Cost of a crazy season: Reid all about it

Leeds' experience shows that a club's decline can be swift and brutal. Now the cavalier days give way to prudence
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The Independent Football

As Leeds United unveiled their third manager in little over a year the thought occurred that, while they may have lost their caretaker – Peter Reid having been rewarded with a year's security of managerial tenure – it will be a while before the club will be able to stop sweeping the blood from the floor.

As Leeds United unveiled their third manager in little over a year the thought occurred that, while they may have lost their caretaker – Peter Reid having been rewarded with a year's security of managerial tenure – it will be a while before the club will be able to stop sweeping the blood from the floor.

In that period, two managers have departed, along with six international footballers, one chairman and one finance director. If there was a championship for the club with the greatest number of Stock Exchange and key personnel announcements, Leeds would have had it sewn up by April. Perhaps more than any club over the last decade Leeds has become a microcosm of football's ostensible ability to prosper, while managing to nurture a monster within.

Leeds' experience serves to remind us that the decline of a football club, if administered with cavalier disregard for possible negative consequences, can be both swift and brutal. It was no more than 13 months ago that David O'Leary had used his programme notes before a match against Manchester United, with Leeds placed fifth, to declare that a Champions' League place was still a probability, and that the £68m he had outlayed on transfers had help produce "a group of highly talented young players who will get better, become more mature, and will go on to great things". He then proceeded to discuss how profitable the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Jonathan Woodgate would become.

Three months later, O'Leary had departed, along with his dreams, leaving his "babies" to be adopted by a foster father, Terry Venables. Whether anyone then would have anticipated that El Tel would have passed on, in the managerial sense, leaving Reid (who at the time was struggling to preserve Sunderland's precarious Premiership status) to watch over a rapidly declining squad just elude relegation, is doubtful.

O'Leary was witnessed last week on TV news footage participating in a golf tournament, protesting that he should not be blamed for Leeds' decline while demonstrating that there exists the narrowest of lines between a man who can be one moment the target of head-hunters – he had, remember, been persistently championed as a successor to Sir Alex Ferguson – and the next be roaming the wilderness.

Prudence is clearly the new Leeds watchword as they insist on payment by results. "It's a decent salary," says Reid of his remuneration. "But if we win the Treble I'll be well in the dough." Admittedly, it was delivered with that typical dry Scouse humour. That ambition remains distant, although at least Reid has been told that, despite £79m worth of debts, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Alan Smith and Co don't have to be sold. Trouble is, wasn't Venables told something similar before his squad diminished alarmingly in quality? "I fully expect there will be some wheeling and dealing," says Reid. "But when you start off from a base like that it does help." We shall see.

Elsewhere, too, has there ever been a season like it? Surely not. West Ham end it being managed by a man who last set foot in a dressing-room, with professional intent at least, nearly two decades ago; although at least Trevor Brooking has refuted the old adage – no doubt voiced by Alan Hansen – that you'll win nothing with a pundit in charge. Reid completes the season by coming as close as damn it to taking Leeds down, having set Sunderland in motion to that end, although the Wearsiders' board still hear that club's supporters asking, "Why Wilko?" following the former FA technical director's record of four victories in 27 games? And what of Chris Coleman, another who has been entrusted with repairing fortunes after a dismal year at Fulham and has succeeded admirably.

But what has united just about every club, Premiership and Nationwide – with the possible exception of Newcastle and Liverpool – is suffering nine months of belt-tightening, some to the point of damaging internal organs, a belated but necessary response to the financial downturn and, in some cases, mismanagement. None has been spared, not even Manchester United or Arsenal. Some in the lower leagues have become mislaid and wandered off down Administration Road, and who is to say that some famous Premiership names will not follow?

Even David Beckham is not immune. No pay rise for him is the word from the United chief executive, Peter Kenyon, determined to halt the trend of escalating wages, while Arsenal are reportedly in a mood to dispose of no less than Freddie Ljungberg, Dennis Bergkamp, Ray Parlour, Gilberto Silva and Francis Jeffers. But who, apart from certain spendalot señors, will be able to pay their salaries? Wherever you look, balance sheets in the red have become as familiar as those among the pension companies.

Yet the current environment has had its benefits, at least so far as equality in the game is concerned. Charlton, Southampton and, notably Everton, all functioning on limited budgets, have prospered now that even the Premiership has become more dependent on coaching prowess allied to shrewd purchases or loans and the development of youth team players. Not simply the brandishing of the cheque-book.

Hence the emergence of Wayne Rooney, whose progress might have been impeded elsewhere, but who, under David Moyes (a contender for manager of the season), has been produced at his own pace and allowed to flourish, with that remarkable goal against Arsenal back in October a presage of what was to come. Similar words may be applied to Newcastle's Jermaine Jenas and Manchester United's remarkable defender (if that's what he indeed is) John O'Shea.

For all three, the future appears propitious. Maybe not so for some among the managerial ranks. Does the Tottenham board possess the faith to reward Glenn Hoddle with another year's opportunity? If he is, the former England coach will be scrutinised closely for evidence of advancement. The same can probably be said of Gérard Houllier and Claudio Ranieri, whose teams have too frequently underperformed given the quality of their players.

But what of Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, the former glorying in another title at the other's expense? Ferguson is aware that another Champions' League trophy will remain elusive without significant investment in reinforcements, and that is not available without the sale of Beckham to raise the funds. Does he retain the patience required? Even more pertinently, does Wenger have the will to reclaim the title and persevere with that Champions' League ambition with the financial constraints imposed by the planned move to Ashburton Grove?

All will be revealed next season, which surely cannot compare with the past one in fascination for us mere bystanders. Can it?