Leeds can't bank on Mr Versatile for a sugar daddy

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The Independent Football

He represented the grace and style in a Leeds side who at times were more synonymous with the darker arts, and rarely looked anything but highly polished. No wonder Don Revie deemed Paul Madeley his "Rolls-Royce". How Madeley's former team-mate Eddie Gray, currently manfully attempting to extract Leeds from a fate too ghastly to contemplate, would relish being able to call on a man for all positions, a character for all eventualities.

Consider this series of figures: 2-76, 3-68, 4-25, 5-121, 6-172, 7-15, 8-50, 9-30, 10-21, 11-134, 12-13. They represent the Leeds United shirt numbers and the number of times Paul Madeley appeared in each. He played in every outfield position in the Sixties and Seventies during a career which extended to more than 700 appearances for the Yorkshire club.

Today, Madeley, aged 59, still lives in the city, and though he is confined largely to armchair viewing - he suffered a mild heart attack last year and has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease - he has been as bemused as all other followers of the club at the hideous reversal of fortune over recent years.

"The financial problems have been hard to comprehend," he says. "I just couldn't understand why they kept spending when they did and bought players at what at the time appeared to be very high prices, when they should have been satisfied with what they had and tried to bring youngsters through."

He adds: "They bought Robbie Keane, and then Robbie Fowler, at several million each, although it was unlikely they would play together. Surely somebody at Leeds should have put the brakes on. There was just a huge gamble that we'd be in the Champions' League every year. The gamble backfired. Still, there's always hope. Look at Chelsea. Money talks. If they can get in somebody with a financial package, who knows?"

There have even been suggestions that Madeley himself might prove that benefactor, since his name appeared in a recent football "rich list", estimating his wealth at £27m. Following his retirement from the game in 1980, Madeley joined the family's home-decoration company. The business was sold in 1987. "When that happened, there was a payout to all the shareholders, not just to me, and all this thing about my supposed wealth has been exaggerated. Somebody just picked on the idea that I could afford to help Leeds out, which would have been nice, but wasn't true."

At least on the field, Gray appears to have successfully tied a tourniquet to and staunched the flow of conceded goals. "I spoke to Eddie last week and he said he'd have no hesitation in taking the job on, how ever long it lasted," says Madeley. "He was full of enthusiasm. I think they could do a lot worse than give him the job. He's been a bit unfortunate in that the first time he was manager [when Leeds were in the old Second Division], I think they were fairly penniless, too."

You wonder how much the former winger is influenced by a man still revered at Elland Road, the late Don Revie, who assembled a team in that golden era who won two championships and contested four FA Cup finals, a League Cup final and five European finals. "I'd say he's a little less cautious," says Madeley, after a pause. "But I couldn't speak too highly of Don.

"All players try to impress a manager, but with Don it went beyond that. Even when he left the club, I still felt as though I was playing for him; that he was still watching and was approving of my performance."

Madeley, who has collaborated in a book on his life and 19-year Elland Road career*, with his proceeds going to the National Heart Research Fund, retains a basic humility about his role in the team, At the end of our conversation, he says quietly: "By the way, I'm not in the great team. Ask anybody to name the great Leeds United team in my era and I don't figure in it. I don't figure in it even if I'm choosing the team. Because I switched about, due to injury mainly, I never had a regular spot. No, the team was: Sprake; Reaney and Cooper full-backs; Charlton and Hunter centre-backs; in midfield Lorimer, Bremner, Giles, Eddie Gray; and up front Mick Jones and Allan Clarke. See, there's no room for me."

Perhaps, but few Leeds supporters wouldn't find room in their hearts for Mr Versatility, a man who represented the synergy of that distinguished collection of players.

'Leeds United's Rolls-Royce: The Paul Madeley Story' (by David Saffer, Tempus, £18.99)