Business Comment: Launders is just the first one to get the boot

Football managers know that the writing is on the wall when the club chairman expresses his full confidence in them. Robin Launders, who parted company with Leeds United yesterday after less than a year in the chief executive's job, was afforded no such advance warning.

Indeed, the decision to "accept his resignation" after a hastily arranged meeting at the club's Elland Road ground evidently came as something of a bolt out of the blue for Mr Launders. He arrived at the club with a reputation as an effective, albeit abrasive manager, having been part of the troika associated with Manchester United's glittering success off the field as much as on it.

It was Mr Launders as finance director who was responsible for the redevelopment of the Old Trafford ground and the commercialisation of the Manchester United name to the point where income from merchandising, catering and the like now comfortably exceeds gate revenues.

Since his arrival at Leeds its performance on the pitch has not exactly set the fans alight. But that is not Mr Launders' problem. The reverse takeover by Caspian provided the club with shareholders as well as supporters and whilst both want success on the field, Mr Launders came with a reputation as the wizard of the financial dribble.

Like footballers themselves, however, track record is not necessarily a guarantee of future performance. Chris Akers, who chairs Caspian, has bankers as well as fans to keep happy. He wants to turn Elland Road into the Madison Square Gardens of the UK through his Project Arena - a pounds 30m scheme to redevelop the ground into a property, leisure and multi-sports complex. Mr Launders, apart from lacking the team skills to rub along with the rest of the management, appears not to have been running at the same pace as his chairman.

It was always clear that the headlong rush towards stock market quotations by so many football clubs would produce casualties among investors. Mix in personalities of the likes of Sir John Hall at Newcastle and Mr Akers and it is a recipe for change in personnel as well. Mr Launders may be the first of the new breed of football chief executives to get the boot but he will surely not be the last.

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