IN lamenting what he considers to have been a “wasted season” for Leeds United, out-going chairman Ken Bates last night revealed how the protracted takeover saga thwarted his plan to sack Neil Warnock last October.
The 81-year-old will tomorrow attend the final game of his reign as chairman when Brighton & Hove Albion bring the curtain down on United’s Elland Road campaign. Coincidentally, the Seagulls were also the opposition for Bates’s first home game in January, 2005.
Much has happened over the intervening eight years and three months, a period that has included two play-off final appearances, a spell in administration, one promotion, one relegation and a host of famous Cup wins.
Bates sold United to GFH Capital, a Dubai-based private equity firm, in December last year, when it was announced he would remain as chairman until the end of the season and then become president.
As proud as Bates is of his Leeds reign, he also admits to being frustrated at not being able to deliver the number one target when taking over from Gerald Krasner’s board.
Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, Bates said: “The plan when I came in was to get Leeds back in the Premier League but, unfortunately, that has not been possible.
“In that respect, this season has been particularly frustrating, as I feel we really should have been at least challenging. In many ways, it has been a wasted season. A lost year, if you like.”
The past 12 months have been dogged by uncertainty at Elland Road with GFH Capital’s takeover taking the best part of six months to complete. Since then, a 10 per cent share has been sold to Bahrain-based International Investment Bank.
Bates, whose sale of Chelsea in 2003 to Roman Abramovich took a matter of weeks, is adamant the protracted saga has impacted on a season United have mainly spent in mid-table.
He said: “There is no doubt, in my mind, that the uncertainty which has hung like a cloud over Elland Road for a year has been a major factor in our unsuccessful season.
“As everyone knows, we agreed a 90-day exclusivity period (with GFH Capital) that was due to run until August.
“We took that to mean the deal would be completed during that period, meaning the club could still have a real go at getting promotion this season. Instead, things dragged on and, eventually, they (GFH) asked for an extension to November 19, which was turned down.
“Despite that, what we did agree to do was keep talking and, obviously, the deal went through on December 21.
“What people won’t be aware of, though, is that two clauses were included in our agreement with GFH. One was that we could make no material change without consulting GFH, while the other was that Neil Warnock had to stay as manager.
“It meant any player bought or sold from June (2012) onwards had to be discussed and approved by Salem Patel, on behalf of GFH. We were happy to do that because, as I say, we thought the takeover would go through during the summer.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t and, instead, the deal wasn’t done until December 21. A consequence was that we had to keep Neil Warnock when I didn’t think we should.
“I wanted to sack him in October because I didn’t think it was working out. But I couldn’t because of what was happening with the sale.”
Warnock’s tenure as United manager finally ended on April 1, almost six weeks after he had first mooted the possibility of stepping down in the wake of the FA Cup fifth round defeat to Manchester City.
The 64-year-old’s departure came just a couple of days after he had publicly lambasted defender Tom Lees for his “stupid” red card in United’s 3-0 defeat at Ipswich Town. Warnock’s assertion that Lees had “let me down, the team down and the fans who travelled” left the Leeds chairman so incensed he immediately telephoned the Academy product.
Bates added: “I didn’t like what he did to Tom Lees. To criticise Tom like that was terrible. After we heard what had been said post-match by Warnock, Suzannah and I rang Tom on the bus home.
“I told him, ‘Forget what has been said, it is a disgrace’. We then told Tom what a valuable member of the squad he was.”
On Warnock, Bates added: “We went for one of only three managers to win seven promotions but it didn’t work out. Warnock was always getting his excuses in first.
“I kept hearing how we didn’t sign this player or that player. But we found the money for (Lee) Peltier, (Jason) Pearce, (Paddy) Kenny, (Rodolph) Austin, (Ryan) Hall and (Luke) Varney in the summer.
“The only player we didn’t sign who Neil really wanted was Clint Hill. He’s 34 and yet Warnock wanted us to commit £1.5m in wages and transfer fee. That was in January and we weren’t prepared to do that.”
Bates may not have too many positive things to say about United’s last manager but he has been impressed by his successor.
“Brian McDermott has made a big impression on everyone already,” he said. “Suzannah and I went for lunch with Brian (on Wednesday).
“He came across as a thoroughly decent man, who had plenty of interesting things to say.
“I found it interesting that he had spent the past two weeks finding out exactly what has gone on at Leeds United for the past three years. I also liked what Brian had to say about players living locally.
“At Reading, they all lived within 10 miles of the club. No-one commuted long distances, whereas at Leeds we have players living 100 miles or more away.”
Bates on his reign: Page 24.