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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 13:35 GMT
Leeds haunted by carefree days
The Elland Road exodus so far
Those who have left, and those who might still go...


Leeds United's January sale has been conducted on a grand scale the High Street can only envy.

But is the policy one of panic, as opposed to an annual boost for business?

Chairman Peter Ridsdale was perceived as a man of vision bringing the promised land to the unlikely setting of Elland Road as David O'Leary threw his weight around in the transfer market to powerful effect.

But this can now be seen as the classic case of a club over-reaching itself to a terrifying extent, and payback time threatens to undermine Leeds for years to come.

WHO HAS LEFT?
Danny Hay
Free to Walsall
Rio Ferdinand
30m to Man Utd
Robbie Keane
7m to Spurs
Olivier Dacourt
Loan to Roma
Lee Bowyer
100,000 to West Ham
Robbie Fowler
6m to Man City
Jonathan Woodgate
9m to Newcastle

Jonathan Woodgate's impending sale to Newcastle United - following hard on the heels of Robbie Fowler's departure to Manchester City - is a public and painful admission that the big gamble has backfired in spectacular style.

And while the cost so far can be counted in players and a clearing of debts, it may soon claim a manager who was not so much offered a poisoned chalice as a lethal cyanide pill.

O'Leary paid the price for not reaching the Champions League - but little did we know that this failure would also lay bare the folly of Leeds' expansive transfer policy.

Terry Venables is not a man who courts sympathy, or has particularly deserved it in the past, but it is a hard-hearted fan who cannot feel Venables is being betrayed by his paymasters.

The former England coach's reign started as it would go on, with Rio Ferdinand's 30m exit to Manchester United coming within days of Venables leaving the comfort of a television studio for Yorkshire.

Leeds fans protest against the clubs policy of selling players to clear debts
Leeds fans protest over the selling policy

Lee Bowyer almost followed to Liverpool while Robbie Keane hit the road to Spurs, but the true extent of Leeds' financial imprudence came with the turn of the year.

The transfer window opened and Venables found his board virtually throwing players out of it to fight off a cash catastrophe.

It has been football's equivalent of a fire sale.

Everything must go - and virtually has.

Bowyer's decision to snub a 9m move to Liverpool was expensive at every level, with the midfielder virtually given away to West Ham after he made it clear he would not sign a new contract.

Olivier Dacourt joined Roma on loan after a proposed 10m-plus move to Lazio cooled.

Fowler was sent to Maine Road on a "never never" basis that hinted at desperation.

And now Woodgate, a piece of family silver Venables claims he had been assured would not be sold to unfurrow the bank manager's brow, is seemingly on his way.

Leeds and England defender Jonathan Woodgate is on his way to Newcastle
Jonathan Woodgate is the latest to be sold off
It is difficult to see what trust or credibility there can be in the relationship between Venables and his board when he told the world his assurance was that Fowler's departure would be the last.

It appears money talks at Leeds - and for far too long it has been saying goodbye.

Now it may be Venables who is next to make his exit.

And who could blame him for refusing to be tainted by the stigma of a club that is going into meltdown?

Leeds United in crisis

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