Leeds: Lies, Broken Promises & Politics - Another Takeover Beckons Oblivion
Like a broken record, the history of Leeds United is full of lies, broken promises, politics and carpetbaggers looking for a quick buck; and that's just the last four weeks.
When you last left Camp Elland Road our tails were uncharacteristically up, the twelve months which had elapsed since Bahraini investment bankers GFHC having been largely a tale of new beginnings and the rapid dismantling of former Chairman Ken Bates evil empire. Led by the photogenic MD David Haigh, the new owners had made great strides in reaching out to a fan base so arrogantly disenfranchised by the previous regime, and although there were rumours of cash constraints for Brian McDermott to deal with, on the field the new-ish, young-ish side were learning as they went.
The term “feel good factor” began to be used about the place, coined in the weeks after Bates was deposed, Saddam Hussain like, following an argument about private jets. When Haigh announced in late November that he intended to relieve GFHC of their majority stakeholding whilst also pump priming McDermott's January squad rebuilding plans, many supporters felt like pinching themselves. After ten years in the bowels of the football league, could United be making themselves ready for a return to the big time?
Of course not. Tick followed tock followed tick followed tock. Christmas came and went. Haigh revealed that one of the partners in the four man consortium was Andrew Flowers, a senior figure at shirt sponsors Enterprise Insurance. Flowers was worth so it was reputed a hundred million quid, and was also a devoted fan. Surely we reasoned this was the kind of financial backing that through their Caribbean shell company Sport Capital, the quartet would use to swiftly take the helm, showering the manager in funds? Then came further delays which – it was inferred – were due to officials at the Football League buggering off to Klosters as opposed to ratifying the bidder's credentials via the fit and proper persons test. Then we were told that stage had concluded. And still, nothing.
Had things been going even averagely on the field, such problems might've been made light of. Unfortunately – or typically if you're used to the Leeds pattern – the wheels promptly fell off there too. A capitulation at Rochdale was played down largely due to the FA cup's diminishing importance, although there was no getting away from the abject nature of the team's display itself. Worse however was to follow. A week later the side which were three points outside the play off places at kick off were annihilated 6-0 live on television at Hillsborough, the sort of result which would've done for many managers. Acting with self respect, Sheffield Wednesday produced a DVD of the game, whilst McDermott talked about the need for fresh blood and a rapid conclusion to the takeover, pointing to the detrimental effect on players and staff. The silence however was deafening.
And then, madness.
By the middle of last week it was clear that GFHC and Sport Capital were not sitting together at lunchtime – although both remained tight lipped about it. A rival syndicate, one of whom's members is former United Commercial Director Adam Pearson – had been waiting in the wings after making a bid in December, but had almost conceded defeat earlier on this month. Now though it appeared they were back in the hunt. More jaw dropping still was the mystery presence of Cagliari chairman Massimo Cellino, whose son spent had apparently an afternoon subtly Instagramming the façade of the East Stand whilst “Pops” was, depending on your source, A) Buying Leeds B) On the point of buying Leeds or C) Was advising Haigh and his ever more desperate looking bid. The presence of Cellino was regarded as something of an issue, mainly because he appears to behave like a typical Latin male – sacking coaches as if there is no word in Italian for compensation – but also because of the minor matter of a pending criminal prosecution back home for fraud. Cellino's nickname is the “King of Corn”, an appropriate one it seems for United, as we certainly do know how to pick 'em.
With social media in a state of turmoil, Big Sam Allardyce then decided to give the wobbling ship a good old tip by putting in a bid for the newly invested team captain and top scorer, Ross McCormack. West Ham's bid was rejected – by whoever is running the club – and interest from them is now over. What this temporary reprieve did highlight however is the danger of the deal (And the club's season) coming to a stuttering halt, right in the midst of the period which McDermott and the fans alike recognise as pivotal to any kind of play off bid. Haigh published some blandishments on his Twitter account on Sunday, but as of Monday night, we're still like mushrooms.
I've had the pleasure of reading David Conn's first book The Football Business recently. Written in 1997, it's a fascinating deconstruction of the Premier League's myth making, a book with few heroes but plenty of villains, men who are prepared act as ruthlessly as necessary to build their personal wealth whatever the consequences. It is to be hoped that this is not the case with the figures which lurk in the shadows circling Leeds United, but history tells us that this is unlikely. Whatever the paperwork challenges may be, you sense that somebody's Cayman Island bank account is likely to be several noughts richer once the whole frustrating episode comes to a conclusion. Leeds have spent the last decade on the verge of either rekindled glory or permanent oblivion; only a handful of people on this planet know which way it will go next.