium also own Elland Road and the Thorp Arch training complex and Krasner has confirmed they remain key to their plans and the club's future.
"There has been rumour and counter rumour regarding the future of both Elland Road and Thorp Arch and, once again, we can categorically reassure fans that Leeds United will not be moving from Elland Road," insisted Krasner.
"As for Thorp Arch, contracts were already in place to sell a tract of land at the training ground which isn't currently used by the club.
"But there are no further plans to sell the site or move the academy as it forms a crucial and integral part of our business strategy and the club's future."
However, Geoffrey Richmond has revealed players will be shipped off the club's books in the summer as the wage bill continues to operate at a crippling level.
Even if Leeds remain in the Premier League, fans can expect to see Mark Viduka, Leeds' highest wage-earner on £65,000 per week, Paul Robinson and potentially Alan Smith leave in the close season.
"We have to cut costs," stated Richmond, who will continue to serve in his advisory role.
"We have 60 professionals at Leeds - that's first-year professionals right up to internationals - and 15 of those are on £1million or more. It's unsustainable."
Richmond has ruled out any suggestion the consortium might try to renegotiate some players' contracts, although the likes of Lucas Radebe, David Batty, Michael Bridges and Jason Wilcox will not be offered new deals when they expire in the summer.
"It is impossible to renegotiate a contract as that contract was negotiated in good faith.
"However some contracts - £11million worth of player contracts - come to an end on June 30 and it is unlikely that any of those will be renewed."
To facilitate the deal, administrators have been appointed to Leeds United plc and a subsidiary company, Leeds United Holdings Ltd.
The necessary move is part of the takeover and it has been made clear administrators have not been appointed to the football club or any other company within the Leeds United group.
The consortium have long pointed out their takeover realises no value to shareholders, resulting in the plc effectively being wound up.
As Garry Wilson, administrator for Ernst & Young, pointed out: "The ultimate result of this is that it releases Leeds United Football Club from what had become the burden of Leeds United plc."
LeedsUtdMAD Independent - the definitive Leeds United website. Independent news and stats from footymad.net

The Names Behind The Takeover

Story by Kevin Markey 19 March 2004
A who's who on the new Leeds board.
Has been acting as consortium spokesman. Insolvency practioner at Leeds-based accountants Bartfields. The company also has offices in London and Newcastle. 30-year association with United, was among a record crowd of 57,892 who watched Leeds draw 1-1 with Sunderland in 1967.
MELVYN HELME (Corporate Finance Director)
Former top-level manager of NatWest Bank. Helm, based in Southport, retired from high finance five years ago. Since made a name for himself in property development.
Lifelong fan, season ticket holder and son of former Bradford City chairman Geoffrey. Was a member of the Valley Parade board and was also responsbile for overseeing the club's retail and marketing operation. Richmond is a successful businessman in his own right.
A successful entrepeneur. Melvyn is the son of the late Jack Levi, a top-notch solicitor from the Leeds area. Melvyn was born in Leeds and has lived in the city all his life. He was former director of Bramley Rugby League club.
Leeds United legend. Lorimer made 703 appearances for United after becoming the youngster player ever to represent the club when he made his debut as a 15-year-old in 1962. He netted a club record 238 goals and brought his career to a close in 1985 as a 39-year-old. Lorimer has been involved in a number of business ventures and currently runs the Commercial pub in Holbeck.
Youngest member of the board. 26-year-old Morris is already a highly successful property developer and is seen as a go-ahead businessman.
The figures of the deal have yet to be disclosed, but it is understood that in excess of £20m will go to the creditors with an additional £10m put forward as working capital and in personal guarantees.
A portion of the finance has been supplied by a company owned by former Watford chairman Jack Petchey.
Petchey is a stakeholder at Aston Villa and will not be involved in the running of Leeds United.
Thanks to the Yorkshire Evening Post for the above information
Leeds Today

Yorkshire grit sees group win the race

THEY'VE crossed more hurdles than Cheltenham Gold Cup star Best Mate – but the Yorkshire-based business consortium today sailed past the winning post in the race to take control of Leeds United.

It's taken almost two months of intricate negotiations to complete what is freely described by all the parties involved as the most complex business deal they have ever witnessed.
Talks have involved over 100 laywers representing creditors and bondholders from both sides of the Atlantic, and the red tape has taken far longer to complete than was first anticipated.
In addition, the successful consortium has voiced concerns over an apparent smear campaign in certain sections of the media and have dealt with a considerable amount of mud-slinging on their way to completing the deal.
The emergence of Geoffrey Richmond as an advisor to the group simply gave the critics more bullets to fire, following his ignominious exit from Bradford City.
But the consortium never wavered.
All the while, agreements with creditors were ticked off on a daily basis as the nuts and bolts of the deal were put in place in an almost painstaking process.
However, the Yorkshire-based consortium was the only group to actually get out of the starting blocks after others made the right noises but soon withdrew their interest in taking on a club in debt to the tune of £100m.
First up was Sheikh Abdul Bin Mubarrak Al-Khalifa who talked about a £60m investment from the Middle East. Twice, the consortium claimed they were set to put on an offer on the table. Twice, United asked to see the colour of their money.
There was a Chinese consortium, headed by the aptly named Xu Ming, that never got beyond making the right noises. Then a Ugandan property tycoon, Michael Ezra, claimed he was leading a group interested in investing.
As the Yorkshire consortium closed in on a deal, a rival group, fronted by ex-Huddersfield Town chairman Terry Fisher, expressed a serious interest in rescuing the club. The noises were right and, with former United favourite Trevor Cherry supporting the cause, they had the right backing to curry favour with the fans.
But almost three weeks of hints and suggestions came to an end when no formal offer was made, believed to be due to a lack of serious funds, and the consortium officially withdrew their interest.
The only serious bid since the club was effectively put up for sale on December 4 came from former deputy chairman Allan Leighton, but his offer, understood to be around £15m, was firmly rebuffed by the creditors.
Leighton has maintained a keen interest in the situation and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that he could emerge with financial assistance in the not-too-distant future if required.
But, for the time being at least, the successful runners and riders were today enjoying their moment of glory in the winners enclosure after negotiating the tricky course.
They have already overcome one test of endurance but they are well aware that another one awaits them.
Leeds Today


