Smith's rallying call as Leeds peer over precipice

The Leeds crisis: 'We've got players who did well a few years ago. Now we need to start performing'
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The Independent Football

The players and coaching staff of Leeds United are being forced to acknowledge that there are more than League points at stake in their remaining 12 matches this season, starting with a difficult one at home to Liverpool this afternoon. Business analysts believe that consortia potentially willing to rescue the club from its financial morass are prepared to pay off existing debts but are fearful of the implications of relegation.

Friday's announcement that major creditors had refused to renew their standstill agreement for a sixth time may therefore be less significant than the simultaneous development up the road, where neighbouring Bradford City were forced into administration again. Bradford are a classic example of a club over-spending as Premier League members, then falling into the vicious circle of being relegated, having to sell players in a drastic cost-cutting exercise and consequently suffering further losses on the pitch and at the turnstiles.

Like Wimbledon, Nottingham Forest and Derby County - who all suffered in similar fashion - they are in serious danger of going down again, to the Second Division, where former Premiership members Sheffield Wednesday and Queen's Park Rangers already lurk.

According to Professor Bill Gerrard of the Leeds University Business School, a shareholder and critic of his local club: "The future of Leeds is coming down to the players". He believes that existing debts could be paid off at a rate of about 20p in the pound, reducing the commitment to £20m. But whereas interested consortia can find that sort of money, they are concerned about what happens thereafter. The players must either ensure survival in the Premiership, agree to cut their coats to suit First Division cloth, or leave the club.

Eddie Gray, the Leeds manager, has repeatedly said that his staff and players have to remain above the off-field problems and concentrate on their jobs. But they inevitably became caught up in it all recently, when belatedly agreeing a wage deferral, and must now be feeling extra pressure going into the last dozen games. "Paradoxically, things have turned up on the field," Gerrard said yesterday, "but just as they are going right again, they've taken a nose-dive off the field."

Going into the Liverpool game after a 4-1 victory over Wolves and a defiant draw at Manchester United, the players are taking comfort from a fixture list that sends their fellow strugglers Manchester City, Leicester, Everton and Portsmouth to Elland Road before the end of next month. "Everyone down there with us, we've got to play them at home," said Alan Smith, whose headed goal earned a point at Old Trafford while leaving his team bottom of the table. "There's been a lot of stuff going off, but if we can keep myself and Mark Viduka fit, we'll win matches. We've got players who did well a few years ago and now we just need to start performing and winning matches."

Today would be a fine time to start, encouraging the chief executive, Trevor Birch, in continuing negotiations with a consortium of Yorkshire businessmen. Their leader and spokesman, Gerald Krasner, knows they are in a strong position as the only game in town at present, their hand further strengthened by the collapse of the standstill agreement. That means that even if creditors such as bondholders M & G, MetLife and Teachers, plus the player-leasing agents Registered European Football Finance Ltd, are prepared to wait for their money, one demand for repayment from, say, the less sympathetic Inland Revenue would have to be met and trigger administration.

The Krasner group insist they are all Leeds supporters, but appear considerably more hard-headed than the previous regime. In a dig at the former chairman, Peter Ridsdale, Krasner said: "We will not be living the dream, but living the reality, and that needs the support of the fans. It won't be easy, but it is the only way the club can survive with a viable future ahead of it. For several years there has been a culture of waste at the club, and any new regime we bring to Elland Road will be charged with rebuilding the club from its roots."

Negotiations are expected to continue tomorrow, by which time Smith and his team-mates will have provided either a further footballing boost or a deflating defeat.

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