The Thing Is: Administration or bust: can football's fallen giant make it past half time?

Leeds Utd
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The Independent Online

They think it's all over... and for Leeds United, it just might be. The football club last week warned it would have no choice but to call in the administrators if the restructuring of its mammoth £81m debt pile could not be agreed.

It has given itself three months, though in reality Christmas will be the cut-off point. Since the Premiership was formed, the team residing at the bottom of the league after the festive season is always relegated, and Leeds will not want that grim statistic devaluing its already meagre worth even further. What is more, if Leeds is to survive on and off the pitch, it must take advantage of the January transfer window, where it faces the unenviable prospect of selling players to raise cash and reduce a crippling wage bill, while striving to strengthen an under-performing squad.

The fact is, with so much debt, Leeds has little room to move and administration would at least give it some breathing space. It could also have a "gun to the head" effect on creditors, forcing the American bondholders, who are owed £60m, and the Guernsey-based finance firm holding the remaining debt to renegotiate terms. It could also attract a potential buyer. After all, why buy now when you could pick it up on the cheap in administration and start again with a clean slate? It is a rare piece of good fortune for Leeds that the Premier League recently vetoed plans to introduce, as the lower divisions have, a 10-point penalty for clubs that go into administration.

Potential buyers fall into two camps. The first is a football-loving eccentric with money to burn. As Charles Escott, a partner at RSM Robson Rhodes, who has worked on the administration of Bury and Barnsley football clubs, says: "There are always individuals around the country and world interested in owning one of the 20 jewels in the Premiership."

And then there is Leeds director Allan Leighton and Sheikh Abdul bin Mubarak al-Khalifa. The sheikh, a member of the Bahraini royal family and apparently an avowed Leeds supporter for the past 25 years, is the mystery investor who, with Mr Leighton, has offered to inject £4.4m into the club. The plan had been to convert that into shares and restructure the club's finances though a placing. Indeed, it is understood that the club, which on Friday had a market value of £8m, was optimistic the deal would go through.

But the complex negotiations between the myriad of parties involved failed to nail terms and the club has run out of time to do the placing before the Christmas deadline.

It would seem that administration, while risky, could be an ideal solution for the club, though ultimately, just as it is on the pitch, the battle for Leeds boils down to two teams. On one side are the bondholders, who want to protect their investment, and on the other, new investors who have the cash to keep the venture afloat.

A stand-off appears to be going on; the reality is that without the co-operation of all parties, there is no alternative but to give Leeds over to the administrators.