Leeds must rely on youngsters to find way back

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Leeds United will today begin planning for life outside the Premiership when the club's new board - which will be the subject of a takeover this week - convenes to discuss the implications of relegation to the Coca-Cola League.

High on the agenda for what the Leeds director and former player Peter Lorimer anticipated would be "a long meeting" will be the proposed £23m buy-out of Gerald Krasner's consortium by the Yorkshire haulage magnate and long-term Leeds supporter, Steve Parkin.

Also up for discussion will be the inevitable sale of Leeds' principal playing assets. Lorimer last night warned interested clubs that they will not be allowed to "steal" Alan Smith, Mark Viduka or Paul Robinson and pledged that the club would be in the market themselves.

Leeds' managerial position will also be considered. There is growing support for an approach to Gordon Strachan, the captain of Howard Wilkinson's championship-winning side of 1992. The current caretaker manager, Eddie Gray, appears certain to be offered the opportunity to stay at Elland Road in a coaching capacity.

Parkin appears close to finalising a deal which would see him buy control of the club for around £23m. Krasner's group has been divided over whether to cut and run or to persevere with the project they began after taking control on 19 March.

The consortium effectively saved the club with their £22m takeover, £80m of debts owed to creditors being wiped out. But in order to finance it they incurred fresh debts, notably a £15m loan from the Aston Villa shareholder and ex-Watford chairman, Jack Petchey.

The present board, with the exception of Lorimer, has struggled to win over supporters. The fans' doubts were fuelled by the involvement - initially denied - of the former Bradford City chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, who departed almost as soon as he arrived and was last week declared bankrupt.

David Richmond, his son, remains as managing director. In the aftermath of Leeds' 4-1 defeat at Bolton on Sunday, which effectively confirmed their three-year descent from Champions' League combat with Real Madrid and Milan to the company of Crewe Alexandra and Plymouth Argyle, he promised "a new team of hard-working players".

But even as Lorimer was cautioning that the club would consider only "serious offers", Richmond warned that the big salaries of some Leeds players could make them hard to move on. "Nobody wants our players because of their wages, some of which are beyond belief," he said.

"We will get rid of those players as quickly as possible to give us the best chance of coming back stronger next season. Come August, we will have a very good First Division side. We won't be buying average First Division players. We'll have £4m to £5m available to spend on wages and we'll bring in the best players possible."

Leeds' annual wage bill exceeds £40m, whereas the average in the First Division is around £9m. This summer, they forfeit the £20m cash injection that Premiership clubs receive, a blow that will be cushioned by "parachute" payments of £7m for each of the next two years.

Lorimer conceded certain players would "have to go" yet claimed there would still be "a lot of smashing players at the club". He added: "We're not a club that doesn't have anything to build on. We've got a solid base and will be looking to hold on to all our young players.

"One of the ways forward is by developing your own talent and Leeds can certainly do that because we've got a good Academy. There will be experienced players staying, people who have perhaps struggled in the Premiership but who may be good enough for the First Division.

"With one or two additions I can certainly see us challenging next season. Going down again is not going to happen. We've been through a horrible era in our history that must never be repeated. Now the reality is here. The sales of Smith and Viduka take care of themselves, though just because we're down it doesn't mean clubs can steal our players."

Sources close to the Leeds board say it believes a new manager would have symbolic value, drawing a line under the convulsions of recent years. Strachan, who resigned at Southampton in January citing health grounds and his desire for a break, remains hugely popular in West Yorkshire. Another former Leeds player, the Leicester City manager, Micky Adams, also commands respect among some directors.

Boardroom priorities could change if Parkin took the helm. In the meantime, Peter Ridsdale looks set to stay silent over Leeds' demise. Now chairman of Barnsley, the man who "lived the dream" while gambling the club against Champions' League entry, declined to comment after being urged to apologise and admit culpability to fans.

John Boocock, chairman of the Leeds United Supporters' Trust, said: "Ridsdale and his cronies shouldn't just say sorry but also hold their hands up and say: 'We did this to your club'. They owe us that.

