Players hold key to Leeds rescue hope

Leeds are expected this week to make further attempts to persuade their players to accept a referral of a proportion of their salaries, as it emerged that a consortium of four Yorkshire-based businessmen were formulating a takeover package.

Although numerous clubs are lurking in the shadows, with a predatory interest in certain players, particularly Alan Smith, Paul Robinson and James Milner, whom they would expect to pick up at a cut-price rate, the Leeds chief executive and acting chairman Trevor Birch is determined that no players will be sold in the coming week ­ the last six days of the January transfer window ­ with the possible exception of Danny Mills, who could be released for a fee of around £1m. The England defender is currently on loan at Middlesbrough but is also attracting interest from Birmingham City.

Birch has been desperately trying to hock any piece of Leeds that isn't nailed down as he strives to raise the £5m necessary to prevent them going into administration and maintain the club until the end of the season. Leeds' debts, including £60m owed to bondholders and £20m to the Guernsey-based Registered European Football Finance, which provided the cash for several transfers, £10m to the Inland Revenue, and £6m to their former managers, Terry Venables, Peter Reid and David O'Leary, are now said to total more than £105m.

Venables has been virtually paid off but is prepared to accept deferrals of what is owed, while Michael Kennedy, the agent of O'Leary, still owed half his £4m pay-off, has intimated that the Irishman may also be sympathetic to such an approach. Similarly, Reid commented: "If Leeds want to defer my payments then I am happy with that."

Clearly, it is to that trio's advantage that the club do not go into administration. Birch's hope is that the players will adopt a similar attitude. A total of 75 employees have already gone, but significantly none of the silver, the players, 18 of whom are earning over £1m, and in Mark Viduka's case £3m. The total players' wage bill is estimated at £40m.

Birch has already asked the players to accept a deferral of 30 per cent of their wages. They have agreed to that proposal ­ but only if the club first exhaust all other possibilities.

Gordon Taylor, the players' union chief executive, has accused Birch of trying to blackmail the players. However, with the deadline from creditors expiring tomorrow, there may be few alternatives unless a late rescue package by the anonymous quartet of businessmen can be agreed. With the scale of Leeds' debts that appears unlikely.

Meanwhile Uefa have poured cold water on suggestions that Russia should be thrown out of Euro 2004 because of a player's failed drugs test. The Football Association of Wales may lodge an official complaint after it was revealed Spartak Moscow captain Egor Titov tested positive for the stimulant bromantan after the first leg of the play-off with Wales on 15 November. The match in Moscow finished goalless with Titov an unplayed substitute. But he did play in the 1-0 win in Cardiff.

Wales' manager Mark Hughes has pointed out that the drug aids stamina but a Uefa spokesman Ron Faulk-ner said: "It is highly unlikely any such complaint would have any grounds for altering the result." The Football Union of Russia have said they will not appeal against Titov's 12-month ban and £4,420 fine.

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