Leeds under pressure to show Reid the door

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The Independent Online

Reports of Peter Reid's demise proved premature last night, but the position of the Leeds United manager remains under threat after the chairman, Professor John McKenzie, said he was "going to sleep on it and make a decision about Reid's future in the morning".

Amid speculation that Leeds were set to end his 16-match tenure, Reid and McKenzie held what the latter termed "amicable discussions" in the bar of a hotel. Before leaving via a laundry exit to avoid the media, Reid said defiantly: "I'm going to be manager of this club a long time."

They may be famous last words if McKenzie bows to pressure from the major shareholders of the financially ravaged club. They have seen their stakes fall steeply and many fear that Reid, whose side are already in the bottom three, will be unable to stave off relegation. McKenzie had earlier met with the deputy chairman, Allan Leighton, to discuss the concerns of City investors. After the over-spending of the Peter Ridsdale-David O'Leary era, the 2001 Champions' League semi-finalists are currently valued at less than the £10m-rated Mark Viduka.

With debts nearing £80m, one question McKenzie and Leighton will have addressed is whether they can afford to sack Reid. Not long ago Leeds challenged the Manchester United-Arsenal duopoly. Now they have become champions of the pay-off. O'Leary and Terry Venables were compensated with six-figure sums. Reid has a one-year deal worth £850,000, but a new manager would probably also want to replace his backroom staff of Adrian Heath, Kevin Blackwell and Steve Agnew, which could be a costly business.

The issue hinges, therefore, on whether a chairman who staked his judgement on Reid six months ago is persuaded that the position is so black that he cannot afford to let him continue. Leeds have made their worst start since 1981-82, when they were relegated and took eight years to come back up.

This time, however, relegation might be followed by administration and given the fate which befell Fiorentina in Italy, even extinction. If they dispense with Reid, Leeds are likely to turn to their former centre-half and youth director, Paul Hart, now in charge of Nottingham Forest. If that became a drawn-out process, Eddie Gray may be invited to take temporary control, nearly 20 years after Leeds stripped him of the top job and five months after he relinquished his role as assistant manager.

Reid - sacked by Sunderland a year ago this week - accepted Leeds' poisoned chalice in March. After the firing of O'Leary and Venables, he was seen as the motivator needed to allay fears of relegation. His was intended to be an eight-game, Red Adair-style brief, leaving the club free to pursue Hart or one of two other ex-Elland Road players, Leicester's Micky Adams and Southampton's Gordon Strachan, during the summer.

Then Leeds won 3-2 at Arsenal to ensure survival. Suddenly the idea of offering Reid the job began to look appealing to McKenzie. The Merseysider was installed on a "permanent" basis and began building a squad on a shoestring.

Having lost Harry Kewell to Liverpool for only £3m, Reid brought in seven players on loan and Chelsea's Jody Morris on a free transfer. After a bright display in the opening draw with Newcastle and a last-minute win at Middlesbrough in the fourth game, the roof fell in. Leeds lost 4-0 at Leicester and 2-0 at home to Birmingham.

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