Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bates’ absence sums up new dawn at Elland Road

Yorkshire Evening Post 22/12/12
By Phil Hay
The last time Leeds United held a major press conference in Elland Road’s Bremner Suite, the club unveiled Dennis Wise as their new manager.
Ken Bates addressed the floor that day surrounded by friends and allies – Wise, Gus Poyet and Gwyn Williams. “Chelsea Re-United” as one journalist joked. “They say ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’.”
Bates teased. “I’ve got them on the top table.”
He was missing from the top table when the media gathered beneath the West Stand on Friday. As the seller in the deal which handed ownership of Leeds to GFH Capital on Thursday night, he kept his distance while club chief executive Shaun Harvey sat down alongside new directors David Haigh and Salem Patel, the buyers’ representatives.
When the 81-year-old’s name came up, Haigh was complimentary but insistent. “The buck stops here,” he said. Not in Monaco and not with Bates. Not any more.”
Willing though GFH Capital were to retain him as chairman until next summer and then appoint him as life president of the club, Haigh’s comment was his way of convincing those listening that the new boss was not the same as the old boss.
“This press conference is about Leeds United going forward,” said Harvey when asked why Bates was not in attendance.
“As everyone knows, he (Bates) will remain chairman of the club and it’s going to be a very important transitional period between now and the end of the season.
“We wanted the focus to be on the future and on GFH’s takeover of Leeds United, rather than anything else.”
Haigh and Patel had no shortage of time to consider their opening gambits – 206 days between the announcement by Leeds that takeover talks had commenced in May and the completion of their deal on December 20.
The record for days taken to cycle around the world is less than 96.
Haigh called it “one of the longest takeovers” but his consistently-wide smile revealed how pleased he was to have both feet in the door.
The buy-out was Patel’s idea but those who have worked closely with GFH Capital say Haigh was the man who performed CPR on the occasions when its takeover threatened to die.
His productive relationship with Bates and Bates’ wife, Suzannah, was worth its weight in gold to the company from Dubai.
“It’s been a long and hard seven months of negotiations but we’ve grown to know them really well,” Patel said. “David more than most.”
Over the course of a 22-minute briefing, Haigh and Patel discovered the desire of the media and United’s supporters to examine the minutiae of the club’s business. Bates was discussed, inevitably, and the possibility of repurchasing Elland Road and Thorp Arch came up before long. There was the question of their support for manager Neil Warnock and their plans for the January transfer window; queries about GFH Capital’s funding and the strength of its financial position.
Haigh was as positive as a new owner should be and Patel dealt with the finer details of the business model, without revealing too much.
He avoided rash promises and would not put figures on the transfer pot set aside for Warnock or the timescale surrounding the proposed buy-back of Elland Road.
From Harvey’s remarks, it appeared that repurchasing the Thorp Arch training complex is a more difficult and unlikely aim altogether. The buy-back clause on that property expired in 2009.
Elland Road, Harvey claimed, was “the key interest to the majority of fans”.
Those supporters appear to matter to GFH Capital. The club set up an e-mail account after completing the first part of its takeover on November 20 and received more than 4,000 messages.
Its appreciation of the need to tackle falling crowds was displayed by Haigh announcing that half-season tickets would go on sale with immediate effect, starting with the club’s game against Bristol City on January 19.
Haigh and Patel have been like season ticket holders themselves these past few months. Both have attended numerous games at Elland Road and arrived in England in time for Wednesday’s Capital One Cup game against Chelsea.
Hisham Alrayes, the third member of GFH Capital who has joined United’s board, was on business in the Middle East yesterday but is due in Leeds after the turn of the year.
“Leeds United is a great football club,” Patel said. “It’s got history, it’s got pedigree and a fantastic base on which we can build the club up.
“We looked at a number of clubs but for us Leeds United was the most attractive for the reasons I’ve outlined.
“What we hope to achieve with this club is to bring back the type of atmosphere we witnessed on Wednesday. That’s what we want to create – a sustainable, successful future.”
They will hear no argument against that. United’s expectant support can live with sustainable and successful.
Haigh and Patel eventually excused themselves and drove to Thorp Arch to meet Warnock and his squad, leaving the public to digest their words.
Actions always speak louder but there was no sense that the men from Dubai had begun their dance on the wrong foot.