United support for club saviours
by phil hay
The chairman of Leeds United Supporters Club believes today's £30m takeover will halt the darkest period of the club's history and "bring the smiles back to Elland Road".
Months of turmoil were ended this morning when the sale of United to a
Leeds-based consortium was confirmed after protracted negotiations with the Elland Road board.
The YEP understands that the new owners will meet with supporters' groups over the next fortnight to outline their plans for the future and reassure fans that United are in safe hands.
United were on the brink of administration with debts of £104m after a disastrous spell under former chairman Peter Ridsdale, which saw the club fall from Champions League contenders to relegation candidates.
Eddie Gray's side remain at the foot of the Premiership with 10 games of the season remaining but, with the decks now clear and the
club on course for a sound financial footing, supporters club chairman Ray Fell is hoping for a new, successful era to evolve.
He told the YEP: "It's been a nightmare couple of years but hopefully now the smiles will start coming back to Elland Road. We've had trials and tribulations, and there's been a lot of apprehension over the outcome of these negotiations. But we realise this consortium presents the best option for Leeds, and we're delighted someone's come along.
"We are not going to get Utopia overnight but with the debts cleared, the money coming in can now work for Leeds.
"The consortium have made the commitment and although there's a long road ahead, I'm happy. I hope that this will help to settle the players, and I'm hoping we can now avoid relegation."
But Fell also urged caution among supporters, insisting United had plenty to do before they could dream of returning to the heights which saw them reach the last four of the Champions League under David O'Leary.
"We do need to be cautious about this because the problems are still there.
"Everyone was worried about administration for a long time, and some spoke of liquidation, but with the debts gone I hope we can now look forward."
First for all the twists and turns in the United saga
SATURDAY, JANUARY 24: The YEP is first to break news of the Yorkshire-based consortium entering the race to save the cash-strapped Elland Road club.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17: The YEP's Paul Dews reveals that the club's major creditors have accepted a £30m offer from the Yorkshire-based consortium.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28: The YEP reports that United's best hope of survival lies with the local consortium after creditors refused an extension of the standstill agreement.
THURSDAY, MARCH 4: In an exclusive interview, consortium spokesman Gerald Krasner tells the YEP that the main priority is to rid United of their crippling debt.
we're ahead of the game - the YEP is the only paper for united exclusives

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Yorkshire Post

Krasner vows Leeds will stay at Elland Road

Matt Reeder
THE Yorkshire-based consortium seeking to take control of Leeds United have promised to meet with the club's suspicious supporters if they successfully conclude a deal.
Many fans are wary of the takeover, which could be completed tomorrow, following the news that Bradford City's former chairman Geoffrey Richmond was acting as an adviser to the group.
Little information has been released on their intentions for the future and fans' groups across the city have even lobbied the Premier League in an attempt to have them either block or investigate proceedings.
However, the Premier League have no power over buy-outs unless the club has entered administration.
Lawyers from the club, their principal creditors and the group yesterday met at Elland Road to discuss the deal and a completion meeting has been arranged for tomorrow.
Consortium spokesman Gerald Krasner last night assured fans that Richmond had been nothing more than an adviser and claimed his group's intentions would become clear once they were in power and had held a public meeting.
Their secrecy has spawned a number of rumours including: the selling and possible lease back of Elland Road; the disposal of Thorp Arch; ground-sharing with Barnsley; and the selling of all top players.
Krasner insists Elland Road will remain the club's home but is unable to make any further comment about their way forward.
"We are getting nearer and we are aiming to do it as quickly as possible. We seem to be kicking out the remaining points quickly," he said. "We have proved to the club and to the other parties that the money is sitting in a solicitor's client's account.
"I'm not going to raise fans' hopes by putting a day on it because then, if it's later, people will be asking whether we can keep our promises. Every day we are getting nearer.
"Leeds United will continue to play at Elland Road. We intend, if we get the club, to have a meeting with the fans and tell them our plans. I don't think it's right to say anything else until then.
"I can't go into the mechanics of it all, all I can do is confirm that rumours that we are going to redevelop Elland Road or ground share are untrue. Elland Road will continue to be the home of Leeds United."
Richmond yesterday pleaded with supporters to accept that he was only acting in an advisory role. I am helping the consortium because the alternative is not very appetising," he said. "It seems to be if the consortium fails in its bid then the only realistic alternative will be for the club to go into administration and then possibly liquidation, which would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs and would leave the future of Leeds United at stake.
"I am an unpaid adviser to the consortium, not a leading member, nor an investor and I have already said I will not be a director of the club going forward. I have been doing what I can to help and I believe I have been of assistance."
John Boocock, co-chairman of the Leeds United Supporters' Trust, feels a bond of trust was broken early on in the negotiations when it was denied that Richmond had anything to do with the group, only for him to then announce he was.
"This is typical of this group of people – they refuse to deal in an open and transparent way," he said. "They did not tell us the full story about Geoffrey Richmond's involvement so what else are they not telling us about? They have no reason to hide anything – unless they are doing something untoward."
If the takeover fails and the club do drop into the hands of administrators then it is likely a number of groups will be waiting in the wings to come forward.
Yorkshire Post

