Leeds board says expect more pain

A new era dawned at Leeds United this week with the newly installed owners failing to offer assurances that either the club’s best players or the stadium would not be sold, and a stark admission that yet more ‘painful” times remain ahead.

For all the rhetoric of the chairperson, Gerald Krasner, an insolvency expert whose six-man consortium completed its purchase last Friday, there was a concession that cutbacks of up to £15-million would have to be made regardless of whether Leeds retain top-flight status.

Should the west Yorkshire club slip into the Nationwide League, savings of nearer £30-million would be needed, though about £11-million will be removed from the wage bill regardless on June 30, when contracts expire.

The players who will depart include David Batty, Jason Wilcox, Michael Bridges and Lucas Radebe, who all earn about £1-million a year, as well as four loan players. About 15 squad members have seven-figure annual salaries, with the yearly bill totalling £35-million. Yet, whether they are relegated or not, the reality remains that the likes of Mark Viduka — who earns £67 000 a week — Alan Smith and Paul Robinson will be sold later this year.

‘The fans are aware that this is not the end of the pain,” said Krasner, who denied he had had any contact with the former Southampton manager Gordon Strachan and will support the current caretaker Eddie Gray until the end of the season. ‘We have 60 footballers on the books and that isn’t commensurate with income. Even if we retain Premiership status, there will have to be some player sales. We have a figure which is manageable.

‘There are a number out of contract at the end of the season and we will slim down and live within our means. We will not be a forced seller, but I’m not going to give any assurances over any individuals. We’ve put in a global figure for player sales if we retain Premiership status and another if we are relegated.”

The new owners paid about £25-million to creditors, settling debts of more than £80-million from a total deficit of £105-million, to take over and, though debt remains, they claim to have drawn up three strategies to suit life in the Premiership or the First Division. Selling Elland Road and then renting it back has not been ruled out.

‘We are looking at three or four alternatives, one of which involves a sale and lease back, but it is not our first choice,” said the chairperson, with worries persisting given the consortium’s reliance upon the property developer Jack Petchey to complete the deal.

‘Within that arrangement there would be such a long lease that football would remain here and we would be paying rent, not interest. But we have alternative strategies and Elland Road will continue to be the home of Leeds United as long as I’m the chairman.

‘Petchey has assisted in providing finance to do with the immediate problems of the loan-note holders, who were owed £60-million. He is not a name in the consortium, or a director, or an investor. He’s made finances available. There’s a time limit to pay him back.

‘We now owe the sort of money a normal Premiership club owes. We’ve split the debts into various categories, negotiating a write-off of some debts, a postponement of some and scheduled payments of others. The loan-note holders were owed £60-million guaranteed on the stadium. Now we have control of the site.

”As for the future, we have three strategies: if we stay up; if we go down and straight back up; and if we don’t bounce back. We haven’t gone into this blinkered.”

Yet some will find Krasner’s willingness to slip into sound-bite mode — ‘Football’s a funny game, a game of two halves and we’re in the first half” — and his willingness to surround himself with figures such as the former Bradford chairperson Geoffrey Richmond alarming. He took City into administration and admitted he advised Krasner against becoming involved with Leeds.

Krasner ignored that advice and, this week, received a congratulatory e-mail from the former chairperson, Peter Ridsdale. ‘There’ll be no goldfish in my boardroom,” he added. ‘We’d have had to have won the Champions League every year to cover ourselves after what the previous regime spent. Now this is about consolidation.

‘We hope to make money, maybe in 10 years, but this club is not going to run on borrowed money. We believe we’ve saved Leeds from extinction and we are here for the long term.” —

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