'I'll do same for Leeds that I did for Chelsea' says Bates

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The Independent Football

Ken Bates last night spelled out his improbable dream for Leeds United. "It's quite simple really," the 73-year-old maverick of English football said, "I'm going to do for Leeds United what I did for Chelsea.

Ken Bates last night spelled out his improbable dream for Leeds United. "It's quite simple really," the 73-year-old maverick of English football said, "I'm going to do for Leeds United what I did for Chelsea.

"You know what that was," Bates said. "I bought them for £1 and left them with the best ground in the country and £150m worth of players. Obviously, it's not going to happen overnight but I know what I can do - and I know what I've done before. I'll sell Leeds off when I'm 94 and then sit back and enjoy the rest of my life."

Bates said it was time for Leeds to turn their back on the recent past, when the former chairman Peter Ridsdale tried to buy his way into the élite of European football, then watched the financial foundations of the club break apart.

Details revealed yesterday showed the extent of past misadventures, with still unresolved debts to players like Danny Mills (approaching £2m) and a web of unresolved obligations.

But Bates insisted: "The present board have been magnificent in fire-fighting to keep the club alive but soon enough I believe we will be able to be a lot more positive than that."

Bates, who is believed to have invested £10m of the £17m he received when he sold out to Roman Abramovich, said the immediate challenge was careful book-keeping and that the manager Kevin Blackwell would be given the chance to continue his work. He added that he would spend the rest of the season examining the club's situation both on and off the field.

"I haven't come to Leeds just to try to keep things ticking along over the years," Bates said. "Leeds United is a great club with great potential and that is the big appeal for me. Yes, of course we have to steady the situation, we have to meet our obligations of the present, but if you don't have any dream for the future, any sense of what can be achieved, well, you just shouldn't be in the game.

"Some people say that after all the years at Chelsea, the ups and downs, I should go off and I enjoy myself. But that wouldn't do for me. The way I enjoy myself most of the time is being involved in football ... you get the taste of it and you don't want it to go away." The former Leeds manager Terry Venables, who from time to time has wrestled to get in a word in edgeways over the dinner table while in the company of Bates, yesterday reported that he was not one of the former Elland Road employees still owed money. He also said that the return of Bates was probably a good thing for both Leeds and football.

"He's no doubt a controversial figure and if he hadn't been away for a while the Premiership probably wouldn't have had to tell Ferguson and Wenger to tone it down ... they just wouldn't have had so many column inches. Ken Bates has gone away and rested and has come back refreshed. I have to think he's going to be good news for Leeds United."

A major figure from Leeds United's past, Johnny Giles, also welcomed the arrival of Bates. "I haven't always agreed with Bates's style," Giles said, "but if I was a Leeds fan I would be happy at the news. He saved Chelsea and if you care about Leeds you have to say it's good someone who knows his way around the game has come on the scene. For the longest time I've had this fear that the club just wasn't going to make it."

Bates claims that his initiative got off the ground only last Monday, but is candid enough about his attention to the course of the club's crisis. "I'm convinced Trevor Birch [his former chief executive at Chelsea] saved the day here, I think the club would have been dead without him. The present board have done brilliantly. More recently they've been magnificent in keeping the show going. Now I think we can move forward with some more confidence."

It was Birch who brought Abramovich to the table as Chelsea floundered financially two years ago, but as Bates points out in his own defence: "We had a superb ground and all that value in the players. You never know what's in the future in football, but if you invest in talent and you believe in the club you are always going to have a good chance of seeing things work out well in the end." He says that one of his least difficult decisions after winning control of Leeds was to retain the services of the former player Peter Lorimer as a working director.

"Peter is a great lad and he knows the club and the fans inside out. He cares very much for the club and he's going to be a valuable asset as we rebuild the confidence of everyone in Leeds. Too much has been achieved over the years for this football club to die. I felt exactly the same about Chelsea when I paid £1 and took on some of their debts (£4m) because I believed in their future. Now I'm going to work towards the same end in Leeds."

When that is achieved he says he may return to his home in the South of France. "I suppose you could say this is my last dream in football - but only maybe. Who knows what will crop up when this job is done?"

In the gritty streets of Leeds this may sound like heady talk. But Bates knows that they want to believe. "One thing a football club needs more than anything else," he says, "is hope. I believe I can supply some of that."

Musical chairs Leeds' hot seat

Ken Bates is Leeds' seventh chairman in the last 10 years.

1995 Bill Fotherby

1996 Chris Akers

1997 Peter Ridsdale

2003 Professor John McKenzie

2003 Trevor Birch (acting)

2004 Gerald Krasner

2005 Ken Bates

Ken's Clubs

Oldham: chairman, late 1960s.

Wigan: director, early 1980s.

Chelsea: chairman, 1982-2004

Leeds: chairman, 2005-?

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