Bates makes Wise choice in effort to put the snarl back into Leeds United

Chairman's appointment of kindred spirit as manager may be what is needed to save Elland Road club. By Nick Harris
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The Independent Football

Ken Bates and Dennis Wise: a chairman-manager dream team for Leeds United or two short fuses waiting to ignite another nasty explosion in South Yorkshire football? One of them is a gobby, hot-headed, mischievous controversialist, by turns highly entertaining and almost inexplicably harsh. So is the other.

What also unites them, and may ultimately persuade any sceptical Leeds fans that their partnership can thrive, is their history of shared success at Chelsea, and the fighting spirit inherent in both men that earned it. Such spirit has been conspicuous by its absence at Elland Road as Leeds have slipped to second bottom of the Championship with a string of heavy - and gutless - defeats.

Opinion is split among supporters and those who know the pair well as to why Bates should now choose Wise to follow Kevin Blackwell in to the manager's chair. Some, like John Boocock, the former chairman of the club's Supporters' Trust - who is still a Trust member but an avowed critic of Bates - believe he has little choice. "There are few if any other candidates who want to deal with Bates," he says.

Mark Hughes, the Blackburn Rovers manager who played alongside Wise and under Bates' chairmanship at Chelsea, argued yesterday that Wise has shown his potential as a top-class manager.

"He has a fantastic work ethic, not only as a player but as a manager," Hughes said. "He came to see our reserve game [from Swindon] the other week and that is a round trip of about 400 miles. I think that shows how determined he is to be successful as a manager. He had decent success with Millwall where he took them to the FA Cup final, so the guy is a winner and I am sure he will be a success at Leeds United."

Bates has proved over a long period, with his money and actions, that he is an admirer of Wise's feisty attitude and leadership qualities. He sanctioned his signing from Wimbledon for Chelsea in 1990 for £1.6m, then a club record. He celebrated as Wise, his club captain, led Chelsea to FA Cup wins in 1997 and 2000, the League Cup in 1998 and the Cup-Winners' Cup the same season.

He backed his man through controversy, including the 1995 assault of a London taxi driver that resulted in a three-month prison sentence, later overturned on appeal. Even Wise's on-field disciplinary record, which led to multiple bans - he missed up to 15 games in a season - were taken as part of the package, not as a reason for excessive censure. The pair have long been friends off the pitch, and Bates is godfather to Wise's son.

Wise admires Bates for his friendship over nearly two decades, and for his loyalty, which was most recently displayed, ironically, when Bates stuck with Blackwell when he initially bought Leeds rather than hire Wise straight away, as many believed he would.

Wise feels Leeds have huge potential and that Bates is likely to give him greater financial backing than he had either at Millwall or Swindon. Indeed, not long after Bates took control in 2005, Wise - then still at Millwall - said: "He can turn Leeds into another Chelsea."

As a manager, Wise's high point so far was reaching the 2004 FA Cup final with a non-star line-up epitomised by the craft of Tim Cahill, then on his ascendancy to the Premiership, and the no-nonsense play of the Australian scrapper Kevin Muscat, and himself. Results were more important than style, however at the Millennium Stadium they were beaten 3-0 by Manchester United. But Wise showed, above all, an ability to elicit fight and desire from his players. Right now, Leeds need that badly.

Wise's contacts book could also come in handy in attracting a higher calibre of player than the club might otherwise.

Boocock likens Wise's arrival to that of Gordon Strachan - albeit as a player - under the Leeds reign of Howard Wilkinson. "The dressing-room is in disarray now, as it was then," Boocock said yesterday. "The arrival of a hard man, Strachan, helped Howard turn things.

"Now, again, Leeds lack self-respect. We might as well give Wise a chance, if for no other reason than there's no one else. The fans don't see this appointment as a success for Bates, some coup, but rather as the only option he's got.

"He came in and look where he's taken us, to our lowest league position in decades and with some of our lowest attendances, because people have been priced out. But Wise has got an edge that Leeds lack at the moment and for that reason alone we should back him."

That "edge" has manifested itself in some unattractive ways, no more so than when Wise broke his then Leicester team-mate Callum Davidson's jaw in 2002, which led to his sacking as a player.

But as a manager, Wise has matured, quietened, and shown few, if any, hints of volatility at all. Even his former role as a wind-up merchant in a history of Leeds-Chelsea animosity is no reason for trepidation, argues Boocock.

"He was the little hard guy who came to Elland Road and got stuck in because he was playing against classier teams than his own, which is fair enough," he says. "In fact, he would have fitted nicely into a lot of Leeds sides. Even if he's a proper little so-and-so, he'll be our proper little so-and-so."

Hughes concurs. "Leeds need a strong personality to come in and shake the place up and certainly Dennis is that," he said. "He's shown qualities which Mr Bates has admired - it is mutual respect. I think they understand they can be spiky characters and bounce off each other."

As Wise himself said in his 1999 autobiography: "I'm not the sort of person you want around if you want peace and order in your life." For better or worse, neither is Bates.

Elland Road dream team? Main players charged with returning Leeds to happy days of 2002

Ken Bates

Age 75. Bought Leeds in January last year for around £5m. Retained Kevin Blackwell, who led Leeds to a limp play-off final defeat to Watford in May, but lost patience last month. The jury is still out among fans, fed up with high prices and no progress, and increasingly bored of such inanities as "I haven't laughed so much since Ma caught her tits in the mangle", which is what Bates said recently when accused by Chelsea of anti-Semitism.

Dennis Wise

Age 39. Member of Wimbledon's "Crazy Gang" that won 1988 FA Cup. Spent 11 years at Chelsea, captaining them to four trophies. Won 21 England caps. Also played for Leicester, Southampton and Coventry. Managed Millwall (2003-05). Led them to '04 FA Cup final. Manager of Swindon from summer '06. Gianfranco Zola said: "I try to learn the language, but every time I listen some place [sic] like Dennis Wise, my English go down."

Gustavo Poyet

Age 38. Moved from Uruguay to Real Zaragoza in 1990, and became prolific midfielder. Captained Real to Cup-Winners' Cup success against Arsenal in '95. Joined Chelsea in '97, and had an influential '98-99 season, when an injury that saw him miss 10 games arguably cost Chelsea the title. Part of first-ever all foreign XI in Premiership (Boxing Day '99). Also played for Spurs. Became Wise's assistant manager at Swindon in 2006.


To of Premiership 12 January '02:


LEEDS 21/11/8/2/41

Man Utd 21/12/3/6/39

Arsenal 20/11/6/3/39

Newcastle 21/12/3/6/39

Liverpool 21/11/5/5/38

Chelsea 21/8/9/4/33

Tottenham 21/9/4/8/31


Championship Today:


Cardiff 13/9/2/2/29

Preston 13/7/5/1/26

West Brom 13/7/4/2/25

Burnley 13/6/4/3/22

Luton 13/6/4/3/22

Wolves 13/7/1/5/22

Plymouth 13/5/6/2/21

Birm'ham 13/6/3/4/21

S'hampton 13/5/4/4/19

Coventry 13/6/1/6/19

Derby 13/5/3/5/18

Norwich 13/5/3/5/18

C Palace 13/5/3/5/18

Colchester 13/5/2/6/17

Leicester 13/4/5/4/17

Ipswich 13/5/2/6/17

Sunderland 13/5/1/7/16

Stoke 13/3/6/4/15

QPR 13/3/4/6/13

Sheff Wed 13/3/4/6/13

Barnsley 13/3/3/7/12

Southend 13/2/4/7/10

LEEDS 13/3/1/9/10

Hull 13/2/3/8/9