Veil of secrecy must be lifted to ease disquiet among Leeds fans
Matt Reeder
Tomorrow could go down as the day Leeds United's future was finally assured, the day when a new dawn rises over troubled Elland Road.
Ever since the debt-ravaged club was effectively put up for sale on December 4 last year supporters have been dreaming of the day uncertainty and concern would make way for the excitement and enthusiasm of a new era.
Lawyers from all parties met yesterday to finalise matters and a conclusion to the exhaustive takeover talks has been provisionally set for tomorrow. A Yorkshire-based consortium put together by Leeds supporters is within a whisker of moving into a position of power and life, it would seem, has a chance of returning to normal down at LS11. Or has it?
The club may be on the point of rescue but you would be hard-pushed to find anyone celebrating other than those on the still-mysterious takeover consortium.
The mood is cautionary because although he is only acting as an advisor to the group and will have no role in the running of the club, the fact that Geoffrey Richmond has been linked to this bid has cast a shadow over everything they are trying to do.
Since December 4 interested parties have come and gone, some making promises only to break them and let people down.
This group have stayed the course and for that they deserve credit. Their problem, however, has been the veil of secrecy behind which they and Richmond have operated. It has bred anxiety and disquiet among fans.
Richmond, the former Bradford City chairman, probably wary of the kind of reaction his name would cause, originally denied he was anything to do with the consortium and stated he was finished with football for good.
When he finally admitted he was working as an advisor it was little wonder the fans started to question what was going on behind the scenes.
Richmond feels unhappy that his name – and his past – have hit the headlines, but what did he expect? Is that not why he initially denied any involvement?
He must realise that football is a fickle game and the fans, no matter which club they hold association with, are an unforgiving bunch.
The last anyone in football saw of Geoffrey Richmond was as a man walking away from Valley Parade with the club having racked up debts totalling £36m. Bradford are still struggling to cope with that legacy and dropped back into the hands of administrators last month for the second time in as many years.
Mention of his name sparks memories of that club's rapid fall from grace and it is natural his involvement has been met with scepticism by the majority of Leeds supporters.
It is a level of suspicion which must be swept away with haste by the leading figures of this group if they are to win them over.
Richmond's past should not be allowed to wreck Leeds's only chance of salvation, but at the same time it is not difficult to understand the level of concern about his involvement.
If the new dawn does rise over Elland Road tomorrow then the new men in power will need to do some fast talking if they are to win over the most important people at Leeds United – the supporters.
Times Online - Sport

Richmond claims opposition to takeover is racist
AT A club that has set the benchmark for PR gaffes, it was perhaps no surprise to find talk of a Leeds United rescue package being sullied by allegations of racism and a smear campaign.
Just 48 hours before the meeting that could finalise the £22 million takeover of the club, the gloves came off. Geoffrey Richmond was the man throwing the punches. He claims that his role as an adviser to the Yorkshire-based consortium seeking to take control of the club has been the subject of whispers, sneers and slander. He hinted that he believed that this was because of his Jewish background, rather than the vivid memory of him leading Bradford City into administration with a £36 million debt.
Richmond’s comments came after the Yorkshire Post ran a story stating that he still owed the taxman £2.3 million. The debt related to the sale of Ronson lighters in 1994 and resulted in the Inland Revenue securing a High Court settlement against Richmond and another director last year. Richmond suggested that the story had been dug up in an attempt to derail the takeover of Leeds. “Tax avoidance is common,” he said. “Why this has raised its head again at a time when it could have a destabilising effect on the deal is concerning. If this does prove to be the case, then I have no doubt that Leeds will go into administration, hundreds of jobs will be lost and the club may well go out of existence.”
The media has focused on the dividends that Richmond and his company took out of Bradford while he was chairman, while supporters’ groups have stated their concern about his involvement, even though he has emphasised that he will not become a shareholder or director. The consortium has also been unable to give a guarantee that it will not sell Elland Road.
Richmond believes that the coverage of the takeover has had a sinister vein. “Right from the beginning there has been a smear campaign in certain sections of the media, which also, in our view, has racial overtones,” he said. “The consortium was initially described as being made up from the Jewish community, which caused great offence because it’s unlikely a consortium of any other religion or faith would have been described in such terms.”
Jack Petchey, a property developer, is believed to be funding the deal, but Richmond, whose son, David, is thought to be part of the consortium, claimed its members are risking £10 million of their own money. He denied that the group is only interested in asset-stripping. “To suggest that anyone can make a quick killing from the club is ludicrous considering the amount of debt,” Richmond said.
The holders of the club’s bond are understood to have accepted the consortium’s terms. Their representatives, and Registered European Football Finance, the player-leasing agents, gathered in Leeds yesterday. Tomorrow is seen as the day of reckoning.
Telegraph | Sport | Petchey at centre of Leeds deal

By Mihir Bose and John Ley (Filed: 18/03/2004)
Jack Petchey, a multi-millionaire businessman who made his money through property deals, has emerged as the financier behind the consortium seeking to buy Leeds United.
The former West Ham director, who at one time owned Watford before selling it back to Elton John, now has shares in Aston Villa and was once approached about buying the club.
Now The Telegraph can reveal that Petchey's consortium are close to a deal which would put them in control at Elland Road, possibly by tomorrow.
Until now the speculation was that Geoffrey Richmond, the former owner of Bradford City, was behind the consortium, though he had always insisted he was involved only as an advisor.
While there has been contact between former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates and the consortium, there is no financial link.
News: Richmond Cites Slurs As Leeds Deal Nears - SoccerAge

