Leeds Look To Rise From The Ashes

Last updated : 03 November 2006 By Pete Oliver
No longer a force in domestic football, never mind in Europe, Leeds's capitulation on the field had gone hand in hand with their problems off it.

Former chairman Peter Ridsdale admitted under his guidance Leeds had "lived the dream" as they reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001.

However, it was a dream built on sand as failure to qualify again for the lucrative European competition -- a place in the UEFA Cup was of scant consolation -- triggered a spectacular financial collapse.

Having run up debts in excess of £100m ($190.7 million), Leeds sacked manager David O'Leary in June 2002 and were forced to sell their best players.

England international defender Rio Ferdinand joined Manchester United for a British record fee of almost £30m and was followed out of the door by Jonathan Woodgate, Robbie Fowler, Alan Smith, Robbie Keane, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Paul Robinson.

Terry Venables, Peter Reid and Eddie Gray followed O'Leary into the manager's chair but none could reverse the club's ailing fortunes and in 2004 the 1992 league champions were relegated.

Financially, Leeds teetered on the brink of total collapse. A consortium led by Gerald Krasner took control in March 2004 and bought the Yorkshire club in the north east of England some time.

Their debts were reduced to less than 25 million pounds through a range of deals which included selling United's home, Elland Road, and the club's Thorp Arch training ground and leasing them back.

But the threat of liquidation was never far away and after goalkeeper Scott Carson had been sold to Liverpool in January, 2005 to pay staff wages, Leeds were just hours away from going out of business.

Then, out of the blue emerged former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates to complete a 10 million pounds takeover which saved Leeds from going bust and reduced debts to around £17m.

According to former manager Kevin Blackwell that figure would be almost zero in less than 12 months, although he will not be around to benefit after getting the sack in September following a poor start to the season in which

Leeds dropped towards the second division relegation zone. The normally outspoken Bates was reluctant to discuss finances when he unveiled former Chelsea player Dennis Wise as Blackwell's successor last month.

Although the 74-year-old, who bought Chelsea for one pound in 1982 and then sold the London club to Roman Abramovich for £17m 21 years later, has made no secret of the fact that he thinks Leeds belong in the top-flight.

"Leeds need to be back in the Premiership and we have appointed Dennis and Gus (Poyet) because we believe they are the team to lead the team back into the Premiership," he said.

Promotion would guarantee an income from the Premier League of around £20m but Bates believes football status should come first when chasing promotion.

"It's a football need. Fans don't give a damn about the finances. They want to know what the result is on a Saturday."

Despite being 21st in the second division table, three points above bottom club Southend, Leeds now boast a squad that should not be threatened by relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time.

Wise, captain of Chelsea when Bates was in control at Stamford Bridge, will not use money as a reason for not succeeding.

"I am not going to be one to stand here and make excuses about finances. Finances are nothing to do with me. I am here to coach the team and get the team performing," he said.

A league win over Southend on Saturday offered a shaft of light in the gloom, although Tuesday's 4-1 defeat at Preston North End left Wise in no doubt as to the task he faces.

Thanks To Guardian Unlimited