THE scale of the financial crisis engulfing Leeds United was last night laid bare by manager Brian McDermott and his players having to take a wage deferral.
After an intense few days of speculation as to whether owners Gulf Finance House would be able to cover the March salary bill as scheduled on the final Friday of the month, it emerged that the Elland Road squad had not been paid in full.
Talks between the club hierarchy and the Professional Footballers’ Association yesterday morning then thrashed out a deal that saw the players accept a part payment of 50 per cent.
It is understood a bigger proportion could not be paid because there was simply no other money left in the club’s account.
Sources have suggested that the remainder will be paid to McDermott and his squad once Massimo Cellino’s appeal against his £25m takeover being rejected by the Football League is heard.
No date has, as yet, been set for the appeal – which will be heard by an independent QC – but it is expected to go ahead early next week.
Cellino, who had paid the wages for the previous two months and settled a winding-up order brought against the club, is in dispute with GFH, the Bahrain-based investment bank that bought United from Ken Bates late in 2012, as to who should pay the wages.
GFH insists that the Italian, after exchanging contracts on February 7, is liable but he will not hand over any more cash until the question of whether he can complete the £25m deal for a 75 per cent stake is resolved.
This stand-off led to Hisham Alreyes, the head of GFH, flying into England on Wednesday from the Middle East in what proved to be a fruitless attempt to raise funds from outside parties.
Supporters can surely be excused for asking why the bank, which is not believed to have funded United since October, could not find the necessary money itself.
GFH, however, last night maintained a public silence.
Administration – and a 10-point deduction – remains a huge worry for those same fans even though David Haigh, the club’s managing director, has denied it is a possibility.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the PFA, also played down those fears. He did the same when asked if the PFA would have to use its benevolent fund to temporarily loan Leeds money, adding: “It is there to help players in times of hardship and it is a last resort. I don’t think we are at that stage yet but it is a recourse that is available to us.”
As for the part-payment of wages brokered yesterday, Taylor said: “The players are realistic and we are optimistic that the issue can be resolved.
“It is quite political at Leeds regarding the ownership but we have been in touch with our members and a solution has been found. Everyone is satisfied with the way we are going forward.
“Whilst we are never happy to see this, we are hopeful of seeing the situation resolved.”
Non-playing staff at Elland Road did receive their full salaries as planned yesterday. It is believed, however, that creditors’ bills are piling up with all manner of businesses and the taxman demanding payment.
Last night, the Together Leeds consortium – which includes Mike Farnan, Gary Verity and Adam Pearson – urged the club’s outgoing owners to reconsider its bid if the Italian is prevented from completing his takeover at Elland Road.
“We are a very sound group,” said Farnan. “We are a very experienced group. We have the interests of the football club at heart. We do not want to the see the club going into administration.
“If Massimo Cellino fails with the appeal, we want to be the alternative choice to take this football club forwards.”
Coming on the back of Tuesday’s 4-1 defeat at Bournemouth, yesterday’s events mean Doncaster Rovers will surely never have a better chance of putting one over their Yorkshire rivals than today.
Despite that, Rovers manager Paul Dickov, once a loanee at Elland Road, admits to feeling sympathy for his Leeds counterpart.
He said: “It shouldn’t happen at a club like Leeds, not the size of it and its history. It is a bit of a disgrace, really. Brian is more experienced than me and doesn’t need me telling him he is doing a great job – but he has been fantastic.
“At Oldham (when Dickov was manager), there were a few occasions when the players didn’t get paid. What you try and do as a manager is get that siege mentality and it’s ‘them against us’. We will have to be wary of that.”