Saturday, February 02, 2013

Leeds United: Owners true to their word as GFH keep ‘crazy money’ promise

Yorkshire Evening Post 2/2/13
By Phil Hay
Another January gone and a first month of ownership under GFH Capital.
So what have we learnt? and how did it go? Those who hoped for a high-octane transfer window were underwhelmed. Those who deduced that the buy-out of Leeds United would not change the landscape of Elland Road dramatically were taken by realism, not pessimism.
In the finest traditions of January, Luciano Becchio downed tools and left and six new players arrived, four of them on permanent contracts and two on loan.
It was the precursor to an 18-game sprint which will either take United to the Premier League or consign them to a 10th successive season beneath that division. Here are five things that January taught us:
GFH Capital is not SheikH Mansour: And in its defence the company never claimed to be. But here’s a comparison anyway.
When the Sheikh bought Manchester City, the club broke the British transfer record a few hours later by signing Robinho from under the nose of Roman Abramovich. More money than sense, perhaps, but it did not take long for the wealth of Abu Dhabi to wear the Premier League down.
Representatives of GFH Capital promised not to spend “crazy money” last month and proved as good as their word, limiting investment in transfer fees to Michael Tonge and Ryan Hall. The £200,000 gained from Becchio’s sale might just about have covered those. In all, the transfer window was more productive than previous Januaries but it arrived in the aftermath of the announcement that Leeds made an operating loss of £3.3m in the last financial year.
It might be that GFH Capital is keeping its powder dry but the bigger picture is difficult to see. Leeds continue to look like a club who are feeling the pinch of cash-flow pressures.
Loyalty whispers, money talks: By today’s standards, Becchio’s transfer request barely constitutes an act of disloyalty.
Yes, he could have hung around and won promotion with Leeds. And yes, he might get found out in the Premier League. But that’s what they said about Bradley Johnson 18 months ago. Becchio is 29 and four-and-a-half years into a career in England’s lower leagues.
If a move to one of Europe’s elite sides was ever his ambition then it should be clear enough that the boat has sailed.
Why shouldn’t money motivate him? It would be nice to think that Becchio struggled to tear himself away from Elland Road but the Argentinian is like the next man – the head of a young family, alive to opportunities and in no way adverse to a better bank balance.
Such is life and such is football. Good luck to a good servant.
Norwich City have Leeds United’s number: Both their direct line and an understanding of how to work the Elland Road club. Speak to people at Leeds and they’ll argue that Steve Morison plus £200,000 was the better side of the deal for Becchio but, once again, Norwich had their way.
City’s modus operandi is perfectly transparent: search around the Football League and find players with room for improvement and price tags befitting a club with a turnover of £75m.
In short, they’ll be back sniffing around Elland Road when the time and the available options are right. You could say that Leeds have done well out of Norwich – up to £2m for Jonathan Howson, up to £3m for Robert Snodgrass and Morison plus £200k for Becchio – but only if you want a veritable kicking up and down Lowfields Road.
The fringe element were taking over Thorp Arch: United’s outgoing transfers this month: Danny Pugh, Andy Gray, Ramon Nunez, Paul Rachubka, Patrick Kisnorbo, Paul Connolly and Robbie Rogers.
When you consider that Pugh alone earns more than £10,000 a week, the drain on United’s wage bill caused by players with no possible chance of appearing regularly for the first team is easy to appreciate.
Some in that list might have offered more in the Championship but there are others whose recruitment makes you rub your eyes.
Robbie Rogers goes down as a weird experiment and the offer to Nunez of a deal until 2015 (with the option of an extra season) showed that punting on imports with no real pedigree in hard, competitive leagues is asking for trouble; a needle-in-a-haystack policy of recruitment.
Re-engagement of United’s supporters is more than a six-day war: Half-season tickets, reduced prices and an official Twitter account were GFH Capital’s first steps towards public harmony but the battle for hearts and minds is not that superficial.
Crowds have been falling in line with rising apathy and the half-season ticket promotion shifted only 350 – a drop in the ocean of empty seats.
The attendance against Bristol City on January 19 was the lowest league crowd on a Saturday afternoon for longer than most people at Elland Road can remember and the fatigue of eight-and-a-half seasons in the Football League is patently taking hold.
Stemming the flow is critical – for United’s financial health if nothing else.