"We accept players will be sold and that some of the kids are going to have to learn to hold their own in the Football League. If we don't push for promotion from the start, we could find ourselves fighting relegation again. It happened to Manchester City, a club similar to ours in that they have a very big following. Leeds United must learn from their lessons."

FIVE ON THE WAY OUT OF ELLAND ROAD...

ALAN SMITH

Age 23. Value £6m-£10m. Not a prolific scorer but the hardest-working striker in the Premiership and has improved his discipline. Manchester United, Newcastle and Middlesbrough all keen.

MARK VIDUKA

Age 28. Value £4m-£6m. Strong in the air, quick feet and excellent scoring record. Yet prone to moodiness and increasingly to sendings-off. Italian clubs may be among the bidders.

DOMINIC MATTEO

Age 30. Value £1.5m. Versatile player who can operate at centre-back, left-back or in midfield. Has leadership qualities but also tendency to injury. Coveted by several middle-ranking Premiership clubs.

PAUL ROBINSON

Age 24. Value £4m. Broke into Leeds side during Champions' League run. Has since become England's No 2 goalkeeper. Nearly joined Tottenham in January but other clubs now in hunt.

JAMES MILNER

Age 18. Value £4m. The Premiership's youngest-ever scorer, he currently plays wide-left although right-footed. Like Smith, Leeds-born and bred, and sure to attract offers for his vast potential.

... AND FIVE LEEDS PLAYERS FOR THE FUTURE

SCOTT CARSON

Age 18. 6ft 3in goalkeeper from Cumbria. Made his only full appearance before 67,500 at Manchester United, performing creditably in 1-1 draw. Already in England Under-21 squad.

MATTHEW KILGALLON

Age 20. Central defender from York whose style has been likened to Jonathan Woodgate's. An England youth international, he has first-team experience at Leeds and on loan to West Ham.

AARON LENNON

Age 17. Pacy, local-born winger attached to club since age of nine and top scorer in Under-17s last season. Given first-team debut at 16 by Peter Reid, he has stayed in the squad under Eddie Gray.

JAMIE WINTER

Age 18. Powerfully built central midfielder from Dundee who has been outstanding in Leeds' reserves this season. A summer clear-out could hasten his breakthrough into the senior squad.

FRAZER RICHARDSON

Age 21. Quick, strong right-sided defender from South Yorkshire who has Premiership experience. Has already proved himself in the First Division in two loan spells with Stoke City.

LEEDS UNITED ... THEN AND NOW

1 JANUARY 2002

Leeds beat West Ham 3-0 to go to the top of the Premiership with 21 of the 38 fixtures played.

Leeds United: Martyn; Mills, Ferdinand, Woodgate, Harte; Kelly, Batty, Smith, Bowyer (Wilcox); Viduka, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), McPhail, Duberry, Singh.

Goals: Viduka (4) 1-0; Viduka (7) 2-0; Fowler (50) 3-0

Attendance: 39,322

The following weekend Leeds lost 2-1 at Second Division Cardiff City in the FA Cup. The next month they went out of the Uefa Cup to PSV Eindhoven. They finished fifth in the Premiership, 21 points behind champions Arsenal. David O'Leary was sacked as manager in May and Terry Venables appointed.

2 MAY 2004

Leeds lose 4-1 at Bolton, a result which effectively condemns them to relegation with two games left.

Leeds United: Robinson; Kelly, Duberry, Caldwell, Harte; Pennant, Matteo, McPhail, Milner (Wilcox); Smith, Viduka. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Barmby, Lennon, Kilgallon.

Goals: Viduka pen (27) 0-1; Djorkaeff (47) 1-1; Djorkaeff (52) 2-1; Harte og (55) 3-1; Nolan (77) 4-1

Attendance: 27,420

Leeds have remained in the Premiership's relegation zone since October, shortly before Peter Reid was sacked and replaced by caretaker manager Eddie Gray. They have conceded 75 goals in 36 games and won two back-to-back games once all season.

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