Leeds braced for fire sale as new team takes over

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The Independent Online

The financial flames engulfing Leeds United may have been extinguished but Elland Road must now prepare for a fire sale.

The financial flames engulfing Leeds United may have been extinguished but Elland Road must now prepare for a fire sale.

The Yorkshire consortium which yesterday took control of the stricken Premiership club has as its priority a drastic reduction in the wage bill that would see a minimum of 10 first-team players leave whether or not they escape relegation.

While the club's new chairman, the accountant Gerald Krasner, whose offer of around £22m was yesterday accepted by Leeds' major creditors, stated that the team will continue to play at Elland Road, there will be no guarantee of who will occupy the home dressing-room next season.

Krasner will head up a six-man board which includes the former Leeds legend Peter Lorimer, who will become a director and be responsible for interacting with the media.

Other names include the property developers Simon Morris and Melvyn Helme, the latter to be corporate finance director, entrepreneur Melvyn Levi and David Richmond, the son of the former Bradford chairman Geoffrey who has been acting as an unpaid advisor. David said Leeds had no option but to slash costs dramatically.

"We have 60 professionals at Leeds - that's first-year professionals right up to internationals. Fifteen of those professionals are on £1m or more. It's unsustainable," said Richmond, whose regime at Bradford ran up debts of £36m. One player, he remarked, earned £3.5m a year, but Richmond ruled out any suggestion that contracts might be renegotiated. "It is impossible to renegotiate a contract. These contracts were negotiated in good faith. However, some contracts - £11m worth of player contracts - come to an end on June 30 and it is unlikely any will be renewed."

This policy would see the departure of all the loan players recruited by Leeds' former manager, Peter Reid: Didier Domi, Zoumana Camara, Salomon Olembe, Lamine Sakho and Jermaine Pennant. Stephen Caldwell would also be asked to return to Newcastle. Three veterans whose contracts expire in June - David Batty, Lucas Radebe and Jason Wilcox, would also leave.

Despite the years of service given by Batty and Radebe, Leeds fans would shed few tears at the departure of any of these, bar perhaps Pennant, who has been effective since coming from Arsenal. However, the loss of their England international goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, which now appears inevitable, would hit hard despite the faith the Leeds manager, Eddie Gray, has invested in his deputy, Scott Carson. Robinson has 15 months remaining on his contract and has twice been on the verge of leaving Elland Road this year.

Most predators will, nevertheless, focus on the three jewels remaining from the team that in 2001 was one victory away from appearing in a European Cup final. Dominic Matteo, Mark Viduka and Alan Smith are all contracted to Leeds until 2006. Should they be unable to escape relegation - and Leeds could be eight points adrift of safety when they play Manchester City on Monday - holding on to any of these would appear impossible, despite Smith's protestations of loyalty. Even if Leeds survive, their transfer value will only decline.

The value of shares in the club's plc is now virtually nil. They have been suspended at 2.75p, having lost 70 per cent of their value during this financial year, one in which they recorded losses of £49m, a record for an English football club. Since the takeover, which settles outstanding debts of £82m, has no value to shareholders, administrators have been appointed to oversee the winding-down of the plc and its subsidiary, Leeds United Holdings Limited.

Neither the club nor the consortium divulged much information yesterday. Leeds only stated that an "eight-figure sum" had been accepted, while neither Richmond nor Krasner revealed their financial backers, although these are thought to include the property developer and former Watford chairman, Jack Petchey. The £22m has been accepted as settlement by the bondholders, who arranged a £60m refinancing package three years ago, and the Guernsey-based company Registered European Football Finance which was owed £22m for loans to buy players on behalf of the former chairman, Peter Ridsdale.

Krasner's assurance that Leeds will continue to play at Elland Road does not rule out selling the ground and leasing it back, while arrangements are already in place to sell off part of the Thorp Arch training complex.

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