It is a fixture which once fired the soul and would degenerate into a fist fight at half a chance; whether it was Billy Bremner and Kevin Keegan threatening to punch each other’s lights out at Wembley in the 1974 Charity Shield or Keegan remonstrating with full-backs Phil Neal and Joey Jones about their lamentable failure to deal with Eddie Gray a year later.
Liverpool v Leeds United is a different story, now, and if further evidence of that were needed it was provided by the excitement felt when a grainy image emerged a few weeks back of an Italian businessman, Andrea Radrizzani, spotted in an executive box at Elland Road. It was taken as evidence that the TV rights mogul might buy the club from his countryman Massimo Cellino.
Leeds fans are still waiting. The talk of Cellino selling out has stalled in the few weeks since Rafael Benitez’s side reminded Leeds of the gulf between the two clubs. Leeds won the last of their three league championships in 1992 – a memory modern enough for Steve Hodge’s winning goal against Liverpool at Elland Road in September 1991 to live in many memories. But Tuesday night’s visit to Anfield in the EFL Cup is the first since October 2003.
The fall from grace had started just before then – with the departure of a 23-year-old Rio Ferdinand to Manchester United for £30m, in what was the beginning of a fire sale when the financial gamble on Champions League qualification began to fail. Robbie Keane, Jonathan Woodgate, Olivier Dacourt, Robbie Fowler: they were all shipped out as the crash began.
Cellino has been a metaphor for what happens if you’re a desperate football club, somehow in the ownership of an outfit who want to sell at all costs. GFH Capital gratefully let the Miami-based Italian with previous convictions for fraud and false accounting take over and he has brought a new level of chaos. The club’s most recent financial results revealed an operating loss of more than £12m, reduced only by the sale of players; specifically the multi-million transfer of Ross McCormack to Fulham in July 2014. The club’s turnover of £24m fell short of administrative expenses and cost of sales totalling £37m. Far more money left the club than Leeds pulled in.
Against much expectation, the picture has actually improved this season. Garry Monk, Cellino’s seventh manager in less than three years, began unconvincingly. But things have steadied and it does not seem to be a coincidence that Cellino has actually taken more of a back seat. Ben Mansford, appointed chief executive in June, has been given more scope to run things without interference.
Monk’s ambitious talk ahead of the game include mention of the Premier League. “I am here to win, I am here to do well. I want the club to get back to the Premier League,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN. He does appear to instill organisation and professionalism and has a greater sense than his predecessors of how to draw on the past. “You have to use all those things as motivation,” he said. “The history will always be there and quite rightly so. The fans will always have that affection for the club and they are proud of what the club is. You should never shy away from the history and achievements of former teams and players.”
Gray was at Elland Road on Monday to help preview the game for Leeds’ in-house TV station – the very fact that there is one demonstrating the size of the club, which should be playing top flight football. Gray recalled the 1965 FA Cup final against Liverpool, the goalless draw at Anfield in 1969 that clinched Don Revie's side the old Division One title, Tony Yeboah's stunning volley at Elland Road in 1995 and Mark Viduka's four-goal haul in a 4-3 win against Liverpool in 2000. It will take a change of ownership to bring those days back.Reuse content