Time troubled Leeds found an answer to their ongoing woes

Gary VerityGary Verity
Gary Verity
ON the day Bobby Collins, arguably Leeds United’s most important signing, was laid to rest in the city, the future of the club he and Don Revie built into one of English football’s finest became shrouded in fresh uncertainty.

News that Sport Capital, the consortium fronted by current managing director David Haigh, had yesterday abandoned its attempts to buy a 75 per cent shareholding in Leeds may not have come as too much of a surprise. The bid had clearly been in trouble long before Andrew Flowers, a key member of Haigh’s group, broke ranks on Tuesday night to claim the goalposts had been shifted by United’s owners, Gulf Finance House.

Nevertheless, confirmation that Sport Capital, who have ploughed £6m in loans into Leeds over recent months, was ready to walk away has led worried supporters to ponder, ‘What next?’

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Two bids remain on the table. One is from a group fronted by Mike Farnan, a former Sunderland marketing chief, whose attempts to buy a stake were rebuffed late last year. The other involves controversial Italian owner Massimo Cellino, who appears in pole position following Sport Capital’s decision to walk away.

Cellino, in charge of Serie A side Cagliari since 1992, has already made his impact felt at United’s Thorp Arch training ground, where several of his associates – including former Middlesbrough defender Gianluca Festa – have spent the past week keeping a watching brief.

Festa, a close confidant of Cellino and believed to be the Italian’s choice as manager if he takes control, also wanted to watch Tuesday night’s Championship game with Ipswich Town from the home dugout – but this request was, quite rightly, turned down.

As to which of the two bidders GFH favour, that seems to depend on who you talk to.

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A statement released yesterday by the Bahrain investment bank, their first public utterance on the ownership saga for several weeks, contained little more than a pledge that any sale would be “in the best interests of Leeds United”.

Unsurprisingly, this has done little to appease supporters who are growing more concerned with each passing day. The current uncertainty means no one, not even the key parties involved it seems, can predict with any confidence what will happen this weekend other than Huddersfield Town will be at Elland Road tomorrow afternoon.

United could, at a moment’s notice, be bought by an Italian who, in two decades at the helm of his hometown club, has sacked 36 managers. Alternatively, they could be in the hands of a British group about which little is known other than Farnan and Gary Verity, the chief executive of ‘Welcome to Yorkshire, are involved.

Or by Monday morning a saga that is now into its third month could be no further forward and a Middle East investment bank, who have made no secret of their desire to sell since the very beginning, is still at the helm.

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This being Leeds, of course, we have all been here before. A little over nine years ago, in fact, when it became clear that time was running out for the Gerald Krasner-led Yorkshire consortium.

Leeds had been relegated and things had become so bleak that then-captain Paul Butler felt the need to urge the United board, via the pages of this newspaper, to put the club into administration.

His logic was that if Leeds were to be deducted 10 points, it had to happen sooner rather than later so the players knew where they stood in the fight to avoid relegation.

Butler’s plea, unsurprisingly, fell on deaf ears. But the captain going public in such a way was an indication of how desperate things had become.

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Ross McCormack may be unlikely to make a similar appeal this time around. But there are clear parallels with 2004-05, when poor results on the pitch came against a background of boardroom uncertainty as rival bidders – Sebastien Sainsbury and local businessman Norman Stubbs – tried and failed to strike a deal to buy United.

A sad state of affairs for a club whose golden past was briefly brought back to mind yesterday as the football world said goodbye to Bobby Collins.

The impasse needs breaking... and fast.