Former Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond revealed on Wednesday that the consortium negotiating to take over Leeds United are "just 48 hours away" from completing the deal.
Richmond also expressed his concern about "a slur campaign" that he believes could undermine the Yorkshire-based consortium's bid for the troubled club.
In recent weeks, Richmond has been acting as an unpaid advisor to the group, who are set to finalise the deal reportedly worth around £22 million.
He fears the resurfacing of stories relating to his appearance in the High Court last May on tax-evasion charges may prove detrimental to the bid.
There have been suggestions that Richmond still owes the Inland Revenue £2.3 million following the sale of his Ronsons lighters business 10 years ago.
Speaking "just 48 hours ahead of a completion meeting", Richmond said: "All I want to do is help the consortium succeed in their takeover of Leeds United because the alternative is not very appetising.
"It seems to be if the consortium fails in its bid, then the only realistic alternative will be for the club to go into administration and then possibly liquidation.
"It would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs and would leave the very future of Leeds United as a football club very much at stake.
"But it's my belief there has been a slur campaign, which the consortium, at the time, did think was strange.
"But the negative coverage the consortium has attracted in certain sections of the media has been consistent with that.
"I'm an unpaid advisor to the consortium, not a leading member, nor an investor and I have already said I will not be a director of the club going forward.
"I have been doing what I can to help and I believe I have been of assistance."
Consortium representative Gerald Krasner confirmed Richmond's involvement, saying: "He has been very helpful to us by giving us some football advice and he has saved us some money."
Krasner also confirmed that the meeting would involve lawyers, and could eventually entail the signing of more than 100 documents if the deal gets the go-ahead.
He added: "We are getting nearer and we are aiming to do it as quickly as possible. We seem to be kicking out the remaining points very quickly."
Graham Lister

Sunday, March 14, 2004

The Observer | Sport | Davis shows the way as Leeds start to run out of time

Amy Lawrence at Loftus Road
Sunday March 14, 2004
The Observer
Fulham were showboating in the end and there could be no more crushing sign of Leeds United's dwindling survival hopes than that. The Yorkshiremen's mini-revival was all too easily halted by a Fulham team who, frankly, could afford to be incredibly wasteful in front of goal and still win at a canter. The chink of light at Elland Road looks decidedly dimmer.
A three-match unbeaten sequence had bred confidence, but this was a thump in the kidneys. 'We need a bit more than a mini-run now,' said understandably dejected Eddie Gray. 'But we cannot let this result get to us. Although we're running out of matches, I've still got belief that those players in the dressing room can get us out of trouble.' Given the fact he has barely any others to call upon, he has no option but to depend on a group who must pick themselves up in time to compete more aggressively with Manchester City next weekend.
In the first half there was little to choose between the teams, but once Fulham stepped up a gear after the break Leeds were a sorry second best. Although Mark Viduka and Alan Smith plainly possess Premiership quality and Paul Robinson has performed heroically in horrible conditions, in between Leeds looked lightweight.
Fulham showed no mercy. Smartly crafted goals from Sean Davis and Luis Boa Morte confirmed their first win in five matches and it was a demonstration of the feelings they have for Chris Coleman that they increased the quality of their performance to welcome him back from two weeks in hospital with septicaemia.
On a strong course of antibiotics for another six weeks, Coleman jested that there would be no celebratory beer. But there was no disguising his delight to be back: 'I have to be careful and I've explained to the doctors that it is impossible for me to stay relaxed - even at 2-0 up with a minute to go they hit the bar and my heart was racing - but I should be back to normal in the next couple of weeks.'
Back in business now, Coleman has his eye on beating last season's points total of 48 and seeing where they go from there. Europe? 'It suits us that people are not talking about it. We'll just keep going about our job quietly,' the Welshman pointed out. They went about their job with impressive commitment here, pressing Leeds until the beleaguered visitors could withstand it no more.
Leeds's most positive period came either side of half-time, when Smith and Viduka, aided by the promptings of young winger Jermaine Pennant, began to force Fulham on to the back foot. But, with Zat Knight marshalling the home defence with aplomb, there was limited end product for Leeds. 'We didn't test their goalkeeper as much as we should,' Gray lamented. With one of their more promising efforts Didier Domi struck a clean volley but Edwin van der Sar was able to tip it away.
Conversely, at the opposite end Robinson was overworked and underprotected, with explosive bursts from Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque causing particular distress. 'It was only a question of time before we scored,' said Coleman. Robinson produced an instinctive dou ble save to deny Mark Pembridge's double header, before rightly looking accusingly at his defence as Barry Hayles had time to measure a free header. He missed, only delaying the inevitable.
With 20 minutes to go Davis broke from midfield to demonstrate how to finish ruthlessly. It was an excellently constructed goal, built on a a clever one-two with Malbranque, and the Englishman planted the ball past Robinson with aplomb.
Leeds' faint hopes were extinguished when Pembridge found the excellent Knight on the right of the box and the centre-half chipped delightfully for Boa Morte to nod home nine minutes from time. Simon Johnson rattled the bar seconds from the final whistle but, in truth, the game was up by then anyway.
The home fans sang for Chrissie Coleman and he clapped his admirers with gratitude. A pleasant day all round for Fulham. Desperate for Leeds.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Guardian Unlimited Football | News | Special investigation: crisis at Leeds United

