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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 14:15 GMT
Leeds pay for living the dream
World Football's Mike Geddes sums up a turbulent week for Leeds United...
The temptation of a spot in the lucrative European Champions League can force clubs to take tremendous risks - but what happens when the gamble doesn't pay off?
This week, Leeds United of England are finding out exactly that.
This was the team that Peter built. A year ago players like Lee Bowyer, Robbie Keane, Robbie Fowler, Rio Ferdinand, Olivier Dacourt and Jonathan Woodgate were the men Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale was hoping would establish the team he has supported since childhood as genuine title contenders in England and in Europe.
Less than two years ago they were one game away from the European Cup final, having brushed aside Roma, Lazio and Deportivo La Coruna on the way.
Ridsdale was a hero in his native Yorkshire. Not any more.
His attempts to build a team to rival Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal had not come cheap. At the end of their last financial year in 2002, Leeds United Plc had debts of nearly 120 million Euros.
And when Manchester United offered 50 million for captain Rio Ferdinand, Ridsdale had to accept. For the fans, it felt like betrayal - but the worst was yet to come.
Manager David O'Leary paid the price for twice failing to qualify for the Champions League with his job, but for Leeds the consequences were far more serious.
In the next year, without the income of the Champions League, Leeds had to sell Robbie Keane to Tottenham, Olivier Dacourt to Roma, Lee Bowyer to West Ham and Robbie Fowler to Manchester City.
And last week they sold star defender Jonathan Woodgate to rivals Newcastle United for 13 million Euros. For many supporters, this was the last straw. There were angry demonstrations at the ground, and many offered to give back or tear up their season tickets.
The next day, under pressure from the media and the fans, the chairman faced his critics.
"I have always tried to stand up and lead, and while I am chairman of this club I will continue to do so" he said.
"Should we have spent so heavily in the past? Probably not. But we lived the dream. Only by making the right decisions today can we rekindle the dream in the future. The future's brighter for all Leeds United fans today because we took the tough decisions".
"I was assured that if Robbie Fowler left Jonathan Woodgate wouldn't go" said new manager Terry Venables, who has seen his team stripped of its jewels in just a few months.
He's already admitted he could quit at the end of the season, and says he understands the fans' feelings.
"It's very difficult not to understand the supporters' position. I think everyone sympathises with them because what has happened to this club is not what you'd expect" he said.
'Not what you'd expect seems like something of an understatement.
Simon Jose, founder of the Leeds United Independent Supporters Association, summed up the frustration of the fans.
"I appreciate that we had good times, but you trust a Plc board to spend wisely because they are business people" he said.
"But they haven't spent wisely. They've played financial Russian roulette with the future of the club and they've failed. And the failure is of Biblical proportions.
"Its as if they are saying that the fans should be checking the balance sheet themselves so they aren't spending too much - that's the job of the chairman and the other board members" he went on.
"Alright, we've enjoyed it but we're not going to get much enjoyment now, are we?"
Pauline McCole of the BBC's business unit explains that being a Plc enabled Leeds United to borrow far more money than if it was privately owned.
"Leeds' problems still lie in the future" she said.
"Effectively, it's mortgaged its gate receipts which at the moment can barely cover the cost of the interest on Leeds' loans.
"Next September Leeds will have to start paying off the loans themselves, so unless it can generate some extra income, probably from playing in Europe, its hard to see how it will be able to meet the commitments to the loans.
"If by the Autumn of next year Leeds aren't in Europe and have no extra income to start paying off their debts, then the debt collectors will be asking what else they can take in lieu of hard cash".
Peter Ridsdale is always keen to stress that he is a fan, and certainly he gambled for the good of Leeds United. Only time will tell just how costly a gamble this has been.
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