It is received wisdom, unquestionably true, that Ken Bates is the worst thing that ever happened to Leeds United and the undeniable purveyor of all that is evil not just in the LS11 post code but in the entire universe. And very possibly in any parallel universes that might exist as well.
Not since Descartes illuminated the world with his famous musing, ‘I think, therefore I am’, has anything been so unquestionably and self-evidently true. Consequently it seems incumbent on someone, anyone, to try and do the impossible and look at things from a different angle, if for no other reason than to say it was tried and rejected.
So I hereby take it upon myself to risk a Yorkshire fatwa and years of living with round the clock police protection by suggesting that Mr ‘Cuddly’ Ken Bates might not be quite so overarchingly heinous after all. I’ll go further and suggest that he might actually be good for the club.
I’ll start by saying, without any expectation of anyone accepting the point, that I am not a Bates ‘apologist’, I do not work for him, am not related to him, and have no interest other than my love for Leeds Utd cultivated over 40 years. I started in the ‘Bates Out!’ camp, but having forced myself to look at every issue from a different point of view, I’m now really not so sure.
So I hereby take it upon myself to risk a Yorkshire fatwa and years of living with round the clock police protection by suggesting that Mr ‘Cuddly’ Ken Bates might not be quite so overarchingly heinous after all
Before I offer some alternative’s to the prevailing views I think it’s fair to accept some of the points made by Ken’s detractors (everyone on the planet!).
Mr Bates does not come across as a very nice person, or someone that you’d be keen to get into a business deal with. He appears to go out of his way to be offensive, often unnecessarily inflaming minor situations with insensitive and downright rude comments. Is this important in the round? Yes it is, because any business person thrives and survives partly on their ‘personal brand’, the ability to project a positive and trustworthy image to potential business partners and customers. Ken Bates is not that person, and I’d be surprised if the accusation made by many fans, that Bates drives off potential investors, wasn’t at least partially true.
The rampant and universal dislike for Bates personally might however have prevented many of from stepping back to view the bigger picture.
Here are some slightly different interpretations of events and some reasons why Ken might not be quite as bad as we fear.
1. The main criticism of most football clubs is their overspending on players and wages and the financial threat such excesses entail. Who knows this better than Leeds United? I, like others, enjoyed life-long Leeds fan Peter Ridsdale’s tenure and the success and style of the club on the pitch….right up to the point where we went bust that is. Under Ken Bates that is never going to happen, I think we can all agree on that one. If points are to be awarded for financial prudence then the incumbent Chairman must rank pretty highly
2. Ken Bates is not a Leeds fan as such, he didn’t buy club for emotive reasons, but I think that could prove to be a good thing. The reasons for Bates buying the club in the first place are interesting. A pure business decision? There are easier ways to make money than through a football club, as the balance sheets of most clubs would demonstrate. Bates has gone on record as saying that he wanted one last football challenge, to return Leeds Utd to their place in the first flight. I see no reason to believe this isn’t the case, Bates appears to enjoy being in the football business, along with making a huge profit along the way. I see no problem with this motive, what’s wrong with acquiring a business with a strong brand and excellent potential when it’s at its lowest and cheapest ebb? I suspect that if and when Leeds return to the Premiership we will see Bates sell out to new investors and pocket the profit. Good luck to him. If he can deliver that endpoint to his Chairmanship will fans not be contented?
3. Much of the recent bemoaning from Leeds fans surrounds the investment in corporate boxes and other general infrastructure such as stands and the exterior facia of the club. Of course one can argue about the split between investment in the squad and investment in infrastructure, but the very fact of Ken’s investment here suggests that he does have a longer term vision. If Bates motives were simply to leech money out of the club at every opportunity then we wouldn’t be seeing such investment. If the club is to return to the very top then it will indeed to consider the facilities on offer, this investment does need to be made at some point and now is the probably the very best time to be commissioning building projects. One might imagine that construction companies would be very prepared to sharpen their pencils considerably with so little work available.
Of course one can argue about the split between investment in the squad and investment in infrastructure, but the very fact of Ken’s investment here suggests that he does have a longer term vision. If Bates motives were simply to leech money out of the club at every opportunity then we wouldn’t be seeing such investment.
4. Promotion to the Premiership is fraught with its own dangers and needs to be managed in a sustainable fashion. Leeds need to be promoted with the basis of a squad that has the ability to make the step up, a squad that will need some expensive and higher quality additions but will not need completely replacing, Leeds cannot afford to buy a premiership team once promoted. If at least a solid core of the players are not capable of life in the Premiership they’ll simply suffer the indignity of relegation all over again. If Leeds invest heavily in a better squad good enough for the Premiership and don’t get immediate promotion, then what? A higher wage bill, financial pressure because Championship income isn’t close to Premiership income, a wave of selling to get the costs down, and back to square one. Building a squad for promotion and life in the top flight needs to be done organically, though the development of players, and must go hand in hand with the existing income of the club. Leeds took at risk a decade ago, made the huge investment and made the assumption of Champions League income, and where did that go? One can make a variety of arguments, but the current investment split between infrastructure and players, and prudent progress made towards the Premiership, seems at least reasonable. One final note on this point, I understand that if the club are promoted this season there will be a £5 million payment to the tax man due. This clause expires at the end of this season. I’m sure that point hasn’t bypassed Mr Bates radar, and who’s to say it’s not a point worth considering?
5. The culmination of most Leeds fans complaints is the perceived lack of investment in the squad. This is perhaps the area where fans are the most blinkered. It took Simon Grayson two years to get out of League One with a squad more than capable of doing so immediately. Promotion was gained in a less than edifying manner. Having been out of sight in January the club limped over the line on the final day. All very exciting it was, I shed a few tears, but the under performance of the team in the second half of the season got lost in the joy of promotion. Expectations were low coming into the Championship, but in the end disappointment reigned as Leeds slid away from the play offs as a several year poor defensive record came home to roost. No lack of investment there, just player under performance under a manager who was never able to get the best from his players when the chips were really down. The same scenario has played again this season, time and again the team has under-performed, and no-one really dissented in the decision to remove Grayson. Leeds United have either been promoted or just missed out on promotion or the play offs for several successive seasons. There is consensus that the team and manager have to carry much responsibility for a very poor defensive record and a seemingly poor record of stepping up when required. What justification is there for saying that Bates has not provided a squad good enough for promotion every season for the last 4 years?
The fact that the team has only just missed out each time having stuttered every year suggest this is true. Had Grayson achieved promotion in his first year and then made the play offs the following season, as he so nearly did, we might now be looking at a team that Ken Bates took from League One to the Premiership in super quick time. Bates may not have provided footballing gold on the pitch, but a team that should have made the play offs for a place at the top table last season? Yes, I think objectively that he did.
As it stand today Leeds have a manager that all feel is capable of getting the best from the players, but not even a grudging acceptance that Bates engineered that position. Leeds sit close enough to the play offs to still make it. If they do achieve promotion can Ken Bates really be so bad?
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