Money to burn

They were the most exciting team in Europe, serious challengers to Manchester United - and even to Real Madrid. Then the implosion began. Now, one question remains - just how did Leeds United fall so far, so quickly? With unprecedented access, award-winning journalist Brian Cathcart follows the labyrinthine money trail and gives the definitive account of what went wrong.
Sunday March 7, 2004
The Observer
February, Elland Road: Leeds United versus Wolverhampton Wanderers. Last against second-last, a six-pointer and then some. For the home side the mathematics of defeat may not be decisive but the effect on players, club and fans, not to mention creditors owed about £100 million, will almost certainly be terminal.
The omens are bad. Leeds have lost six in a row and Wolves are showing signs of a revival. The morning's Guardian includes a doomy feature about life after Leeds United and the afternoon's Yorkshire Evening Post fills its back page with the message: 'If United fail to beat Wolves tonight will the last person out of Elland Road please turn off the lights?'
For the vultures in the press box the script for this cold, wet Tuesday night is written already: the club is about to tip into relegation, administration and possibly oblivion.
Thirty minutes in and that is just how it looks. Leeds have scrambled a goal through Alan Smith only for Wolves to cancel it out. The home defence is a mess, with goalkeeper Paul Robinson missing crosses and central defender Steve Caldwell, just in on loan, wobbling under pressure. It's only a matter of time.
Then something changes. Seth Johnson starts winning tackles; James Milner, on the wing, makes Denis Irwin look his age; Smith is reaching the high balls; Mark Viduka's little passes find their men. Sensing the shift the crowd turns the volume up, chanting with arms aloft: 'We are Leeds! We are Leeds! We are Leeds!' Just before half-time, Dominic Matteo scores and, after the hour, Milner makes it 3-1.
'Want another,' says a fan beside me greedily, and he has his wish. In the final minute Viduka wins the ball on the left, slips past a couple of defenders and thumps it between keeper and upright.
On the bus back into town afterwards fans smile and shake their heads in disbelief. They have defied the doomsayers and bought the club some precious time; there's a long way to go yet but perhaps the worst will not happen.
It's not supposed to be this way. Clubs go down or get into money trouble every year, but not a big, ambitious, city club such as Leeds. And it's not just size, it's attitude: Leeds United don't care for popularity but they demand to be respected and feared. Elland Road, with its towering east stand, resembles a concrete warning to the weak, and even on this miserable night a near-capacity 37,000 have turned out to yell: 'We are Leeds!'
Yet here they are, relieved to beat Wolves, scrambling desperately for points at the bottom of the table, so close to ruin. What went wrong?
Amid the recriminations and panic engulfing Leeds over the past 18 months much of the real story of how a great club was brought so low has been forgotten, muddled or ignored, but by talking to people were close to the key decisions and linking their testimony to the hard facts of performance on the pitch and on the balance sheet it is possible now to piece together the making of a Premiership calamity. This is the story.
Summer 1999, Elland Road: another world. The season of the Manchester United treble was just over; Leeds had finished fourth and Peter Ridsdale had a smile on his face. Everything about his club smelled of potential.
Ridsdale himself was fairly new in charge, having just consolidated his position as executive chairman. His manager, David O'Leary, was also new: promoted in October, after the departure of George Graham to Spurs, he had exceeded all expectations by producing the best league performance in years. And the team was new, flush with exciting young players who had thrilled the fans and won admirers across the country.
The world of football, too, was brimming with promise. The game was fashionable, attendances were rising, stadiums were being renovated or replaced and television companies were paying ever-larger sums for rights.
A lifelong fan - he queued in a sleeping bag to see Leeds in the 1965 Cup Final - Ridsdale could sense one of those tides which, taken at the flood, lead on to fortune.
The Leeds board of directors agreed and, in retrospect, it's easy to see why, because almost everything on the club's balance sheet was healthy. Gate receipts were up 20 per cent in a year, television income up 40 per cent and merchandising earnings up 13 per cent. There was even - unusually for a football club - a modest operating profit.
Fast-growing companies need bold thinking, and Leeds had a plan. 'There was a belief,' Ridsdale says now, 'that with the right acquisitions we stood a genuine chance of challenging towards the top of the Premiership and certainly a chance of get ting in the Champions' League more often than not. So what we had to do was to see how we could add to the squad in a way that would take us forward.'
Acquisitions. That was the strategy. So they bought players. First came Eirik Bakke at £1.75m, then Danny Mills at £4m, then Michael Duberry at £4.5m and finally Michael Bridges at £5m. Bold indeed. The club's turnover in 1998-99 - everything that came into the club over the whole year, before any bills were paid - was £37m, and here they were spending more than 40 per cent of that on players in a single summer. This was only possible thanks to a form of credit that was completely new to sport.
Football clubs have long had difficulty borrowing. In the words of one former club finance chief: 'If you want to spend money then traditionally you have to have either a wealthy benefactor or a very nice bank manager.'
Ridsdale's Leeds didn't have a wealthy benefactor nor did they want one (such people like to say how their money is spent); and while the club bank, HSBC, was obliging enough, as always with banks there were limits.
That summer, before the spree, the club had been running a bank debt of around £11m, which was high by recent standards but acceptable to both parties. When it came to buying players HSBC was ready to offer an overdraft facility on top of that but it was strictly short term; Leeds had only a few months at best to pay it off. So the club had to find some other source of finance.
The problem was that football clubs can seldom offer lenders much in the way of security. Their principal concrete assets, the stadiums, are single-use and the ground they stand on tends to carry planning restrictions, so even if your club hasn't mortgaged its stadium already, a new mortgage probably wouldn't raise much. In 1999, financiers were beginning to see this as perverse. Here was a booming entertainment business turning over hundreds of millions a year and its ability to expand was being cramped by old-fashioned credit policies. There had to be a way to break out, and it was Ray Ranson who found it.
Ranson is not one to seek publicity or grant interviews, though he is known to many football fans as one of those Manchester City defenders wrong-footed by Tottenham's Ricky Villa on the way to his famous Cup Final goal in 1981. That is no measure, however, of his talents.
Even while he still played, he ran his own insurance business. It wasn't a humdrum house-contents outfit but one on the fringes of high finance. Once out of the game he sold up, joined the London money firm of Benfield Greig and set about applying his insurance expertise to sport.
