Leeds United - A giant held back by years of incompetent frauds
30 Aug 2020 08:49 am, by YorkshireSquare
In a recent interview with the Square Ball, Leeds United chief executive Angus Kinnear described the club as “probably the most investable proposition in world football” at the present time. It’s hard to disagree with that. A one club city with a huge fan base, a proud history and the potential to bring in massive commercial revenues comparable with any club outside of the top four or five teams in the country. These are facts that make the mismanagement of Leeds United football club over the past two decades even more criminal. Leeds United should have been competing in the top tier of English football, instead they have languished in the Championship and League One, run by incompetent frauds.
Our decline started with Peter Ridsdale, sure we experienced the highs of challenging at the top of English and European football, reaching the Champions League semi-finals, but Ridsdale gambled the club’s future on the revenues of back to back Campions League qualification would bring, and he lost. The squad was sold of piece by piece for a lot less than players were bought for to cover the losses but it wasn’t enough. By the time he left the club in March 2003 the club was £103m in debt, a debt the club would not recover from for a long time. With the squad sold and no money left to replace them relegation was inevitable.
Professor John McKenzie a long-time fan and investor was made Chairman, part of the old regime he was guilty by association. He quickly made drastic cost savings including redundancies whilst lining his own pockets with £380,000 made up of salaries and ‘consultancy fees’, he stepped down before coming under fire from the shareholders at the 2003 AGM. Trevor Birch was next at the helm, there was little he could do but fight fires, which he did to his credit. He staved off administration whilst keeping player sales to the minimum before finding a new buyer for the club. He is the only one to come away with any credit perhaps.
Next up was the ‘Yorkshire Consortium’ of Gerald Krasner and co. It’s a brave undertaking, buying a football club with £100 million worth of debts when you don’t have a pot to p**s in but that’s what they did. Perhaps they deserve more credit than they get for keeping the club alive and reducing debts to a ‘manageable’ £25m but I will never forgive them for the way they funded the purchase of the club. A £15m loan from Jack Petchey, which the board were personally liable for, was used. The sale of Elland Road to their business associates was needed to pay off the outstanding balance and clear their personal liabilities. This came on top of the sale of Thorp Arch training complex.
Then came Ken bates, what to say that has not already been said? The man who claimed to have ‘Saved the club’ called the supporters ‘morons’, divided the fan base, presided over administration and saw us relegated to League One. There is little doubt Bates skimmed money off the top for him and his investors and wasted much of the club’s revenues on white elephant building projects, court cases and failing radio stations. Radio stations which would be used to harassment former directors. Eight years of stagnation which saw protests and demonstrations. When we did have an opportunity to push on under Grayson the squad was sold from under him; Gradel, Howson and Snodgrass all gone, there was little chance of ever seeing that money being reinvested.
Kens final parting gift was to sell the club to gfh, the Islamic investment bank that knew f**k all about football. Interested in making a quick buck only debts actually rose during their stewardship, £17m by the time they sold the club to Massimo Cellino. A liability still held by the club in the form of a debenture when Radrizzani’s Eleonora Sports finally took 100% control of the club. The rumours that their transfer targets were based on Football Manager and asking fans on Twitter were sadly and comedically true and they showed themselves to be a lovely bunch of people when they had one of their former colleagues arrested and locked up in a Dubai prison for two years.
It’s amazing to think that the next owner, Massimo Cellino, was possibly not even the worst we had had in recent years. Not the worst but definitely the craziest, a madman who made Leeds a laughing stock. Being chased around Elland Road by fans after sacking Brian McDermott, appointing a manager from non-league and inviting Mini-Me to games may have been some of the more amusing stories from his reign but the less amusing side was that he ripped the heart out of the club. Dogged by court cases from the day he arrived he was never fit to run the club.
Under Cellino’s tenure wages were not paid, long-term, respected employees sacked, facilities at Thorp Arch closed, players were forced to bring in their own lunch and the Academy run down. The squad was filled with second rate players from second rate Italian clubs coached by second rate coaches, all who were being spied on by a former furniture salesman from Miami. A former club employee once described Cellino as ‘The most disrespectful man I have ever come across’ and that was proved true. He did not respect the fans or the club, as Bates and Ridsdale before him he cared only for himself.
Andrea Radrizzani was a brave man dealing with Celino and the mess he found at Leeds United, but he could see the potential in the club. Radrizzani may not be one of the richest owners in English football but he has poured significant personal investment into the club and perhaps more importantly he has invested in the right people. Victor Orta and Angus Kinnear are experienced and competent and have driven a change in culture behind the scenes at the club for the better. Sure, not everything has been perfect, Paul Heckingbottom, the trip to Myanmar and the proposed new club badge obvious errors of judgement but so far, they has been good custodians of the club.
As a businessman Radrizzani has to balance the investment with the potential rewards, much to the frustration of some fans but getting that balance wrong is what got us into this situation in the first place. Risks have been taken, Marcelo Bielsa the obvious one, moving from a 5-year plan to a 3-year plan, paying a head coach crazy money in the Championship! It was a risk but a calculated one which has paid off. Now Leeds have reclaimed their rightful place in the Premier League they can capitalise, top tier shirt deals and record-breaking sponsorship deals prove the potential of Leeds United and how much the gaggle of narcissistic frauds that have come before have held us back.
Now Leeds United are under two weeks before starting their first Premier League campaign for 16 years, we own our own ground and have plans to move our newly crowned Category A status academy to state of the art facilities around Elland Road, we’ve just smashed our transfer record and brought in two quality international players and still have the best manager in the league. It’s clear from the signings to date that Radrizzani has high ambitions. It is right for us as fans to question the custodians of our club and hold them to account, especially given what has come before but no longer held back by incompetence, the club is in the best situation both financially and on the pitch than it has been for a long time.
It’s a truly exciting time to be a Leeds United fan.