'He's a very intelligent, able and charming man and he's comfortable in both worlds, the City and football,' says a former associate. 'Football people find it easy to get on with him and he understands their problems, while in the finance world, well, they're often fans and they're impressed to meet a real footballer. It opens doors.'
In the early summer of 1999 a door opened at Leeds United and Ridsdale listened with interest as Ranson described the funding idea he had. Business was not done straight away, but at the end of July, with the ink still wet on Leeds's purchase of Michael Duberry, Ridsdale rang Ranson urgently to ask for help.
In the interval, Leeds had tried a different finance option but that hadn't worked, so now, having heard on the grapevine that Ranson had successfully put together a deal for Chelsea, the Yorkshire club recruited him to cut down its overdraft. He did it like this.
Where Leeds had bought a player for, say £5 million, Ranson would find a financial institution that would advance the club exactly that sum. In return Leeds would have to pay back this money, with interest, over the course of the player's contract - typically four years.
Though known for shorthand purposes as a 'sale-and-leaseback' arrangement, it is in most respects a conventional short-term loan, just as if you or I were borrowing £10,000 to buy a car. In the same way that, if we fail to make payments, the bank will take away the car, so if the club doesn't keep up payments the lender can make it sell the player and hand over the proceeds.
Because lenders were wary of football clubs, however, they required extra security. For one, these loans were not tied exclusively to the player: if for some reason the sale didn't cover the debt - say the player's market value had declined - the bank could claim the difference from the club. And then came the part that was the Ray Ranson speciality: the whole deal was insured with a German-based insurance company, Gerling, so that in the very worst case, if the club went bankrupt, the insurer would cover the lender's loss.
The benefit of this arrangement for the lender was that it transferred the main risk element - default by the club - to those professionals of risk, insurers. From the club's point of view the deal spread the cost of buying a player over the whole period of his contract and took the sum in question off the overdraft account, just as the bank manager demanded.
There were drawbacks. The loans were short-term and the interest rate was higher than the bank was charging, which meant that the quarterly payments were substantial (as they are with domestic car loans) and the extra insurance was expensive and had to be paid upfront.
In the late summer and autumn of 1999 Ranson successfully arranged separate finance packages of this kind to cover the purchases of Bakke, Mills, Duberry and Bridges.
The events of that season seemed gloriously to vindicate the acquisition policy: Leeds reached the semi-final of the Uefa Cup and finished third in the Premiership, clinching a place in the qualifying round of the Champions' League. The summer signings had lifted the side to a new level and Bridges, in particular, was a huge success, scoring 19 goals in 34 appearances.
The books were looking good, too. Turnover had jumped from £37m to £57m (including a 56 per cent rise in television revenue and a 33 per cent rise in gate receipts) and once again there was a small operating profit. So promising was the out look that BSkyB had taken a stake in the company.
What next? In the eyes of Ridsdale and his board the prospect of Champions' League football radically altered the terms of trade. That year's Uefa Cup run had been worth £6.9m and they had played in every round but the final. So lucrative was the Champions' League that Leeds could count on earning considerably more even if they went out in the first group stage. If they reached the second stage the very least they were likely to make was £15m. A Champions' League run, in other words, would rake in cash.
To improve the chances of such a run, and of qualifying again the following year, the board chose the same strategy that had paid off before: they strengthened the squad. O'Leary asked for three additional top-class players, one each in defence, midfield and attack. The board gave him exactly that, buying Dominic Matteo for £4.25m, Olivier Dacourt for £7.2m and Mark Viduka for £6m - a total outlay of £17.45m.
As before, Ranson was called in and he put together one of his packages to cover the Dacourt deal. Such deals take time, however, and a couple of months later he was still working on a Viduka package when Leeds United decided to take a historic step.
In the interval the newly strengthened Leeds side had successfully negotiated the qualifying phase of the Champions' League and then, after a disastrous start, surprised everyone by forcing their way through the first group stage to reach the second round. Six lucrative matches were in prospect, home and away against Real Madrid, Lazio and Anderlecht. The Leeds board decided this was the moment to strengthen the squad again: they bought Rio Ferdinand for a then British record price of £18m.
It was a huge commitment by a club still grappling with the consequences of the earlier purchases, and behind the scenes some fast footwork was required as Ranson urgently completed packages to cover Viduka and Matteo. That took some of the pressure off the Leeds overdraft account, as did the instalment arrangements on the Ferdinand purchase, but it was now clear that the club had hit a limit.
Bank debt was already historically high and the club was making hefty quarterly payments through Ranson's Guernsey-based company, Registered European Football Finance (REFF), on seven players whose total announced cost was almost £30m. To top this, the balance of the Ferdinand bill was due in a few months.
As a first step to cut down on debt costs the club approached Ranson with a proposal. The original terms of the deals had involved paying off the whole of each player's cost in the period of his contract, but Leeds now wanted to do something different. The club suggested instead that it should pay off only half the original cost by stages over the contract period, and come up with the remaining 50 per cent as a 'bullet payment' or lump sum at the end. Since the book value of the players was rising in an almost dizzying fashion there seemed to be no reason for either lender or club to worry about security. The deal was done. At least one part of the debt problem had been eased, though there would be those lump sums to pay in due course.
In this period it helped a great deal that the team not only survived the second phase of the Champions' League, recording some sensational victories, but that they won a quarter-final against Deportivo la Coruña. An honourable defeat against Valencia in the semi-final capped what was a sensational run, worth in the region of £20m to the club.
All the time, however, Leeds were busily seeking a way to restructure their debt, and this time it was not Ranson who came up with the answer for them but the very different figure of Stephen Schechter.
Ranson was born with football in his veins, but Schechter was a man who, when told in 1999 that Newcastle United might put some business his way, replied: 'Where's Newcastle?'
A Wall Street operator who was already in his fifties when he moved to London, Schechter is a prodigious talker, a showman and a financial wizard with a gift for innovation. He was working for the merchant bank Schroders when he took that call about Newcastle and, in September 1999, in a matter of months he was able to raise for that club the fabulous sum of £55m.
It was a coup which tore up the old financial straitjacket restraining football clubs, and it is little wonder that his phone was soon ringing off the hook with calls from all over Europe. Several other English clubs, including Southampton and Ipswich Town, employed him to raise cash for them.
Early in 2001 (by which time Schechter worked for another bank, Lazard's) he had a tip-off that Leeds wanted something similar. 'It was the fastest deal I've ever done,' he says. 'I'd never been to Leeds either, but I took the train and saw them. They said they wanted to refinance their bank debt and get in the Champions' League again, and they asked me to find them £50m. I put together a book and the demand [from potential lenders] was huge.'
The 'book' was Schechter's analysis of the club and in particular of that part of its activities on which the whole clever arrangement hung - its ticket sales. Just as Ranson found a way around the old problem of protecting loans, in his case by passing the risk to insurers, so Schechter had spotted an ingenious possibility. Clubs like Newcastle and Leeds may experience ups and downs, they may even dip out of the Premiership for short periods, but they have one asset that is as solid as their stadiums: the loyalty of their fans.
Leeds is the biggest city in England with only one professional club and the fans are unusually dedicated. Even at their lowest footballing ebb Leeds United can probably count on 20,000 to 25,000 people clicking through the turnstiles every time the senior team is at work.
It was this security that Schechter offered to lenders in London and New York. The arrangement worked as follows. The loan would be over 25 years and the once-a-year repayments were guaranteed through a special 'locked box' account. Every summer, when Leeds put season tickets and corporate hospitality boxes up for sale, all the revenue would be paid into the locked box, so that a substantial sum had built up by 1 September. On that date the lenders would withdraw the payments due to them from the locked box and only then was the club allowed access to the residue.
Offered to financial institutions in the early autumn of 2001, the Leeds 'securitisation' loan, as these packages are known, was a resounding success. 'The lenders wanted to go up to £75m but we closed on £60m,' recalls Schechter. 'We didn't want to offend these institutions who wanted more paper.' The lenders were M&G of London and two American institutions, MetLife and Teachers.
It was the biggest loan ever raised by an English football club.
The Premiership season by then under way would prove pivotal for Leeds United, and there is a strong argument that by the time it was over in May 2002, or at least by September of that year, the club was already doomed to disaster. Had subsequent events unfolded differently the scale of that catastrophe might have been altered or it might have been postponed, but it is doubtful if anything could have prevented it.
It is worth remembering, too - and no one disputes this - that the men in charge at Elland Road went into that season with their eyes open.
The board met every month. Peter Ridsdale, then 49, was in the chair. He had come to football after an impressive career in retailing at Top Man. He had two executive colleagues: finance director Stephen Harrison, 40, who had previously held the same position at the spectacles firm Dollond and Aitchison, and operations director David Spencer, 50, who joined Leeds in 1994 after running a catering company.
With them sat two men still described by Ridsdale as 'among the top non-executive directors in the country': the high-flying Asda boss Allan Leighton, 48, who was later to move to Royal Mail, and Richard North, 51, then finance boss of the old Bass brewing firm and now chief executive of Intercontinental Hotels.
It was a harmonious group, although naturally there were occasional differences. Ridsdale and Leighton were particularly close - they usually sat together at matches - and Stephen Schechter for one found them an impressive partnership. 'That pair could sell ice to Eskimos,' he says. 'They exuded confidence and success.'
Every time the five directors gathered in the boardroom, located in a suite of offices above a former petrol station across the road from Elland Road, they had before them a dossier describing the current state of the business. This included, among other things, summaries of every player's contract, giving wages, bonuses and term remaining, and also a rolling 18-month projection of the club's cashflow position.
So how did the world look to them in the autumn of 2001, as that pivotal season began?
The past year, in financial terms, had seen further triumphant success. Turnover had leapt to £86m in 2000-01 and the operating profit, previously a marginal sum, was now £10m. Gate receipts had risen by a third, merchandising revenue by 40 per cent and television income had actually doubled.
There were some flies in this ointment, chief of which was that, despite a great run in Europe, the team had finished fourth in the Premiership and missed the chance of Champions' League football in the coming year. They were in the Uefa Cup, but it was much less lucrative.
There was also the alarming growth of player wages, a relatively new problem but one common to all Premiership clubs. In a single year, wage costs at Leeds had risen by £12m and the total club wage bill, overwhelmingly accounted for by the players, was now £38m. And it wasn't just the expensive purchases who commanded high wages; the young, home-grown players were now starting to come out of youth contracts and were due substantial pay rises.
Then there was the debt. Since the launch of the acquisition policy the end-of-season net debt recorded in the company's books had risen as follows: £9m in 1999; £21m in 2000; £39m in 2001. And that last figure was from June, before the £60m loan showed up in the books. Debt costs money, and the more you have the more it costs.
On the surface, a season that promised rising costs coinciding with the loss of European revenue was a worrying prospect, but the board was convinced the club remained fundamentally strong, that the objective of winning back the European place was realistic (all the more so as Uefa had just awarded England a fourth berth) and that this was not the time to retrench. They had £60m of new cash; what did they do with it?
The first, most pressing business was to clear well over £25m of overdraft and existing bank debt (though not the Ranson deals, which remained). Historic debts as well as the full cost of Rio Ferdinand were thus shifted from short and medium-term accounts to a single long-term one, to be serviced and paid off by that annual payment from the locked box.
Next, the club committed more than £5m to the development of its Thorp Arch training ground and youth academy, providing, among other things, state-of-the-art medical facilities to support the team. Having already signed Robbie Keane from Internazionale for £11m in April, in October and November they bought two more players at the top end of the market, Robbie Fowler for £11m and the Derby County midfielder Seth Johnson for £7m. With that and a few lesser commitments, including topping up some of the players' wages, all the money was gone.
Securitisation deals had unlocked large tranches of new funds for several Premiership clubs, but Leeds had done two things differently. First, they had borrowed more than anyone else, and second, where others used most of this long-term cash for long-term investment, usually on new stadiums or stands, Leeds had spent most of it on the squad.
That season began unevenly for the top clubs, with the Premiership lead changing hands frequently. Leeds fluffed some chances but remained there or thereabouts up to Christmas and then on 1 January 2002, a bright New Year's Day at Elland Road, they went top.
It was not just the score, 3-0 against West Ham, that was remarkable, but the manner of the victory. Two goals came from Viduka, who was at his most imperious, and the third was a chip from Fowler, his sixth goal in four games. And it says a lot about the whole team's performance that neither scorer was man of the match - that honour went to defender Jonathan Woodgate.
Top of the Premiership at New Year: who would bet against Leeds getting back into the Champions' League now? Who could say they wouldn't win the domestic title itself? Everything was on course.
If that 2001-02 season was pivotal for Leeds, the point on which it turned was that first week of January, when a team still glowing from triumph against West Ham travelled south to play Cardiff City in the third round of the FA Cup.
The garrulous O'Leary allowed himself a little bravado. He had asked for the fixture to be played at the Millennium Stadium but the switch was not allowed. 'I'm disappointed. It would have proved excellent preparation for us if we go back there in May,' he said. 'We're well capable of starting and finishing our FA Cup campaign in Cardiff.'
There was to be no return. What happened on the pitch that evening was a disaster for Leeds, with Ferdinand hacked down in the first few minutes and taken off injured, Smith sent off before half-time and Cardiff winning 2-1 with a goal in the 86th minute.
Worse still were the scenes that accompanied the defeat, with bottles thrown, Leeds players assaulted, violence in the stands and police with dogs called in to restore order. O'Leary had to be physically restrained in the face of provocation from the Cardiff chairman Sam Hammam.
Something snapped for good in the Leeds team that night, something that was no doubt linked to the after-effects of the so-called Majestyk affair, the brutal assault on Sarfraz Najeib outside a Leeds nightclub in January 2000 for which Leeds players Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, among others, were tried. The verdicts had come three weeks before, on 14 December 2001: Bowyer was acquitted and Woodgate sentenced to 100 hours' community service for affray.
'That changed the world's perceptions of us,' says Ridsdale now. 'Because it took two years to come to a conclusion and because it was mostly sub judice, during that two-year period nobody talked about it and it was almost like it wasn't there. From the day the court decision was taken the world hated us. They decided that the jury got it wrong; it was our fault. It was almost like, if the lads can't be found guilty the club have to be.'
The first cracks in the relationship between Ridsdale and O'Leary were also beginning to show. More than that, it seemed that a tension which had been holding things together at the club for two years - even pushing the team to high achievement - suddenly gave way.
In the next two months Leeds did not win a single one of their nine matches, a run that included a miserable exit from the Uefa Cup, against PSV Eindhoven, as well as defeats by Chelsea, Newcastle and Liverpool, key rivals in the race for Champions' League qualification.
Fans blamed Brian Kidd, the former Manchester United coach whom O'Leary had appointed to take over training from old Leeds favourite Eddie Gray. Under Kidd's regime, the fans insisted, the team had lost its bite.
O'Leary himself was in trouble, having incurred near-universal condemnation for his book, Leeds on Trial (in public it was seen as crass and insensitive while in private Ridsdale felt he had been let down and some players must have found its portrayal of them patronising).
In interviews at the time, team members hinted at disquiet, with Harry Kewell in particular encouraging doubts about O'Leary's football judgment. (Kewell has since said he sometimes felt 'bamboozled' by his manager's instructions.) Rumour suggested that that the manager had 'lost the dressing room', something unthinkable a year or so earlier during the club's European triumphs.
By March, Leeds were 10 points adrift of fourth place and out of contention for the Champions' League. The five members of the Leeds board met to review the position and what their financial document packs were telling them then, the accounts for the year would later make public.
Net debt reached £82m that June, debt payments were approaching £1m a month and the annual wage bill had jumped by another £10m to £53m. At the same time income was falling, with gate receipts badly down, although a new television rights deal softened the effect. The operating profit of previous years turned into an operating loss of £8m.
Where once all the lines on all the graphs had been going up, now they were going down, with three glaring exceptions: total debt, debt payments due and wages. In plain terms, less and less money was coming in and more and more was going out.
Dramatically, Leeds United had flipped out of a virtuous upward spiral of football success feeding financial success into a fast-moving downward vortex where losses and high wages fed debts, which in turn caused more losses and more debts.
When the accounts became public that autumn one person who recognised this immediately was Bill Gerrard, an economist at Leeds Business School, a fan and an occasional consultant to the club. 'When I saw the figures I could hardly believe it,' he recalls now. 'I calculated then that they were going to need to find £40m to keep trading. In fact I was wrong: they needed £50m.'
'We had a plan B,' says one of the directors, who declines to be named. 'We had the ability to sell players. In the players on our books we had assets worth almost £200m and we could wipe out our debt at any time through judicious sales.'
That spring of 2002, as the team slid down the league, the board approved Plan B and Ridsdale formally told O'Leary that, barring a miraculous change of team form, players would be leaving in the summer. In public he stated that any sales would not involve first-team players.
There is no reason to doubt that this had always been the fallback strategy: sell a few, the logic went, and the books would balance. What happened in the months that followed, however, demonstrated the shortcomings of that logic. Several factors were at work. Some - it is true - are more easily seen in hindsight, but others should have caused the Leeds board anxiety long before they arose.
* Markets go down as well as up. At the time Leeds began to sell, the transfer market as a whole was in decline and, barring a few exceptional cases (such as Ferdinand, for whom a desperate Manchester United paid £26m), most transfers were being done at notably lower prices than previously.
* Players who are playing badly lose value. A bad run for the club doesn't make the player worthless, but if he's a defender leaking goals or a striker not scoring them it is bound to depress his price.
* Sell in distress and you sell at a discount. Rival clubs know you need to do the deal and they will exploit that. The introduction of the transfer windows made this worse, as Leeds became exposed to end-of-window brinkmanship. Players are not slaves. If you want to break a player's contract he may refuse to go, or he may demand compensation.
* And sales are closely related to confidence. Just as buying players boosts a team's ability, resources and morale - the logic embraced by the board in 1999-2001 - so selling them sucks those things out. Not only is the team weaker but it is less willing, less positive, and so more matches are likely to be lost.
The 2002-03 season saw the ignominious failure of Plan B. The money from sales was never enough and the weakened form on the field meant a decline in gates and a slump in television revenues. Though in time there were wholesale changes in the boardroom, the club was now in the iron grip of debt, with M&G, MetLife, Teachers and the insurers Gerling all besieging the club.